Buying Healthy Groceries for Kids

A mom and daughter at the grocery store.

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Do you end up buying the same foods when you go grocery shopping? Is your grocery cart full of healthy foods your kids won't eat or junk food you are ashamed they do eat?

Reading Food Labels

As you learn about healthy food and avoiding junk food, you can really put those lessons to work at the grocery store when you buy groceries. For example, after comparing nutrition facts labels for Sunny D and orange juice, you may choose to go with calcium-fortified orange juice since it doesn't have high fructose corn syrup.

Unfortunately, parents are often in a rush at the grocery store and don't have time to compare food labels. Since that is the best way to find healthy foods and even more nutritious versions of the foods you are already buying, you should consider making an extra trip to the grocery store without your kids when you have extra time to simply create your family's grocery list.

Buying Groceries for Your Family

In general, healthy foods on your grocery list for kids should include:

  • Calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat milk, to meet a child's daily calcium requirements
  • Foods that have only a moderate amount of sugar and salt
  • High-fiber foods, including whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruits
  • Iron-rich foods, including lean meats and iron-fortified whole grains, to meet a child's daily requirements for iron
  • Low-fat foods and foods that are low in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Whole foods when possible, instead of processed snacks and foods that have a lot of extra sugar, ​fat (including trans fat), salt, and other things added to them and a lot of good things taken out, such as fiber.

And of course, you want to buy foods that your kids will actually eat. Buying kid-friendly foods doesn't have to mean simply buying french fries and chicken nuggets, though.

Grocery List

Some of the groceries that you might look to include on your own grocery list when shopping for your kids can include:

  • 100% fruit juice: You can buy a limited amount of 100% fruit juice, but avoid buying soda and fruit drinks. Minute Maid Kids+ or Tropicana Healthy Kids Orange Juice are good kid-friendly options because in addition to vitamin C, folate, and potassium, they have more calcium, vitamin A, B1, D, and E than many other brands.
  • Canned light tuna fish: Light tuna is thought to have less mercury than albacore ('white') tuna. According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration fish and mercury guidelines, you should monitor and limit your younger child's fish consumption.
  • Fat-free or low-fat salad dressings: Fat-free salad dressings can add flavor to your salads while minimizing extra calories. These can also be used as a dip for vegetables.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Choose a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season and that your kids enjoy, plus some pre-cut fruit and frozen vegetables that you can serve quickly.
  • Healthy snacks: Air-popped or light popcorn, unsalted seeds and nuts, applesauce, canned fruits in 100% juice, raisins, and whole-grain toast with peanut butter can be nutritious, kid-friendly snack options.
  • Lean meats and poultry: Including the leanest beef cuts, leanest pork choices, extra-lean ground beef, skinless chicken parts, and boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets.
  • Oils and fats: Canola oil, corn oil, olive oil, margarine, and low-fat mayonnaise can be healthier cooking options.
  • Reduced-fat (2%), low-fat (1%), or fat-free (skim) dairy: Choose milk without chocolate or strawberry flavoring, which can add extra sugar and calories. For breakfast, try fat-free or low-fat yogurt. If your kids want a healthier dessert, you can give them instant pudding (sugar-free and fat-free) that you make with low-fat milk instead of regular chocolate pudding.
  • Whole wheat bread and other whole-grain products: These include whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat sandwich buns and rolls, and brown rice. If your child insists on white bread, make sure it is enriched with vitamins and minerals.
  • Whole-grain breakfast cereal: Avoid sweetened cereals and look for whole-grain cereals with extra vitamins and minerals instead. Among the most well-known brands, some good choices are Total, Multi-Grain Cheerios, Post Original Shredded Wheat Spoon Size, Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats, and Total Raisin Bran.

Don't Buy Grocery List

Just as important as the groceries you buy may be the groceries that you leave out of your shopping cart. In addition to fruit drinks and soda, when you are buying groceries you should likely skip buying:

  • Full-fat dairy products
  • Fruit punch: Keep in mind that unless the drink you buy says 100% juice on the label, then it likely isn't 100% juice, which leaves out many popular brands, including most types of Capri Sun, Hi-C, Kool-Aid, Hawaiian Punch, etc.
  • Processed meats such as deli slices, sausages, or hot dogs, which can be high in sodium and nitrates. Bologna and salami are particularly unhealthy because they have more fat than other lunch meats.
  • Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, which are fish that have high levels of mercury and should not be eaten by young children.
  • Shortening, butter, or stick margarine, which can be high in saturated fats and/or trans fats.
  • Foods with added sugars, which can be identified by looking at the ingredient list for sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, etc.
  • Snacks with a lot of calories from either sugar and/or fat, including potato chips, doughnuts, cookies, and candy.

Most importantly, don't end up buying groceries that resemble fast food at home, such as prepackaged pizza, French fries, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, and soda.

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  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Advice about eating fish. Updated December 29, 2020.

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