How Toxic Are These Favorite Kid Foods?
With bright colors and convenient packaging, favorite kid foods are quite the temptation. The hectic schedules that come with being a parent often make it quite difficult to plan out and prepare homemade meals, making that temptation even stronger to just grab-and-go without facing the healthy eating battle.
Slapping together a sandwich and throwing in a bag of chips is about all you have time for when packing your kid’s lunchbox, not to mention that toaster pastry popping up for breakfast. This scene is repeated over and over again in busy households across America. The tragic problem with this, though, is that the health of our children is suffering because of the toxins and lack of nutrition found in most favorite kid foods. They have grown accustomed to these sugary and processed foods, and as parents, we’ve come to appreciate the convenience.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately one in three children is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has reached epidemic levels and is the primary health concern of parents in the United States. Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health states that one in five children has had a mental disorder at some point. Combine these concerns with the fact that childhood cancer is on the rise, and parents can’t help but be concerned about the health of kids today.
That being the case, taking a close look at what we are feeding our children is a must. Regulations within the food industry are extremely lax when it comes to protecting consumers from known carcinogens and other toxic ingredients, so parents must be the ones taking the lead in researching and discerning which foods are safe to feed their families.
Fast food, candy, delivery, fried foods—these are commonly known to be harmful and should only be chosen sparingly. However, when it comes to other favorite kid foods, the toxic impacts are often more subtle. Here are a few common favorites that parents should reconsider before buying and tossing in those lunchboxes.
Yes, popping this in the microwave for a couple minutes is super easy and results in delicious buttery goodness. It’s not worth it, though. In addition to these two toxins below, many microwave popcorns have high levels of fat, sodium, and preservatives.
- Diacetyl – This chemical has been linked to lung disease.
- Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) – A nonstick coating, this has been associated with a risk of certain cancers, along with developmental and reproductive issues.
Try Instead: Pop your kernels in an air-popper and then coat with coconut oil and a dash of sea salt.
Cookies, Crackers, and Chips
Those individually portioned bags of cookies, crackers, and chips sure make it easy to plan out lunches. Inside those handy bags, though, are all types of unhealthy ingredients. Every brand is different, but for the most post, here are the main ingredients to worry about.
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils – These oils are high in trans fat and lead to unhealthy cholesterol levels.
- Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) – Used as a preservative in foods, this has been found to be linked to hyperactivity and other negative side effects such as asthma and vomiting.
Try Instead: Select products that use healthier oils and limit the use of preservatives and artificial flavorings. You may even be surprised at how much your child likes alternatives such as kale chips!
Sodas and Sports Drinks
It is totally understandable that kids get tired of drinking water, but sodas and certain sports drinks are not better options. In fact, some of the ingredients contained in these will dehydrate your child even further!
- High Fructose Corn Syrup – HFCS poses a significant risk for weight gain, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
- Dyes – Certain dyes are known carcinogens and cause hyperactivity and other behavioral concerns.
- Artificial Sweeteners – In spite of their intentions to be a healthier substitute, these have been linked to weight gain and diabetes. Controversial studies have cited a causation between some artificial sweeteners and cancer.
Try Instead: Make water more fun by infusing with fruit. Avoid water flavorings, which most likely include dyes and artificial sweeteners as well.
A good ham and cheese sandwich is a lunchbox staple, but processed meats are actually listed as a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
- Nitrates/Nitrites – These preservatives found in deli meat have been linked to cancer and heart disease.
Try Instead: Look for the brands of deli meat that are free of preservatives and additives. Slice a chicken breast or make a chicken salad using avocados instead of mayonnaise.
As consumers, we are easily persuaded by marketing health food terms like “all-natural” or “100 percent fruit juice.” When it comes to these fruit-flavored snacks, we must use caution to not be tricked by these labels and to look at all of the ingredients more closely.
- Cereals and Breakfast Pastries – Just because a cereal has a fruit on the box or a muffin has blueberries, does not mean they are a healthy choice. Many well-loved kids’ cereals and breakfast foods contain high levels of sugar, dyes, and preservatives.
- Fruit Snacks – Even though they are labeled as high in Vitamin C or touted as a healthy snack, in reality, fruit snacks are a nightmare for kids’ teeth and are basically just candy. They are filled with sugar and the harmful dyes as described above.
Try Instead: Many healthier breakfast options include overnight oats, whole wheat muffins sweetened with honey instead of sugar, and organic cereals free of preservatives. Dried fruits can be a satisfying substitute for fruit snacks.
So, let’s be honest—how many of these are in your pantry now? What have you found to be acceptable substitutes for these favorite kid foods?
Letise Dennis is a writer for Learning Liftoff. She has enjoyed writing since childhood, but has spent her most recent professional years writing website content and articles relating to her passion of fitness and nutrition. Having grown up in the south, she attended George Mason University and earned a degree in Communication, with a focus on interpersonal and business communication. After graduation, she began her career at a national nonprofit organization and has been living in Northern Virginia since. When not writing for Learning Liftoff, she spends her time with her husband and three kids enjoying sports and the outdoors.