Admit it, nothing makes you want to bust out the victory dance more than when you happen upon a super-nutritious food that your child loves to eat. But before you take your bow, consider this: “When it comes to healthy packaged foods, manufacturers often add extra ingredients to make them taste better, but that can end up making them less healthy,” says Peggy Kotsopoulos, a registered holistic nutritionist in Toronto, Canada, and author of Kitchen Cures. Here, four big culprits to watch out for, plus what to substitute instead.
The myth: The perfect vehicle for loading your child up with calcium, protein, and probiotics.
The facts: Plain yogurt is a totally wholesome food. But flavored varieties are filled with unnecessary sweeteners, while conventional brands can also contain artificial colors, stabilizers, and thickeners. The result? The nutritional equivalent of an ice cream sundae—disguised as breakfast.
Your grocery game plan: Stick with plain, organic yogurt. It’ll still contain sugar, but it’s the kind that occurs naturally in milk. If your child isn’t a fan of the tart taste, sweeten it with honey, low-sugar jam, or apple butter, advises Kotsopoulos. “You’ll still use much less sugar than what’s in presweetened varieties, and it’ll taste just as good,” she says.
The myth: Oats, fruit, and nuts. Sounds great!
The facts: Though the main ingredients are usually packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, many store-bought granolas are also high in added sugar and saturated fat. “Plus, some are made with refined flour or grains, like puffed rice, which don’t really contain any beneficial nutrients,” says Michelle Dudash, R.D., author of Clean Eating for Busy Families.
Your grocery game plan: When buying packaged granola, always read the ingredients list: First up should be whole foods like rolled oats, dried fruit, and nuts. At the bottom, sugar with no more than 5 grams per serving, Kotsopoulos says. Or, better yet, make a big batch of the homemade variety over the weekend—we have a great recipe here.
The myth: One more daily serving of produce—check!
The facts: Sorry, but things like veggie chips and spinach wraps don’t count. “There’s nothing really ‘vegetable’ about these foods, except that they’re dyed with vegetable coloring,” Kotsopoulos says. That’s better than artificial dye, of course, but nutritionally speaking, veggie-flavored foods are almost identical to their refined white counterparts.
Your grocery game plan: Skip the veggie-flavored stuff and go for wraps and pastas made from whole grains, which will have more fiber, says Kostopoulos. If your child’s a fan of the fun hues, try adding more color with real veggies instead, like pasta tossed with spinach pesto or a wrap with hummus and shredded carrots.
The myth: More grains = more nutritious, right?
The facts: Multigrain bread really does contain multiple grains, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re whole grains. “Nutritionally, it’s usually similar to white bread, but with added caramel color to make it look brown,” Kotsopoulos says. That means it’s likely low in fiber and important nutrients like manganese, magnesium, and phosphorous.
Your grocery game plan: Head straight for the ingredients list. “The first ingredient you see should be whole grain,” says Dudash. Or, look for the Whole Grains Council’s Whole Grain Stamp, which guarantees your bread contains at least half a serving.