We throw around the term “processed food” quite a bit, though many of us don’t actually understand what it means.
In simple terms, it refers to raw produce or meat that’s taken and used to produce food items that are the following:
- Have a longer shelf-life
Now, this isn’t inherently bad, but what can cause problems is the manner in which these foods are “processed.” Artificial ingredients, high amounts of sodium and/or sugar and low nutritional density all come into play with most processed foods.
In the past several years, there’s been a general cultural shift towards more organic and naturally grown foods that are free of processing– a phenomenon which is being taken note of by retailers.
Yet, there are still a ton of processed food choices, much of which is marketed to young kids.
As parents, it’s up to you to identify those foods and keep them out of your pantry, especially since there are so many natural and non-processed options in our day.
Here’s a short list of what to avoid:
1. Fast Food: While it’s certainly easy and probably even acceptable on an infrequent basis, fast food is almost always a poor choice in terms of nutritional value.
High fat, sodium and sugar are all major staples of most fast food chains. While some chains are making moves to increase the nutritional quality of their food, it’s not widespread or typical at this point.
You’re better off avoiding them entirely.
2. Hot Dogs and Bologna: Once again, the draw is that these foods are easy to prepare, but hot dogs and bologna are both a highly processed meat products with little nutritional upside.
3. All processed sugars (most children’s cereal, pop-tarts, etc.): Look for cereals that contain high fiber, oats, dried fruit and/or nuts and a modest amount of natural sweeteners. The headliners like Fruit Loops and Trix contain high amounts of corn syrup and little more than empty calories.
4. Bread: Aim for naturally baked bread with unbleached flour. This will probably mean that you’ll have to consider avoiding white bread entirely, but multigrain and high-fiber breads are not only better for you, they are quite delicious as well!
At first, your kids may not necessarily enjoy the taste of more wholesome breads, but the more they are included in their diet, you’ll find that their taste buds will adapt.
5. Mac and Cheese (pasta): There are some great natural and organic mac-and-cheese options. You can even get some that are made with rice pasta (gluten-free). Since the processed pasta is almost always made from enriched wheat, it poses the same problems you would get from white bread.
6. Frozen Pizza: Lots of sodium and a fair amount of processed toppings means most of these pizzas have little nutritional value. There are, however, some non-processed options starting to crop up.
7. Fries: Natural cut fries are better, but lots of salt and cheap oil (usually vegetable) make fries a poor choice for your kids in general. Instead, try a healthy homemade recipe with olive oil. Rather than stick them in the deep fryer, try baking them instead!
8. Potato Chips: They’re always tempting, no matter how old you are, but you run into the same problem as you do with the fries: salt, saturated fat and cheap oil.
9. Soda: It almost goes without saying, but this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning soda. It’s particularly addictive to kids because of the high sugar content, enough so that many people have grown up viewing it as a water substitute. Don’t even let your kids get started on it.
10. Juice or other Sugary Drinks: While it’s not as bad as soda, most juice drinks that are marketed to kids still just have too much sugar. Dilute their juice drinks with water and make sure you only buy drinks that are labeled as 100% juice with no added sugar. The fruit that’s used to make organic juice drinks have natural sucrose that will already make it sweet.
Don’t Even Start
Processed, packaged foods have nearly completely taken over the diet of Americans. Microwave popcorn, muffins and bakery muffins are packed with trans fats, which are twice as dangerous for your heart as saturated fat. Not only do these fats boost HDL (“good”) cholesterol and reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, they also increase your levels of artery-clogging lipoprotein and triglycerides, all of which can contribute to the number-one killer in the United States: heart disease.
So, the next time you’re at the grocery store, carefully read the ingredient list for any of the following words and avoid them at all costs:
The best way to get your kids to be and eat healthy is to not even start them on the foods mentioned throughout this article. Make sure their dietary habits are established before they start getting their hands on this type of stuff.
About the Author: Felicity Dryer is a health and nutrition enthusiast living in Southern California. She enjoys sharing personal health tips with both individuals and families, encouraging everyone to live a fulfilling lifestyle. Check out Felicity’s website with more knowledge about health and wellness. How do you get your kids to eat healthy? Share your comments below!