6. Vitamin Enhanced Water
These drinks are packed full of sugar or artificial sweeteners (which have been linked to the development of diabetes), sodium, and empty calories. While vitamins do exist in the formula, the doses are low and the vitamins are generally already acquired through normal diet, making those you absorb through the enhanced water excessive.
The Fix: Give children a daily multi-vitamin with a glass of un-enhanced water. If your child craves flavor, infuse water with fresh fruits or vegetables.
Granola might be made with whole grain oats, dried fruit and nuts, but many brands are then tossed in a sugary syrup for added flavor that dramatically increases the calorie count per serving.
The Fix: Instead of eating granola alone, sprinkle a little on sliced fruit or yogurt to dilute the calorie count and pay attention to the serving size. If you’re adventurous, make your own, or just toss together your favorite nuts and dried fruits as a replacement for granola.
8. Diet Soda
What these drinks lack in calories they make up for in harmful ingredients and artificial sweeteners that research has shown to be a significant contributor to the development of diabetes.
The Fix: Drink sparingly or replace pop with fruit and vegetable infused water or unsweetened tea.
Because pretzels are a baked food, parents often mistake them for a healthy snack. Pretzels are made with salt, yeast, vegetable oil, corn syrup, and white flour that’s devoid of all fiber and nutrients, making them a snack that adds no nutritional value to your child’s diet.
The Fix: Aim for a whole-wheat brand or better yet, try a handful of nuts or fresh cut vegetables, instead.
10. Rice Cakes
They’re airy, low calorie, low fat, and low cholesterol, but they’re also low in nutrition. Even the whole grain rice cakes provide little fiber or vitamins. Rice cakes might be a handy snack, but they aren’t contributing to a healthy diet and won’t keep your child feeling satisfied for long.
The Fix: Add all-natural peanut butter or hummus and fresh sliced veggies on top to supplement nutrition and keep those tummies full, longer.
Behan explained that there are several other things parents can do to instill better eating habits in their children. “I think the first three years are really important for laying the groundwork,” she says, recommending that parents cut down on the packaged dry foods like crackers, cereals, and 100 calorie packs and push more whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and yogurt, which are more filling and nutritious. She also enjoins parents to make eating a family affair instead of just a distraction. “Food should be eaten at the table and not as a reward or for boredom.”
If you have a picky eater (read more about feeding picky eaters), Behan recommends serving a favorite food with fruits or vegetables to help entice children. Behan also urges parents to cook at home as much as possible. “When parents cook, they are showing their kids how to take care of themselves…we can’t expect them to eat well if they don’t know how to cook.”
Eileen Behan is a registered dietician with over 25 years of experience working with individuals and families. She specializes in the treatment of adolescent and adult weight management. She received her training at the Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, and has worked for the Veterans’ Administration, and the Harvard School of Public Health. She is the founder of a non-profit group, For the Love of Food Project, and contributes articles to the Washington Post, Newsweek, Parents Magazine, Parenting and the Tufts University Nutrition Newsletter. Behan has also authored eight family nutrition books, including The Baby Food Bible. She currently works as a nutritionist for Core Physicians in New Hampshire.