Sweetened drinks like soda can contribute to childhood tooth decay.

The 10 Worst Things for Kids to Eat

by Michelle Kerns

It's important to make sure that your kids get enough fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and lean protein every day, but it's equally important to know what they shouldn't be eating. Kids who get used to eating foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt too soon may end up making unhealthy diet choices as young adults and in adulthood, and this will greatly increase their risk of Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer. Start early eliminating these foods from your child's diet -- a 2004 study published in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association" says that by her second birthday, a child may have already established many of her future eating habits. Talk to your pediatrician if you're concerned about your child's diet.

1. Sweetened Drinks

When Children's Hospital of Philadelphia registered dietitian Beth Wallace asked other pediatric nutrition experts what they wouldn't allow their children to consume, sweetened drinks was the first item on most lists. This includes soda, sugar-sweetened juices, powdered drink mixes and lemonade. All are high in calories, low in nutrients and can contain as much as 27 grams of sugar per cup. Low- or nonfat milk, water or 100 percent juice are healthier choices.

2. French Fries

A typical kids serving of fast food french fries may contain nearly 5 grams of fat and 59 grams of sodium. Frozen french fries can be worse: even when they're oven-baked at home, as few as 10 fries can have almost 200 milligrams of sodium. Slice and bake your own fries instead so that you can control how much salt is used.

3. Processed Meats

Hot dogs, canned meats like sausages or spiced ham, bacon and lunch deli meats are all dense with fat and sodium. In addition, the Harvard School of Public Health warns that the more processed meat you consume, the greater your chance of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Swap these meats for protein choices like poultry, fish or lean beef.

4. Canned Soup

Time.com points out that many of the canned soups marketed to catch the attention of kids contain far more than the 480-milligram per-serving sodium limit for soups recommended by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Look for low-sodium versions of canned soup or make your own from fresh ingredients.

5. Chicken Nuggets

Whether you purchase them frozen and bake them at home or get them from a fast food restaurant, breaded chicken nuggets contain more sodium and fat than a child should have in one sitting, cautions registered dietitian Mindy Hermann. It's best to cut up boneless, skinless chicken breasts on your own and bake them breaded with a mixture of whole-wheat bread crumbs and a low-sodium seasoning.

6. Sweetened Breakfast Cereal

Sugary breakfast cereals may advertise that they're enriched with various vitamins and minerals, but Wallace contends that they are no match nutritionally for a high-fiber, whole-grain cereal that contains far less sugar and artificial coloring -- if any -- per serving. Duke University professor of pediatrics Terrill Bravender advises serving your children a low-sugar breakfast high in protein and fiber.

7. Fruit Packed in Syrup

While fruit should be a major component of a kid's diet, not all fruit choices are created equal. Fruit that's canned or packaged in syrup can contain over 40 grams of sugar in every cup. Choose fruit packed in water or 100 percent juice. Or, better still, give your child whole or sliced fresh fruit.

8. Packaged Desserts and Pastries

Pre-packaged desserts like cookies, doughnuts and cupcakes are not only high in sugar and fat, but they're also a source of trans fats, a type of hydrogenated oil that MayoClinic.com says is linked to higher blood cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease. The same is true for breakfast toaster pastries. Prepare your own baked goods at home to keep your child's intake of trans fats under control.

9. Fruit Snacks

Fruit snacks like fruit gummies, fruit leather or fruit roll-ups may sound healthy, but, according to Time.com, the majority have only a fraction of real fruit in them. Most of these products are predominantly sugar. And, since these sticky snacks cling to your teeth, a kid who eats them frequently has a greater chance of developing cavities. DukeHealth.org recommends giving your children fresh, not processed fruit.

10. Packaged Pasta Meals

The majority of packaged pasta meals -- including that kid favorite, macaroni and cheese -- are high-fat, high-calorie and high-sodium. Most also contain pasta that's prepared from refined white flour. Try doubling your own homemade recipe made with whole-grain pasta and freezing kid-size servings for quick meals with more nutrition and less fat and sodium.

About the Author

Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.

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