In my quest to make pediatric nutrition less confusing for parents, I know you sometimes want to cut through all of the mumbo-jumbo and know what not to feed your family.
So, in a very fun experiment, I asked 20 well-respected child-nutrition experts what foods they refuse to give their own children, ranging from 18 months to 20 years old.
Here are the top 10 foods they won't serve:
1. Sugar-sweetened beverages. This was the overwhelming No. 1 on every list and it includes soda, juice drinks, iced tea, lemonade, and powdered drink mixes. These beverages provide no nutrition benefit and are the No. 1 source of excess calories in adolescent diets. Drinks that were allowed: water (tap or filtered), flavored milk, seltzers, and 100 percent fruit juice.
2. TV dinners and prepackaged lunches. Another much-cited selection, these were banned due to high sodium and fat, and minimal nutritional value (vitamins, minerals, and whole grains).
3. Packaged breakfast pastries. These ranked high due to large amounts of sugar and minimal fiber. Though they are better than nothing in the morning, experts preferred granola bars made with whole grain oats, fruits, and nuts.
4. Sweetened and artificially colored cereals. One dietitian said, "if I gave my kids the options of rainbow-colored cereals with marshmallows and sprinkles, or a brown whole-grain cereal, guess which one they'd pick every time? That's why they don't get the choice." I couldn't agree more. Another option: Make sugary cereals a dessert option only, and serve them in a small bowl.
5. Canned pasta meals. Refined white-flour pasta mixed with tomatoes, preservatives, and canned meats? There's not much good about this. Consider making extra servings of your own spaghetti and meatballs, mix in some vegetables, and freeze in single-serving containers for easy reheating.
6. Fruit cups in syrup. These drew an absolute no from the experts. They were more acceptable if pack in water or juice.
7. Canned meats. These highly processed items were typically too high in fat and sodium. An alternative: canned fish in water.
8. Chips (of all kinds). Puffed, fried, or kettle-cooked, these were rejected due to the empty calories and ease of overeating.
9. Hot dogs. The parents of younger kids said this was a big-time choking hazard. Parents of older children avoided them due to high fat and sodium.
10. Packaged desserts. Store-bought cookies, cupcakes, and other baked goods often contained trans fats and heavy sugar. The alternative? Baking treats with your kids so they can learn family recipes and you know the ingredients in the product.
This was not the complete list, but a great place to start. What do you avoid for your family?