Select Healthier Foods for Everyone
With the kids home for the summer you can gain a little more control over what they
eat throughout the day. But then again, is what you consider “healthy” really the right
choice? Use food labels and a little know-how to make wiser choices for your kids now
and you’ll set them up for a healthier routine when they return to school.
Yogurt: Yogurt is filled with bone-building calcium, but is all yogurt created equal? For
the healthiest options, buy low-fat or fat-free plain or Greek yogurt, add their favorite
fresh fruit and mix in a little honey. If they’ll only eat flavored yogurt, look for brands
that use fruit and fruit juice for flavoring – not added sugar. Labels that read “live and
active cultures” mean the yogurt is also a good source of healthy, immune-boosting
bacteria. Avoid “kid” yogurts and yogurt drinks packed with added sugars and artificial
colorings. Not only are they less healthy, they cost more per ounce.
Whole Milk: Only toddlers need the extra fat in whole milk to aid in development –
and only from age 12 months to two years. After that age, the additional fat can add
extra calories. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children
over two years old drink low-fat/1% milk. Transition children who are used to whole
milk slowly to the low-fat option by mixing whole or 2% milk with 1% or skim. No,
you won’t be depriving them of calcium and Vitamin D: All cow’s milk has the same
vitamin/mineral content, regardless of the fat content.
Whole Grain Cereal: The most important part of the cereal box isn’t the words “whole
grain” printed on the front. It’s the ingredient list. Check that the first ingredients listed
are whole wheat flour, oats, rye, or barley – and be sure sweeteners like sugar, corn
syrup, and honey are toward the end of the list. Next, check the nutrition facts box.
Ideally, try to choose a cereal with less than 3 grams of fat and at least 3 grams of
protein and fiber per serving. Remember, even if a cereal says it’s got whole grains, it
might have very little of the good stuff and still be packed with sugar.
Pre-packaged lunches: The convenience of containers packed with deli meat,
cheese and crackers is a compelling option for busy families. But the fat and sodium
levels in the processed foods make for an unhealthy combination. Create your own
“pre-packs” that are fun to eat: At the store, order thick slices of low-sodium ham,
turkey, roast beef and cheeses from the deli. Look for whole grain crackers, mini
whole wheat pitas or rolls and high-fiber tortillas. In the produce section, buy cherry
tomatoes, baby carrots, celery, grapes, strawberries, tangerines and small apples.
When you get home, set up small individual containers and portion out cubes of meat
and cheese, whole grain breads, veggies and fruit. Then let the kids mix and match
from each category for their own unique, healthier lunch.
PB&J: It’s easy to transform the classic white bread sandwich into a modern-day
nutritional star. Use whole grain bread, natural peanut butter (free of artery-clogging
hydrogenated oils and added sugars) and an all-fruit spread. Voila! You’ve got a
balanced meal of complex carbs and fiber (from the bread) plus protein and good fats
(in the peanut butter). And it’s still delicious!
Fruit Juice/Juice Drinks: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents
limit the amount of juice they serve children each day: serve ½ to ¾ cup to kids from 1
to 6 years old; and 1 to 1½ cups to kids 7 to 18 years old. Switch more often to whole
fruit which provides more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than juice. It’s that simple.
Granola bars: Kids love today’s granola bars because they’re a lot like candy. In
fact, most bars are loaded with added sugar and hydrogenated oils, and contain
very little of the whole grains, protein or fiber that we associate with healthy granola.
Instead of choosing these quick and often expensive snacks, allow your kids to create
customized trail mix snacks with ingredients like dried fruit, whole grain/low fat cereal,
nuts and dark chocolate chips.
Baked chips and pretzels: The good news: baked snacks are much lower in fat than
traditional chips and puffs. The bad news: they offer very little nutrition. Transition your
family from baked chips and pretzels to whole wheat pita chips, baked veggie chips,
and the whole grain goodness of (lightly salted) plain popcorn.
Applesauce: Many prepared apple sauces are sweetened with added sugar. Instead,
look for labels using the words “natural” or “unsweetened” then check the ingredients
list to make sure the primary ingredients are simply apples and water. The best way
to know what’s in your applesauce? Make it yourself! See how in our Healthy Recipes
Get family nutrition
information from the
of our previously
posted nutrition tips,
to view them.