10 Worst Foods for Your Kid's Lunch Box


What are the worst kids foods out there? Not coincidentally, many of them are the ones that are the most aggressively marketed to kids. Read this list of the top 10 worst foods to put in a kid's lunch box this school, put together by nutrition expert Brandi Thompson. Not only will you learn what so-called treats to avoid, but you will also learn about many healthy alternatives that your kid may enjoy just as much!

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By Brandi Thompson RD, LD/N

Don't send your kid off to school with a lunch box full of salt, sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and 12-syllable chemicals, which lead to sluggishness, hyperactivity and the inability to concentrate in the classroom. Check out this list of the 10 worst foods for kids (some may surprise you!) along with healthy alternatives to fuel your kid throughout the day.

Fruit Snacks

Save the rainbow of colors for real fruits and vegetables. Most of these gummy chews are chock-full of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavors. Substitute whole fruits such as apples, bananas and oranges, or find one of the few healthy fruit snacks out there. Nutritious picks include Clif fruit snacks, Simply Fruit and Annie's organic fruit snacks.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

This traditional sandwich can be stacked with high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, salt and hydrogenated oils if not examined carefully. PB&J should be made on whole wheat bread and the peanut butter should exclude sugar and salt. Look for a jelly without high-fructose corn syrup and artificial colors. Sliced bananas or strawberries mixed with pure honey or agave nectar make for natural substitutes to jelly. For a quality peanut butter, pick up Smucker's Natural or check out The Fresh Market, where customers grind their own fresh nut butters in the store.

Starchy Snack Bars

These convenient foods, such as Pop Tarts and Quaker Chewy Granola Bars, can contain well over 15 ingredients. The more ingredients that a product has, the further it strays from “real” food, and the more chemicals and sugars you’ll find in it. Choose a prepackaged product that offers whole grains, fruit and fiber, such as KIND bars, Odwalla bars, Clif snacks, Nature's Valley granola bars, Annie's granola bars, and Cascadian Farms Organic granola bars.

Brightly Colored Yogurt

Neon colors should be saved for highlighters, not snacks. Avoid brightly colored and character-decorated snack yogurts. Seek out yogurts that have three ingredients: milk, probiotics (what makes milk into yogurt) and fruit. Avoid sugar and sugar substitutes in yogurt. Try Chobani Greek Yogurt or plain low-fat yogurt with your own fruit added.

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Applesauce and 'Fruit Cups'

Your kid doesn’t need syrupy goop with his fruit. The original fast foods—whole fruits like apples, peaches, pears and mandarin oranges—are sweet enough by themselves. If you do buy a fruit cup, make sure the only liquid in it is water. GoGo SqueeZ and Nature's Child Squeezers are good on-the-go alternatives.

Sweet, Sport and Energy Drinks

Kool-Aid, Capri Sun, Hi-C, sports drinks, sodas and energy drinks are full of artificial colors and flavors and have no redeeming nutritional value. A child should not exceed 12 teaspoons of added sugar per day. In a single serving, these drinks well exceed the recommended daily allowance of added sugar. Some nutritious choices include Odwalla smoothies, Mott's 100% Apple Juice, water and 1% non-flavored milk.

Snack Chips

Chips that stain a child’s clothes and fingers neon orange are a definite contender for worst snack a child could eat. Americans in general eat too much salt, and snack chips provide more salt in a serving than a child needs in a day, while providing no nutritional value. Replace these with homemade trail mix or air-popped popcorn.

Cakes and Cookies

Twinkies, Ho Hos, Snowballs, cinnamon rolls and frosted cookies are full of high-fructose corn syrup, fillers and artificial ingredients. These products are high in calories and low in nutrition. For a healthier way to please your kid's sweet tooth, go with graham crackers, raisins, dried mangoes (without added sugar) and the occasional homemade cake or cookie.

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Gelatin or Pudding

No real nutritional ingredients can be found in gelatin or pudding. You may be frightened by reading the labels of these products! Avoid them altogether and enjoy yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit.

Prepackaged Lunch Trays

Lunchables or Hormel prepackaged lunches are possibly the worst option for a snack. These salt- and chemical-filled plastic trays should be avoided at all costs. Stick with homemade sandwiches and wraps, or make your own lunch tray for your child using natural, healthy foods.

Get in the habit of reading labels and avoiding foods with unnecessary ingredients. Do a little work at the grocery store, and you’ll score an A+ this year for nutrition and make your child happy and healthy!

Brandi Thompson is a nutrition expert (aka Registered Dietitian) with 11 years of experience. Click here for her website.

Providing healthy meals is even harder with a picky eater. If your child's palate is hard to please, check out our article on picky eaters.