“Parents should be mindful of the sugary drinks they give their kids,” says Wesley Delbridge, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who specialises in children’s nutrition. “Juice boxes and pouches are essentially just sugar. Kids drink them, get a sugar rush, and then crash.” He’s especially concerned about apple juice, because that’s what he sees young kids drinking the most. Parents think it’s healthier than orange, grape, or cherry juices; but they’re wrong. Even 100% apple juice contains 160 calories a cup—and that’s almost entirely fructose. Also, they’ll miss out on all the fibre and nutrients by juicing the fruit instead of eating it whole.
Never give honey to a child under two years old. Honey can contain a bacterium that causes botulism, a potentially fatal disease. Infants and young children are especially at risk because their immune systems haven’t been built up enough to fight the bacteria yet. This bacteria is present in all types of honey, including raw and processed varieties, so stay away.
Fish offers a variety of nutrients and can be a delicious way to get your kids to eat healthily. But certain kinds of fish—like swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and albacore tuna—contain high levels of mercury, so it’s important to keep these off your child’s menu. Fish that are high in mercury can affect the nervous system of young kids.
Parents should know that unpasteurized dairy products are far more likely to make children ill than pasteurized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Because these products can harbour dangerous pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli and Campylobacter, parents should never serve their kids raw milk or foods made from it.
While new research suggests that babies as young as four months old should be introduced to peanut butter to reduce the occurrence of peanut allergies, it is important to keep serving sizes appropriate for small eaters. For young children, a spoonful of peanut or any nut butter might seem like a great way to serve this creamy spread. But it increases a child’s choking risk. Nut butters are too thick for young children to swallow in larger bites, which could clog up their airways. A safer way to enjoy peanut butter is to spread a small amount on thin slices of toast.
Sushi, sashimi, and poke are delicious foods that can be sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But the U.S. Food & Drug Administration advises against giving these foods to children under the age of five because they may contain harmful bacteria or parasites. Even in Japan, where eating raw fish is a dietary staple, parents often wait until their children are older before serving it. Eating raw fish can lead to problems like hepatitis, parasitic infections, and salmonella. Infants, whose immune systems are still developing, are at greater risk than adults.
While the guidelines regarding nut consumption have certainly changed in recent years, that doesn’t mean they are safe for kids all the time. Parents should avoid giving their children whole nuts, as they present a choking risk. They should instead opt for nut butters (in small amounts) and nut powders.
A baby’s kidneys are not mature enough to cope with more than a small amount of salt: 0.4g (1g sodium) a day until their first birthday, and 0.8g between one and three years. Babies younger than six months old get all the salt they need from breastmilk or formula. Once your baby begins eating solids, you shouldn’t add salt to their food, even if it tastes bland. If you want to add flavour, try using herbs instead of stock cubes and gravy – which can come with a high salt content.
Babies can benefit from eating cheese, as it is a good source of calcium and protein. However, they should not be fed mould-ripened soft cheeses like brie, goat cheese, or blue cheese. These types of cheeses have a higher risk of carrying listeria bacteria than other cheeses. Listeria is a harmful bacterium that can cause food poisoning. When buying cheese for your baby, check the nutrition label and ingredient list carefully to make sure that it does not contain any listeria.
Morgyn Clair, founder of the Sprint Kitchen and registered dietician nutritionist, says “parents should opt for meats that are fully cooked through to at least a 165-degree internal temperature. Smoking can leave harmful bacteria intact because it doesn’t reach high enough temperatures.” Cured meats, such as bacon and bologna, contain high levels of fat, sodium, and nitrates. To keep your baby healthy, do not feed them these foods. Babies have difficulty digesting them because of the high fat and sodium content.
Carrots are nutritional powerhouses, boasting high levels of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and potassium. Unfortunately, in their raw state they also pose a potent risk of asphyxiation, due to their conical shape. A disc of raw carrot lodged in the windpipe is extremely difficult to dislodge, and will often prove fatal. Carrots should be thoroughly cooked before being fed to kids, and for children under three should be mashed.
Although Kellogg’s made the decision to stop putting toys in their cereal boxes in 2009, many brands of cereal are still implicitly marketed at children. Unfortunately, eating a sugary breakfast will generally cause kids to crash in the late morning and severely impact their learning at school. Instead, go for breakfast foods like natural yogurt that provide a long lasting supply of steady energy.
It’s not exactly a secret that sweets are bad for kids, increasing the risk of tooth decay and obesity, as well as causing problems with concentration and attention. As a parent, it can be tempting to give in to your child’s beseechment for sweets by giving them things like fruit gummies that claim to be made with ‘real fruit.’ Unfortunately, even if they are made with real fruit, any processed sweet is also going to come packed with sugars and preservatives that will wreak havoc on your child’s health.
Boxed macaroni and cheese
Macaroni and cheese is one of the all time greats when it comes to comfort foods, and kids tend to absolutely love it. However, as tempting as it may be to save some time by reaching for a box of pre-made mac ‘n’ cheese, you’ll be doing your kid’s health a serious disservice if you do. Boxed macaroni cheese is high in a number of harmful chemicals including phthalates, which were banned from children’s toys years ago. Whilst it takes a bit more work, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese is free of nasties and contains high levels of calcium and potassium, both of which are important for developing kids.
Apple sauce is often recommended for kids when they’re ill, but it’s probably best to avoid it both in sickness and in health. Although apples contain a number of healthy nutrients, apple sauce is also incredibly high in sugar. What’s more, it lacks the fibre that whole fruit contains, meaning all of that sugar is rapidly absorbed, sharply spiking insulin levels and causing peaks and crashes in energy.
Hot dogs and sausages
If you were to design the perfect choke hazard, it would probably look something like a sausage. Due to their round shape, hot dogs and sausages are capable of neatly plugging airways, and are incredibly difficult to get out once they’re lodged. Kids under three shouldn’t eat them full stop, and for older kids sausages should be sliced in half lengthwise before being served.
Grapes, as well as cherries and cherry tomatoes, pose a serious choke hazard to young children. Grapes are particularly dangerous as their smooth skin increases the risk of them sliding out of the mouth into the throat. If you insist on feeding you child grapes, make sure they are quartered first.
Parents understandably want to give their kids treats from time to time, but soda should probably be avoided until they are older. Studies have found that kids who drink soda are at a higher risk for obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes, and it can even impact bone health. Sugar free varieties are equally harmful, as artificial sweeteners have been shown to cause problems with brain development.
It can be seriously distressing when your child is ill, and as a parent it’s natural to want to ease their suffering. However, children under three shouldn’t be given cough drops, no matter how bad their cough sounds. It’s easy for kids to accidentally inhale them, especially if they’re coughing, and they can easily lodge in throats with fatal consequences.
Yogurt is fantastic source of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are great for growing bodies. However, not all yogurt is created equal. Flavoured yogurts are either packed full of added sugar or artificial sweeteners, both of which should be kept out of your child’s diet as much as possible.
Sorry to ruin movie night, but microwave popcorn is definitely something you want to avoid giving to your kids, for a few reasons. Firstly, popcorn can pose a choke hazard to kids under the age of four. Secondly, most brands add exorbitant amounts of sugar and salt to their products. Thirdly – and most worryingly – the bags that microwave popcorn comes in contain perfluorinated chemicals that have been shown to increase the risk of cancer and developmental disorders.
Granola bars seem like the perfect snack for your kid’s lunchbox, as they are often found in the health food aisle and market themselves as good sources of energy. However, closer inspection of the ingredients usually reveals high levels of added sugar, and not as much fibre as you might be led to believe. Healthy granola bars do exist, but they generally either have to be made at home or purchased from specialist health shops.
Whole segments of orange
Vitamin C is incredibly important for developing children, making oranges – which contain naturally high levels of the nutrient – seem like the perfect snack. However, orange segments are easy to choke on due to their unique shape. If you want to feed your child citrus fruits, make sure you cut the segments into bite-sized pieces first.
Fish is great for adults and children alike, boasting high levels of protein, vitamin D, and omega 3s. However, when it comes to your child’s diet, fresh fish is the way to go. Frozen fish contains a chemical called sodium tripolyphosphate that has been shown to be mildly neurotoxic. This probably isn’t much of a problem for adults, especially when consumed infrequently, but it should be kept well away from developing brains.
Bouillon cubes are an easy way to add flavour to a soup or stew, but it turns out they’re also full of a bunch of things you don’t want getting into your kid’s body. Amongst bouillon cubes more worrying ingredients are palm oil, caramel colour, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, which between them have been linked to elevated risks of cancer, heart disease, and inflammation.
Porridge is often held up as the ideal breakfast food, with its heart-healthy oats providing an excellent source of slow releasing energy. Whilst this is true, it doesn’t apply to instant porridge. Despite being highly convenient and often far more flavourful than traditional porridge, instant porridge generally come with high levels of added sugar that will cause your child to experience a mid-morning energy crash.
Ham sandwiches might be a lunchbox classic, but that doesn’t mean they’re a healthy option. Deli meats are highly processed and often contain extremely high levels of salt, with just two slices of ham containing over half a gram of sodium between them. Cancer-causing nitrates are also something of a concern, as are levels of saturated fat.
Diet ice cream
Diet ice cream might seem like a healthier alternative when it comes to giving your child a treat. However, whilst the absence of sugar might be a good thing, diet ice cream contains another, far more insidious ingredient: polysorbate 80. An artificial emulsifier, it gives diet ice cream its creamy texture, but studies have shown that the chemical causes intestinal inflammation, which can wreak havoc on your child’s delicate microbiome.
Marshmallows are exceptionally good at blocking airways due to how spongy they are, making them incredibly dangerous for small children. They are also basically made out of pure sugar, and offer little to no nutritional value. Regularly eating sugary treats has been shown to have long term ramifications for children’s moods and energy levels, setting them up for problems that might last their entire lifetime.
Rare meat is safe for most people, as stomach acid is generally capable of dealing with any bacteria that survives cooking. However, children under five have weaker digestive systems, and as a result shouldn’t eat any meat that hasn’t been thoroughly cooked. Steak in particular is also a major choke risk, and should be cut into very small pieces before you feed it to your child.
Everyone knows that junk food contains unhealthy levels of saturated fats and salt, but there are other, hidden dangers that are even more sinister. The packaging that fast food often comes in contains phthalates, a type of chemical that has been shown to disrupt hormones. Children are much more vulnerable to this due to the fact that their endocrine systems are still developing, and regular exposure to phthalates can lead to lifelong problems.
Brown rice is often hailed as a healthier alternative to white rice, which has had its fibre-containing hull removed, and from a nutritional perspective this is true. However, studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration have found alarming levels of arsenic in brown rice, which it absorbs from the soil it is grown in. Whilst it doesn’t need be avoided entirely, you should make sure you’re not feeding brown rice to your kids too often.
Deep fried food
Deep fried food is bad for everyone, but it can be particularly harmful to children. Food that has been deep fried contains high levels of advanced glycation end products, inflammatory compounds that are the result of heating oil to extremely high temperatures. Recent science has revealed that inflammation is implicated in many diseases and chronic conditions, and foods that worsen inflammatory markers should be avoided as much as possible.
It’s common knowledge that fruit is incredibly healthy, containing high levels of important nutrients and antioxidants, so it might make sense that fruit rolls would be too. Alas, life is rarely so simple. Whilst fruit rolls do contain fruit, they are highly processed – which strips away much of the goodness – and often contain high levels of added sugar. Additionally, the preservatives used to artificially extend their shelf life have been implicated in attentional disorders in children.
Because of their association with physical activity, many people mistakenly believe that sports drinks are healthy. Unfortunately, despite their marketing claims sports drinks aren’t much different from sugary sodas, and often have high levels of caffeine, making them unsuitable for children. The best drink to rehydrate after exercise is good old-fashioned water.
A 2018 study found that French fries were the most widely consumed vegetable product amongst young American children, and 27% percent of kids surveyed didn’t eat any other kinds of veg. Delicious as they are, French fries contain high level of sodium and fat, two things you want to keep to a minimum in your child’s diet, and lack the nutritional benefits of whole potatoes.
Kids can be notoriously fussy and will often gravitate towards white bread if given the choice. However, there are good reasons to make sure your child is only eating bread made from whole-grain flour. The flour that is used in white bread is often bleached with a chemical called azodicarbonamide, which has been linked to a number of negative health outcomes including asthma and dermatitis.
Whilst cheese of any kind shouldn’t be fed to very young children and babies, once they grow up a bit it can provides an excellent source of calcium, which supports the healthy development of bones. Unfortunately, whilst they are favourite amongst kids, cheese strings don’t pack the same nutritional benefits. What’s worse, they often also contain emulsifiers, high levels of salt, and sometimes even added sugar.
No one is going to be shocked to learn that pizza isn’t the healthiest food, but it can be easy to give in when your kids are begging you to order a takeaway. Pizza contains high levels of sodium and saturated fat, both of which have been shown by science to negatively impact children’s health. If you insist on having pizza, try making it at home, controlling how much salt gets added and making sure the toppings contain some healthy vegetables.
Chewing gum is especially dangerous for young kids, as it can easily get lodged in the throat with fatal consequences. However, even older kids should rarely be given gum. Whilst most chewing gums these days are sugar free, they still contain sweeteners that can mess with kids’ brain development, and swallowed gum can cause gastrointestinal problems – although it won’t stay in the stomach for seven years, as is often claimed.
Despite being a filling, satisfying snack, instant noodles contain little in the way of nutrition, essentially making them wasted calories. In addition, they tend to contain high levels of salt and a number of nasty preservatives. It’s ok to let your child have instant noodles from time to time, but once a month should really be the limit if you’re trying to avoid health problems.
Sadly, the best part of cake is also the unhealthiest. Frosting contains a slew of harmful chemical including titanium dioxide and propylene glycol, which are potential carcinogens, as well as artificial colours and high levels of sugar. Whilst it’s ok to let your kids have frosting from time to time – birthday cakes would be pretty depressing without it – in general you should ensure that it remains a treat enjoyed at special occasions.
One of the most pernicious misconceptions when it comes to healthy eating is that bottled smoothies are good for you. The companies that manufacture them are mostly to blame for this, as they frequently boast about the fruit content of their drinks and display messages like ‘one of your five a day’ on the bottles. Unfortunately, any health benefits from the fruit in bottled smoothies is completely dwarfed by the sugar content, which is often equivalent to fizzy soda.
Nothing feels more summery than setting up the barbecue and grilling some meat, but you shouldn’t make it a regular habit. The distinct flavour of barbecued meat is due to the char that can be achieved by cooking meat over an open flame but – whilst it tastes delicious – charred meat contains high levels of heterocyclic amines, chemicals that have been implicated in a number of cancers and are particularly dangerous for children.
Raw cookie dough
The majority of eggs sold in supermarkets have been pasteurised, but the risk of salmonella can never be entirely eradicated. There aren’t many foods that young children will be interested in that contain raw egg, but cookie dough is a notable exception. Since salmonella can easily prove fatal for children under five, if you’re making cookies it’s best to keep the mixture away from your little ones.
Margarine is often pushed as a healthier alternative to butter, but nothing could be further from the truth. Margarine contains high levels of trans fats, which have turned out to be far more harmful than the saturated fats found in butter. Trans fats raise levels of bad cholesterol, paving the way for heart disease, and have been shown to elevate inflammatory markers – definitely not what you want to be feeding to your progeny.
Frozen foods are undeniably convenient. You leave them in the freezer without having to worry about expiration dates, they can be cooked with minimal effort, and they often taste great to boot. Unfortunately, frozen foods are often packed with harmful chemicals and preservatives including ammonium sulfate (a commonly used lawn fertilizer) and L-Cysteine hydrochloride, which is used to treat overdoses and lung disease.
Whilst canned soups can seem like a cheap, easy way to get some vegetables into your kid’s diet, they come with a number of problems. For starters, canned soups are extremely high in sodium, often packing in over a gram per serving. The canning process also destroys a lot of the nutrients in the ingredients, and the cans themselves have been shown to leech carcinogenic BPAs into the soup.
Red meat has gotten a lot of heat in recent years, with scientists linking it to a number of conditions including heart disease and bowel cancer. It might therefore be tempting to opt for veggie burgers instead, but unfortunately these come with plenty of their own drawbacks. A number of preservatives can often be found in veggie burgers, including disodium inosinate – which is closely linked to MSG – and caramel colour, which is a potential carcinogen.
It can be tempting to reach for highly palatable salad dressings in an attempt to get your child to eat their greens, but you might actually be doing more harm than good. Most shop bought dressings are extremely high in sugar, sodium, and preservatives, which probably overshadow the nutritional benefits of eating salad in the first place. Instead, make salad dressings at home using olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a dash of lemon juice.