It's no secret that Americans consume way too much salt and sugar, and a new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that food companies may be prepping babies' and toddlers' tastebuds early to acquire these tastes. Many baby and toddler foods--even those marketed as "healthy" or "organic" contained a gross amount of excess sugar and sodium, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . Almost half of fruit and grain based baby food contained added sugar, and foods made for toddlers—including vegetables, wheat or whole grain-based crackers, chips, sticks, or puffs—contained the sodium equivalent of plain potato chips.
We searched out the baby and toddler food offenders that pose as health foods so that you won't be duped.
- BABY AND TODDLER YOGURT
Yogurt is a healthy choice for toddlers, but most of the yogurts marketed for kids (yep, even the organic brands!) contain a whopping two teaspoons of excess sugar in their tiny containers—and that's not counting the natural sugar that's already present in dairy. If you're introducing yogurt to your baby for the first time, start with plain whole fat yogurt (yep, babies won't notice that it's missing sugar!). Or for kids, sweeten yogurt naturally by adding in a squirt of honey, maple syrup, or by stirring in fruit preserves or purees. For on-the-go options, look for yogurts that contain no artificial sweeteners and contain less than 2.5 grams of sugar per ounce, like the Siggi's brand.
2. VEGGIE PUFFS
The one time I bought my toddler puffs was during an airport delay (desperate times, people!) and when I knew he'd be super squirmy on a flight and looking for snacks. But when I read the ingredients on the Sweet Potato Puffs I had just bought, I noticed that sweet potato wasn't actually an ingredient! While some puffs actually do contain sweet potato, broccoli, or kale "flour," these powders lack all the fibers of real veggies, and the nutrients from powdered vegetables may not be absorbed by the body the same way nutrients from whole vegetables are. Bottom line: Puffs should be served to kids in the same way you serve yourself refined carbohydrates: limited. For more nutritious snack choices, go for a no-sugar-added cereal, like cheerios.
3. CEREAL BARS & GRANOLA BARS
We get it: Kids love granola bars, and adults do too: They're easy, portable snacks that you can stick in your purse and pull out two weeks later if need be. But from a nutritional perspective, most bars contain nothing substantial but sugar--and most are so sickly sweet that they can prime your toddler's tastebuds to prefer overly sweet selections. In fact, the brands we researched contained THREE TYPES of processed sugar, unhealthy oils, and ingredient list thats way WAY longer than the front-of-box promise: "Made with real fruit and whole grains." There's nothing easier than making your own granola bars: We like to make a huge batch and freeze 'em, so they're just as convenient as anything processed, but way healthier. This five-ingredient recipe contains 0 added sugars and is made with nothing but whole grain goodness: In a bowl, combine 1.5 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce, 1 cup milk (any kind will do), 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 3/4 cup raisins. Pour into parchment-lined loaf pan, and bake at 350 for 30 minutes until ingredients are set. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into squares.
4. BABY FOOD POUCHES MADE WITH SPINACH OR OTHER VEGGIES
With names like "apple-spinach" and "zucchini-pear," they have to be good, right? While pouches serve their purpose (convenient, portable, etc.), relying on them as your tot's exclusive source of fruits and veggies can backfire. Check the ingredient list: Most contain "juice concentrates," which are a sneaky key word for sugar, and list the veggie as the very last ingredient, so there's not telling how much veggie they actually contain. Lastly, to maintain a shelf life, pouches are heated to super-hot temperatures, destroying the naturally-occuring nutrients that the fruits and veggies contain. (More on that here.) Consider making your own pouches, (we love the Infantino Squeeze Station) to control exactly what goes into them, and be sure to give your kids real fruits and veggies--you may be surprised to learn what they love!
5. TEETHING BISCUITS
If they were labeled as what they really are ("Cookies for babies!"), no one would buy them. Hence the marketing ploy of calling them teething biscuits, which do little else to soothe teething any more so than than the calming effect of sticking a cookie in someones mouth. For serious teething relief that tastes good too, we swear by frozen bagels, frozen mango chunks or baby carrots in a mesh teether (like this here), or big thick carrots or frozen celery sticks for babies to gnaw on under adult supervision.