Unhealthy Food Surprises on Your Child's Plate

Parents expect some surprises from time to time, after all, raising kids isn't always easy.

Those surprises shouldn't include the things that you are putting on your child's plate, though, as we all strive to give our kids healthy foods. It's hard to avoid junk food if it's sneaking its way in the house.

Fortunately, it isn't too hard to learn to about these food surprises.


Surprises about Lettuce

Senior woman with daughter and granddaughter in kitchen
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Lettuce has gotten a bad rap by some people recently because they consider it kind of empty. Not empty calories, like junk food, but empty, as in it doesn't much have nutritional value.

One serving of iceberg lettuce has 10 calories and no fat and is not a good source of any vitamins, minerals, or nutrients. Still, a single serving of lettuce has 1g of fiber and some potassium, ​vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

Dark-green leafy greens have a little more nutrition, so try and make a mixed-greens salad with a low-fat dressing, instead of just using iceberg lettuce.

Still, the fact that you can a bulky food without a lot of calories or fat to your child's plate is a good thing.


Ice Cream and Vitamin D

Ice cream lover
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When we ask about a child's intake of vitamin D, most say that they drink milk, eat cheese, drink fortified orange juice, or eat yogurt, etc.​

A few who aren't otherwise big dairy eaters try to say that they get their vitamin D from ice cream. While that kind of makes sense, as ​milk contains vitamin D and ice cream is made with milk, many people are surprised to find that ice cream actually is not a good source of vitamin D.

Why not?

Ice cream is made with raw milk that has not yet been fortified with vitamin D.


High Salt Foods

Reading food labels
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Studies have shown that most children get too much salt in their diet. That's not surprising, considering that many kid-friendly foods are high in salt, including:

  • pizza
  • bread
  • poultry
  • cold cuts
  • sandwiches
  • potato chips and pretzels
  • soups
  • cheese
  • pasta dishes
  • hot dogs

To avoid giving your kids too much salt, learn to read food labels and avoid high salt foods, choosing foods and brands with lower amounts of salt.



Food rich in protein
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Parents often worry that their kids aren't getting enough protein in their diet.

Fortunately, very few kids don't get enough protein in their diet. Even vegetarians who don't eat any meat can get plenty of ​protein from beans, lentils, and soy milk, etc.

Pre-teens and teens who are trying to lift weights and bulk up don't need a lot of extra protein either.


Low Fat Can Mean High Sugar

Compare food labels to choose healthy foods.
Compare food labels to choose healthy foods. David Young-Wolff/Getty Images

If there is one food label that catches every parent's eye, it is the one that says 'low fat.'

From 'fat-free' pudding to 'fat-free' salad dressing, buying these products for your kids makes it sound like you are buying them healthy foods and snacks. Unfortunately, unless they are also 'sugar-free,' which some are, they can still have a moderate amount of calories.

So that you aren't fooled, compare the nutrition labels of the regular, reduced-fat, and fat-free versions of the food.

Still, that doesn't make them bad and they likely will have fewer calories than a full-fat alternative, but don't fall into the trap of letting your kids eat more just because you think they are a healthier option.

A bag of baked chips is still a bag of chips.


Sweet Tea

Sweet iced tea
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Most parents understand that they should limit their child's intake of soda. Not surprisingly, the American Academy of Pediatrics has long advised that parents shouldn't give kids sugar-sweetened drinks at all, instead encouraging them to drink low-fat or fat-free milk and if necessary, limited amounts of 100% fruit juice.

While it is easy to recognize soda and fruit drinks as these types of sugar-sweetened drinks, for some reason, sweet tea continues to be a popular option in many households.

Unfortunately, in addition to helping your child become over-caffeinated, sweet tea has a lot of added sugar and calories. In fact, especially when you order sweet tea in a restaurant, an equivalent size serving isn't much different in terms of calories, added sugar, and caffeine as drinking soda.


Calories Count

Child eating burger
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Is your child having trouble losing weight or does he continue to gain weight despite your best efforts?

Is being active in sports and other daily physical activities not helping your child control her weight gain?

While many parents will be quick to blame a hormonal problem in these situations, the more likely problem is that your kids are simply getting too many calories. It could be that they are eating too many high-calorie foods, that their portion sizes are too big, that they are drinking too many sugar-sweetened drinks, or that one or two of their snacks have turned into extra meals, etc.

How easy is it to get too many calories? Consider an 8-year-old girl who needs about 1200 kcal each day who orders a Might Kids Meal at McDonald's. A 'grown up' Happy Meal, if you get it with a McDouble, Yoplait GoGURT Yogurt, a small order of fries, and fat-free chocolate milk, you end up with 790 calories, including 270 calories from fat and 1150mg of salt. That's almost 75% of the day's calories in a single meal!

Calories count, whether they are from fat, protein, or carbohydrates, especially when your child is getting too many of them and is overweight.


Iodine Free Salt

Child eating salt
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Although table salt in the United States has long been fortified with iodine (since 1924), many people are surprised to learn that:

  • Most brands of Sea Salt are not iodized (fortified with iodine)
  • Kosher salt is not iodized
  • Processed foods are typically made with non-iodized salt

Also keep in mind that few foods are naturally good sources of iodine, except some seafood, shellfish, and seaweed. The iodine content of these foods depends on where they were caught or grown though, as the iodine content of seawater and soil varies.

It is especially important that pregnant and breastfeeding woman get enough iodine in their diet or that they take a supplement.

Have You Been Fooled by These Food Surprises on Your Child's Plate?

Don't let food surprises about sugar, calories, and salt help junk food sneak into your house and onto your child's plate.

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