Are These 4 Unhealthy Foods for Kids Lurking in Your Pantry?

Are These 4 Unhealthy Foods for Kids Lurking in Your Pantry?

Article By: Dominica Dieffenbach, RDN

Dominica is a Registered Dietitian and mom of 2 kiddos currently specializing in the special needs pediatric population. She has over 15 years of experience as an RD, working with a wide variety of patients to provide them with individualized medical nutrition therapy and education.

Navigating the aisles at your local grocery store in search of nutritious foods that your kids will actually eat has become increasingly challenging as a large number of foods deemed “healthy products” fill the shelves. Unfortunately, just because a product is labeled with words like natural, whole grain, low fat, or gluten-free, does not necessarily mean that product is healthy.

Reading a packaged food’s Nutrition Facts label can be a good place to start as you investigate health claims. Sugar consumption in children is on the rise, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Children less than 2 years old should not consume any added sugar as part of their diet. For kids older than 2, aim for less than 25g of added sugar per day. Food labels now list the total grams of ADDED sugars, which makes this even easier to monitor. You’d be surprised how quickly added sugar can add up!

Be sure to pay attention to the serving size in relation to the portion that is being consumed... Often times, the portion size is much smaller than what we are eating. Looking at the list of ingredients will provide insight as to what the food is made of — the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. A good rule of thumb is... If you can’t pronounce the name of an ingredient, don’t eat it!

Foods that contain ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, food dyes, and artificial sweeteners are among the many additives that can do more harm than good. These foods are often filled with empty calories and lack the necessary vitamins and minerals that growing bodies need. Dietary changes can be hard and often take a while to become habit. However, in the meantime, providing kids with a high-quality vitamin supplement such as the Renzo’s Picky Eater Multi can be beneficial.

Below are 4 common foods that are surprisingly high in added sugars and unhealthy additives. Knowing what to look for can help you choose the best version of each of these products.

1) Cereals.

Many cereals are marketed with the words “whole grains”, which may cause us to think they are a healthy option... Meanwhile, they are loaded with added sugars, dyes, and other potentially undesirable ingredients. Many children tend to have worsening hyperactivity symptoms when they ingest food dyes listed as Yellow #5 and #6 for example. Also make sure the label specifically says “100% whole grains,” and aim for a cereal with less than 7g of added sugars.

2) Yogurt.

Yogurt can be a healthy choice if unsweetened, but flavored yogurts (yes even honey and vanilla), “fruit on the bottom” yogurts, and those with candy mix-ins can contain over 15g of added sugars in just a small serving. As a healthier alternative, choose plain, higher-protein Greek yogurt and mix in your own fruit for sweetness. If kiddos are having a hard time adjusting to the taste, try mixing half plain + half flavored yogurt and gradually phase-out the sweet stuff.

3) Peanut butter (with more than 2 ingredients).

Peanut butter can be a great addition to a lunch or snack recipe, adding heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, and protein. However, many peanut butters have trans fats added to them, listed as “fully or partially hydrogenated oils” which are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Some peanut butters also have added sugars and emulsifiers which can be linked to increased gut inflammation. No, thank you! Check the ingredient list and aim for a jar that contains only peanuts and a small amount of salt. And beware — kids’ other favorite hazelnut & chocolate sandwich spread has 21g of sugar in each 2 tbsp serving!

4) Granola bars.

While some granola bars can be a filling snack for kids on the go, many are surprisingly high in added sugars, artificial flavors, and contain very little fiber. Carefully read the label and aim for a bar that has less than 7g of added sugar and contains at least 3g of dietary fiber.

See the recipe below for an easy no-bake homemade snack bar kids can help prepare!


  • 1 cup creamy nut butter of choice (see tips above on healthy peanut butter options)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 mashed very ripe banana
  • 4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1) Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl until it forms a sticky dough. If the mixture is dry and not sticky, add a little bit more honey and/or nut butter (different nut butter brands perform differently here).

2) Add a sheet of parchment paper to a 9 x 9 pan. Place the ingredients in the pan and press it into an even layer. Use a small glass to roll over the top to get it smooth.

3) Freeze the bars for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the freezer and use the parchment to lift it out of the pan. Cut into 16 squares or 32 rectangles. Store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. You can eat right away, or refrigerate for about 1 hour for a more solid texture.

Renzo's Vitamins provides general recommendations, not to be construed as medical advice.

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