In my quest to make the world of pediatric nutrition less confusing for parents, sometimes the simplest information is left out. Sometimes it seems like all you hear is, “Try this!” or “cook it this way instead.” I know you get a LOT of information about what, when, and how you should feed your kids.
I also know that sometimes you just want to cut through all of the mumbo-jumbo and know what NOT to feed your family. I am certain that there are several things that you don’t give your kids because you think they are too unhealthy. So, in a very fun experiment, I asked twenty well-respected, experienced, pediatric nutrition experts what foods they refuse to provide to their own children. The children range from 18 months to 20 years old, and each list I received seemed better than the next. So without further adieu, I give you…
The top 10 foods experts won’t bring into their home:
- Sugar sweetened beverages- This was the overwhelming #1 item on everyone’s list and it includes soda, juice drinks, iced tea, lemonade, and powdered drink mixes. These beverages provide no nutrition benefit and are the #1 source of excess calories in adolescent diets. Drinks that were allowed: water (tap for filtered), flavored milk, seltzers, and 100% fruit juice.
- TV dinners and prepackaged lunches- Another selection on almost every list, these items were banned due to high sodium contents, high fat, and minimal nutrition value (vitamins, minerals, and whole grains).
- Packaged breakfast pastries- Whether you toasted them or ate them from the wrapper, these items ranked high due to large amounts of sugar and minimal fiber. Though it’s better than nothing in the morning, the experts preferred alternate convenience items like granola bars made with whole grain oats, fruits, and nuts.
- Sweetened and artificially colored cereals- One dietitian who wrote this on her list said, “if I gave my kids the options of rainbow colored cereals with marshmallows and sprinkles, or a brown whole-grain cereal, guess which one they’d pick every time? That’s why they don’t get the choice.” I couldn’t agree more. Another option: Make sugary cereals a dessert option only, and make sure it’s served in a small bowl.
- Canned pasta meals- Refined white flour pasta mixed with tomatoes, preservatives and canned meats? There’s not much good I can say about this. Consider making some extra servings of your own spaghetti and meatballs, mix in some vegetables, and freeze in single serving containers for easy reheating.
- Fruit cups in syrup- Fruit packed in syrup was an absolute no for the experts. These items were considered more acceptable as long as they were packaged in water or juice.
- Canned meats- These highly processed items were typically too high in fat and sodium for anyone to serve in their own home. An alternative deemed acceptable was canned fish packed in water.
- Chips (of all varieties)- Puffed, fried, or kettle cooked, these items all made the unacceptable list due to the empty calories and ease of overeating. I will admit that the group was realistic about the fact that this was an inevitable item to avoid at many parties.
- Hot dogs- The parents of younger kids were concerned with this item being a big-time choking hazard. Parents of older children had it on their list due to high fat and sodium contents. For both reasons combined, it stayed out of most homes.
- Packaged desserts- Store bought cookies, cupcakes, and other baked goods because they generally contained trans-fats and were loaded with sugar. The other option? Baking treats with your kids so that you know what ingredients are in the product, and to teach them some classic family recipes.
This was certainly not the complete list, but a great place to start. What do you avoid for your family?
Beth Wallace, a registered dietitian at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has more than six years of experience in providing nutrition care for children and adolescents.