Foods Kids Should Avoid
We all want the best for our children. We want them to be strong, healthy and above all safe, however, despite the wealth of information available at our fingertips, choosing the right options for our children can be quite a challenge. There are so many factors to consider, and as parents and carers, it can be tricky finding time to read the label – let alone jump on Google to investigate what hidden ingredients are being sneaked into our supermarket trolleys! With the goal of making life simpler for you, we have broken down and explored a few foods that fit into one of the following three categories:
- Treat with caution
- Best kept as an occasional treat
- Avoid altogether
Sugary Breakfast Cereals
The lure of the breakfast aisle is an undeniable example of child-focused marketing at its most efficient! A wall of colourful boxes awaits, covered in catchy slogans and familiar cartoon characters, designed to tempt our children. The harsh reality is that the vast majority of these products (sold as suitable for the first meal of the day) are not much better than letting the children raid the biscuit tin for breakfast. Many popular cereal brands contain more than one-third sugars, which is bad for teeth, nutritionally void, can lead to weight gain and could form the first steps on the path towards diabetes later in life. The misleading label claims of “high in fibre” or “fortified with vitamins” create the sense that a product is guaranteed to be healthy, but while fibre and vitamins are great, their added value might not offset the huge hit of sugar inside the box. If your kids are fixated on breakfast cereals, as many are after seeing exciting advertisements on television, why not make sugary cereals a weekend treat, opting for a more nutritious breakfast during the week like healthful muesli, cinnamon porridge or egg and soldiers!
Foods With A High Allergy Risk
When we think of an allergic reaction we may imagine something quite dramatic, and while certain allergies can indeed be very serious, for many they can bring under-the-radar symptoms that may be mistaken for something else. It is estimated that 7% of children experience a food allergy of some kind, and experts believe that this percentage is on the rise. For adults this figure drops to 3% and many children will grow out of their allergies. Left unchecked, however, allergies may be having a negative impact on the quality of life for your child. Potential signs to watch out for are breathing difficulties, stomach upset, skin rashes, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes or a runny nose. Common allergy-triggering foods to be aware of are peanuts, eggs, milk and dairy products, shellfish, soy and wheat, although this list is not exhaustive. If you suspect an allergy or your child is experiencing persistent symptoms from the list above, consult with your doctor to make sure that any avoidable health issues are knocked on the head promptly. These foods are certainly not bad foods, in fact, they are all potential components of a balanced diet, but awareness and observation is the key to making sure a problem isn’t missed.
Processed meat can be a convenient go-to for kid-friendly snacks, but products such as salami, cured ham, bacon and hot dogs have been associated with increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer in later life. Heart disease registered as 42% more likely in people who ate processed meats every day, while a once weekly consumption had negligible impact. It is widely accepted that non-processed meat does not share these negative effects, and that nitrates, sodium and preservatives within the processed meats are what make the difference. You can easily avoid the temptation of the sliced meat section at the supermarket by slicing your own home-cooked meat and dividing it up between the fridge and the freezer for laissez-faire mealtimes in the days ahead. Processed meats should definitely be saved as a weekend or special occasion treat. More info on this topic here.
Bisphenol-A or “BPA” For Short
BPA are three letters you might have heard bounced about, and may have made you wonder if you should be worried, and how on earth you could avoid it. BPA is an additive used in plastic food containers such as soft drinks bottles and the lining of food cans. BPA mimics and interferes with the action of oestrogen, a hormone involved in young development and later reproduction. More than 90% of us have BPA in our bodies, and alarmingly this has been associated with increased cancer risk, issues of reproductive health and increased forming of fat cells which could lead to obesity, hypothyroidism, insulin resistance and cognitive problems. BPA has already been removed from most plastic products marketed for small children such as baby bottles, beakers and pacifiers, but is still prevalent in many food containers. To reduce BPA exposure for your kids, opt for goods in glass jars rather than tins and limit plastic bottles as far as possible. If you do need to buy these products keep containers out of the sun and away from heat as these conditions will increase the leaching of BPA into your food or drink. Acidic foods like canned tomatoes also increase leaching. There are many BPA free plastics now on the market if you want to buy a water bottle for your child to take to school or Tupperware that is safe for the microwave. More info on this topic here.
While making healthy choices when it comes to what we feed our children, it is terribly easy to overlook what they drink, especially when we have a soft drink habit of our own! The classic culprits are of course sugar loaded fizzy drinks, with many canned drinks coming in with a whopping 7 teaspoons of sugar in each serving! Other tooth (and waist) unfriendly beverages you might not have clued-up to include squashes, sports drinks and even fruit juices. While fruit juice can be nutritious, juices are acidic and high in natural sugars that tiny teeth won’t like one bit. Far better to offer kids a glass of water and a piece of fruit which contains plenty of fibre to buffer that sugar kick. You can also make your own fruit cordials by mixing just a splash of unsweetened juice with water. Once children adjust to the more natural flavour, this lower sugar alternative will be plenty sweet enough.
For smaller children who haven’t quite mastered gobbling down food without breathing at the same time, or chewing sufficiently, choking can be a risk and a scary experience for both them and you. Up to around the age of three, it is best to always cut up food into small pieces for our little ones and keep a close eye while they are eating. Foods to keep in mind as more hazardous include small hard foods such as nuts, crisps and raw vegetables, sticky foods like nut butters and marshmallows, and slippery foods like sweets, whole grapes and pieces of meat. Practising being mindful of how we eat with our little ones, and making a game out of counting our chews for each mouthful can be a fun way to encourage kids to slow down, reducing the chance that they might choke.
Yoghurt is another common culprit I’m afraid. One might begin to wonder why so much sugar is pumped into kids products! Children’s yoghurts offer the same bright and colourful packaging as breakfast cereals, and those little pots of sweetness are sure to be grabbed at by a hungry child, but the added sugars, colours and preservatives might make you think twice. Re-invent your child’s relationship with yoghurt by buying natural and unsweetened yoghurts and making your own variations by adding nuts, fresh frozen or stewed fruit or just a little bit of honey. This protein and pro-biotic packed powerhouse will certainly offer a healthful start to the day!
Foods that are intentionally marketed at children are frequently not as healthy as we imagine they ought to be. A wise approach is to create our own convenience by mixing natural ingredients at home and leaving the individually wrapped convenience foods behind on the shelves.