9 'Healthy' Kids' Foods That Aren't Actually Healthy

  • kids on soccer field
    What to Look for in ‘Healthy’ Kids’ Foods
    Getting kids to eat healthy food can be a challenge. Not helping matters is the fact that it can be difficult to figure out what exactly is healthy and what’s unhealthy. We all know that apples are healthy–but what about applesauce? Yogurt is healthy–right? Not necessarily. These nine “healthy” kids’ foods aren’t as healthy as they seem.

  • bowl of applesauce
    Applesauce can be a healthy food, but most of the applesauce marketed to kids is loaded with extra (and unnecessary) sugar. Be especially cautious of brightly colored fruit sauce packaged in squeezable pouches. Before purchasing, check the ingredient labels. Steer clear of brands containing high-fructose corn syrup, sugar and artificial colors. Brands that don’t include corn syrup or artificial colors are a better choice. Still better: natural unsweetened applesauce, apple slices or a whole apple.

  • Young Girl Chooses Sports Drink
    Sports Drinks and Flavored Water
    Almost half of parents surveyed by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity rated flavored waters as healthy; more than 25% of the parents said sport drinks are healthy. But the truth is sports drinks and flavored water are often loaded with sugar. Ignore the healthy-sounding words used to market these products–words such as “electrolytes,” “energy, and “hydration.” Research has shown that plain water and low-fat chocolate milk are the most effective and nutritious recovery drinks available.

  • whole wheat bread
    Whole Wheat Bread
    At least half of your daily grain intake should be whole grain, according to the American Heart Association and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which both endorse whole grains. So what’s wrong with whole wheat bread? The problem is that a lot of the brown bread labeled “whole wheat” isn’t really whole. Take a look at the ingredient list: If it says “wheat flour,” “enriched flour,” “semolina,” “durum wheat,” “multigrain” or even “unbleached enriched wheat flour,” it’s not whole-wheat bread. Look for the words “whole wheat” or “whole [name of grain]” instead.


  • granola bar
    Granola Bars and Energy Bars
    Let’s face it: Many of today’s granola and energy bars are more like candy bars than wholesome treats. Chocolate chips, chocolate chunks and caramel are common ingredients, and even less-obviously unhealthy bars often contain large amounts of high fructose corn syrup, sugar and fat. There are some healthy bars on the market, but you’ll have to read labels to find them. Avoid anything that has sugar, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, glucose or maple syrup near the top of the ingredient list.

  • Dried fruit
    Dried Fruit
    Dried fruit is definitely a better choice than candy. But it’s still not exactly health food. For one, drying fruit concentrates the natural sugars by removing water. Manufacturers often add even more sugar. A serving of dried cranberries, for instance, may contain as much as 26 grams of sugar–that’s more than six teaspoons!

  • Tasty oatmeal with fresh blueberries
    Instant Oatmeal
    Single-serve packets of instant oatmeal can be a great time saver in the mornings. Oatmeal–even the instant kind–is a whole grain, and definitely a better choice than highly processed kids’ breakfast cereals. But watch out: The packets of flavored instant oatmeal are often high in sugar and sodium. Plain (non-flavored) instant oatmeal is a better choice because you can skip the salt completely and control the amount of added sugar.

  • Gourmet Fruit and Nut Mix
    Trail Mix
    Trail mix sounds healthy enough. But the pre-mixed kind sold in the grocery store often contains tempting–but less-than-healthy–ingredients, such as chocolate-covered candies, yogurt-covered pretzels, deep-fried bananas, highly-processed sesame sticks and super-salted nuts. A healthier (and cheaper!) version is homemade trail mix. Simply toss together some unsalted nuts, sunflower seeds and raisins or other dried fruit.

  • Healthy eating
    Yogurt is a high-protein, high-calcium, full-of-good-for-you-probiotics food. Yet much of the yogurt marketed to kids is super high in sugar; some of it also contains artificial food colorings. Skip the colorful kiddie yogurt and grab a tub of plain yogurt instead. Add sweetness with honey or cut-up fruit and fruit juice.

  • Smiling girls eating pretzels in bedroom
    Yes, pretzels have less fat than potato chips or orange-colored cheese puffs. But that doesn’t mean pretzels are healthy. In fact, they’re pretty devoid of nutrition. Most pretzels are made with white flour (often listed as “enriched wheat flour”) and contain added salt and sweeteners (usually, corn syrup and malt syrup). If you want to up the nutrition, try serving pretzels with a couple of chunks of cheese. (Kids love spearing cheese cubes with pretzel sticks!)

9 'Healthy' Kids' Foods That Aren't Actually Healthy

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men.
  1. Parents Misled by Marketing of ‘Healthy’ Drinks, Study Says. UConn Today. http://today.uconn.edu/blog/2015/03/parents-misled-by-marketing-of-healthy-drinks-study-says/
  2. Chocolate Milk Gives Athletes Leg-up After Exercise, Says University of Texas at Austin Study. University of Texas-Austin. http://www.utexas.edu/news/2011/06/22/milk_studies/
  3. Preschooler – Food and Feeding. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-S...
  4. Whole Grains and Fiber. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Whole-Grains-and-Fiber_UC...
  5. Let’s Eat for the Health of It. ChooseMyPlate.gov. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/downloads/MyPlate/DG2010Brochure.pdf
  6. Identifying Whole Grain Products. Whole Grains Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/identifying-whole-grain-products
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 May 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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