I’m sure you’re a responsible parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle/babysitter. While that once-in-a-while trip to McDonalds’ is all right, you make sure that your kids do not feed on hamburgers, French fries, pizza, and coke day in and day out, much as they’d love to. While cutting the obvious junk out of your kids’ everyday diet is a great idea, you may be surprised as to what scientific studies have to reveal about a number of popular food items marketed as “healthy for kids”. Here is a list to help you make an informed choice.

Breakfast Cereals for kids:

sugary cereals

Breakfast cereals for kids are amongst the most begged for foods in the supermarket. They are colourful, they are sugary, and their boxes display a variety of popular cartoon characters. Your kid loves them! And so do you. They boast of a whole lot of vitamins and minerals on the label, and they are tasty, which means your kid does not make a fuss on the breakfast table. However, the sour truth that these sweet cereals hide is that when you consider the amount of sugar and processed ingredients per serving, the miniscule amount of nutritional value they offer doesn’t count for much. Nutritionists recommend that when you shop for a suitable cereal, go for brands that contain at least 3-grams of fiber per serving and less than 10 grams of sugar. The best morning cereal that you can serve your kid hooked is whole grain oatmeal. It’s high on fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Sprinkle on some berries and mix it with yogurt, or a dab of honey or real maple syrup, and junior will love it just as much as he loves his froot loops.

Processed Meats:

processed meat

Bologna and smoked ham may sound like lunchbox staples, but experts suggest that if your child eats a sliced meat sandwich every day, you may be packing her a toxic lunch. Processed meats contain saturated fat, high levels of sodium, and artificial preservatives like nitrates — all things that threat your child’s health. Nitrate, in particular, has been found to increase risks of heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer in children. If your kids love lunch meats, opt for preservative-free varieties, or better yet, make your own by thinly slicing chicken at home.

Juice Boxes

Juice Boxes

We know your kid loves her pack of chilled Mango Frooti after school or play hours. But according to food experts, irrespective of what their labels say, juice boxes don’t really pack any nutritional value. Not only do they contain high levels of sugar, most commercial juices lack any fiber and vitamin content. If your child loves her cold beverages, try blending up a batch of fruit smoothies with whole fruits, yogurt, and ice as a nutritious after school snack.

Snack Cakes:

Snack Cake

Your child probably looks forward to that Swiss-roll in her lunchbox every day. But as much as you love treating your kid, you should consider that most processed snack cakes are packed with trans fats, the most unhealthy processed fat known.  So if packing in something sweet ensures that your child finishes her lunch at school, go for berries and grape or bake cookies or squares from scratch using natural ingredients.

Kids’ yogurt

Kids Yogurt

This might be a shocker to you. Yogurt is a wonderfully healthy food for kids; kids’ yogurt, not so much. The reason is that it is so loaded with artificial colors and sugar that it negates any health benefits the original food might contain. So your kid does not like plain yogurt? Just buy the plain variety and sweeten it with frozen fruit, raisins, or honey.

Microwave popcorn

Microwave Popcorn

Many parents opt for microwave popcorn as a hassle-free “healthier” alternative to packaged and/or deep fried chips and snacks. However, here’s an ugly truth. Bags of microwave popcorn are lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, so that they do not catch fire while microwaving. While nobody wants a flaming microwave, what sets the alarm bells ringing is that PFOA has been linked to cancer, delayed puberty, thyroid abnormalities, and high cholesterol in children. It might be worth the while to steer clear of the microwave versions and make your own popcorn.

Granola Bars

Granola Bars

Contrary to popular belief, food experts are of the opinion that granola bars do not really make a healthy snack for kids. In fact, most store-bought granola bars marketed to kids are lower on nutritional value than the brands for adults: they are loaded with sugar and added ingredients like chocolate chips, marshmallows, candy, high fructose syrup, and artificial dyes. If your kid is a fan of energy bars, try whipping up a batch at home with natural ingredients like almond, peanut butter, raisins, coconut, whole grain cereal, honey, and dried fruit and nuts.

Sports drinks

Sports Drinks

You may think they are a healthy choice, but unless your kids are exercising heavily on a hot day, there really is no need for them to drink a sports drink. Experts say that regular consumption of sports drinks make children develop a kind of tolerance that makes them less likely to choose water over these drinks even at other times of day, simple because it will taste bland in comparison. If your kid is thirsty, offer water. For a great post-game recovery drink, try chocolate milk — it has the perfect blend of carbohydrates and protein to help little bodies repair and replenish.

While this list should help you get started, I’m convinced it’s far from comprehensive. There is a number of unhealthy products in shiny packs that are sure to attract your kid while you navigate through the aisles of your local supermarket. The trick is to not be fooled by friendly-looking cartoons assuring you of a “mouthful of health”. Read the nutritional information and scan the ingredients with care. When in doubt, consult your nutritionist or pediatrician. Your smart choices prepare your child for a healthy life healthy.