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15 Snack Foods Contributing to Mood Swings and Childhood Obesity

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Whenever my 4-year-old gets in her car seat or we head outside, her first question is: “what did you bring me for a snack?” With tiny bellies, it’s normal for kids to want to eat smaller meals, or snacks, throughout the day- rather than 3 square meals like an adult.

As a mom, I always try to balance convenience and nourishing foods for my insatiable toddler. While some of these snacks may appear harmless and healthy, many contain sugar, sodium, preservatives, and other unhealthy ingredients.

As a healthy habits advocate and concerned mom, I wanted to share my findings of the 11 worst snack foods that are filled with junk. This article is not meant to make parents feel ashamed of their food choices but rather give them information to feel empowered and make healthy choices, one small step at a time.

1. Trail Mix

avoid trail mix with sugary additives- make your own instead
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Trail mix can seem like a great snack for kids loaded with healthy nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. However, it’s usually packed with added sugar (or candy) to sweeten the product, which can make it as sugary as a candy bar.

Getting your kids to eat nuts is a great source of healthy fat; try making your own blends with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits (without added sugar) to reduce the sugar content.

2. Fruit Snacks

fruit snacks are the same as gummy candy in most instances
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Sure, these brightly colored little snacks have the word “fruit” on the box, so they should be a healthy choice, right? Most of them are made with artificial colors, corn syrup, food coloring, and artificial flavors. They are the same as giving your kids gummy candy for snacks.

For a healthier snack alternative, try frozen fruit or fresh and dried fruit without added sugars. If your kids love fruit snacks and won’t take no for an answer, look for brands with fruit as the first ingredient without added sugar, coloring, or flavors.

3. Granola Bars

granola bars are like candy bars in most instances
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Granola, energy, and protein bars are somehow perceived as healthy. Yet, most of them are loaded with added sugar, unhealthy fats (such as canola or vegetable oil), and preservatives. Many labels look similar to a candy bar.

It’s best to read labels carefully and look for bars with whole ingredients like nuts, seeds, oats, and dried fruit without extra sugar or artificial sweeteners.

4. Cereal

cereal is typically loaded with sugar
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Cereal is usually a go-to, convenient option for a snack or breakfast. Did you know that most cereals “for kids” have sugar as the first or second ingredient? Yes, even the beloved toddler snack Cheerios is loaded with added sugar. All that extra sugar can lead to major energy and mood crashes for your kids during the day.

Swap sugary cereals for ones made with whole grains, nuts, seeds, or oats without added sugars or artificial sweeteners. To be honest, they’re hard to find, even from “healthier brands.” We stick to simple options like puffed rice and unsweetened shredded wheat.

5. Peanut Butter

peanut butter is often filled with sugar
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A jar of peanut butter is a common staple in many households and is perceived as a healthy food. Still, most leading brands are loaded with added sugars, emulsifiers (to make the product smoother), preservatives, and unhealthy oils.

Look for nut butter made from nuts only (no added sugar), or make your own at home with roasted nuts. Natural peanut butter requires stirring and refrigeration, but it can be much healthier and is still just as tasty!

6. Crackers

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Crackers and other salty snacks (pretzels, veggie straws, etc.) are often perceived as a relatively healthy snack option for kids. However, many leading brands use hydrogenated oil (trans fat) to make them crunchy and contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners like maltodextrin.

Look for crackers with only a few ingredients on the label. Plus, make sure to pair it with a source of protein or healthy fat, such as nut butter, whole-fat cheese, or hummus, to keep your kids full and energized throughout the day.

7. Fruit Juice and Other Kid Drinks

fruit juice has no fiber and is often filled with additives
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Fruit juices, flavored waters, and other kid-friendly drinks are often seen as healthy alternatives to soda. However, most of them contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners that can have a negative effect on your child’s health. Since juice lacks the fiber that a child would get from eating the fruit, this makes for a big dose of sugar for your little one’s body.

Avoid artificial drinks with no nutritional value, such as fruit punch and Capri suns. Save juice as an occasional treat, making sure to choose one that is made with real fruit only. Or have fun with your kids at home making your own.

8. Fruit Pouches

fruit pouches often have hidden ingredients
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Fruit pouches have become incredibly popular with kids and are an easy on-the-go option. Unfortunately- like fruit juice- many of them are made with added sugar, artificial colors, and flavors.

Look for pouches without unnecessary additives. Or, opt for homemade versions using fresh or frozen fruit (it’s easier than you think).

9. Yogurt

yogurt, especially when "fat-free" is loaded with additives
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Yogurt is a good source of calcium, protein, and probiotics. However, many brands are fat-free (healthy naturally occurring fats are important for a child’s brain function) and are loaded with added sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. It’s often sold as a “healthy snack for kids,” but it can easily become unhealthy depending on your chosen brand.

Ditch the mainstream go-gurts and kid-friendly yogurt options that are pure sugar and chemicals. Instead, find a plain whole-fat yogurt to which you can add your favorite add-ins, like fresh fruit, nuts, cinnamon, and a dash of honey.

10. Graham Crackers

graham crackers and animal crackers should be a dessert, not a snack
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Graham crackers are often used as a snack or dessert for kids, but they may be worse than you think. Many leading brands use hydrogenated oils and plenty of added sugar and artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Look for ones made with whole-grain flour, natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup, and without added artificial ingredients. Plus, save these for an occasional sweet treat rather than a mainstay snack option.

11. Instant Oatmeal

instant oatmeal is filled with sugar and flavors
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Adding hot water to an instant oatmeal pouch makes it an easy breastfast or snack option. Yet, like all of the other options on this list, it’s hiding a lot of added sugar and unhealthy ingredients.

Instead, opt for the traditional rolled or instant oats in a larger container with no added flavors. Then, opt to add your own favorite additions.

12. Fruit Bars

kid eating watermelon, healthy eating for kids is possible

Just like fruit pouches or anything that’s supposed to contain fruit, it’s best to double-check the label for hidden added sugars (cane sugar, corn syrup, etc.). These can be especially bad for kids’ teeth, too, since they tend to stick in the deep crevices of their molars.

13. Pop Tarts

afraid child
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Pop tarts lack any real nutritional value for kids (and adults). They are packed with sugar, artificial flavors, and preservatives that are guaranteed to lead to a sugar spike.

If your kids are looking for something on the sweet side, you’re better off toasting whole-grain toast and adding natural jelly.

14. Soda and Sports Drinks

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This should be an obvious one. Yet, many kids have soda or sports drinks (when they aren’t sweating and competing) as a regular staple in their diet. Liquid sugar filled with other questionable additives has no benefit for our kiddos.

If they like bubbles, try giving them some sparkling water with a splash of flavor (fresh juice, lemon, etc.)

15. Chips

junk food, pop, and chips, obesity in children
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This is another more obvious yet common junky snack food. Corn chips, potato chips, baked chips, pita chips- they’re all the same in reality. And some parents get duped into thinking other processed foods that aren’t “fried” are better- such as veggie straw and corn puffs.

If your child is craving something salty, see if they’ll try hummus or a homemade cheese dip, ideally with sliced veggies.

Fill Little Bellies with Nutrient Dense Snacks

eat healthy snacks
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There are a lot of snacks on the market these days that favor convenience over nutrition quality. Plus, of course, kids love the added flavors and sugars that are often in snack foods. I recall growing up on Gushers, pop tarts, and other foods that were far from nutritious.

But, when you move away from the processed snack aisle, you can choose real foods with a lot of nutritional value for your kids. With some creativity and planning, you can ensure your little ones get plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients in their snacks.

When in doubt, opt for whole food options (such as fruit, whole-fat yogurt, natural peanut butter, etc.) that you can mix and match on your own. And what if your kids don’t want those healthy snacks? Do your best to lead by example.

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