By: Jill Castle, Guest Contributor Co-author "Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School"
The advent of convenience foods, especially snacks, has made life quicker and easier for many parents. It’s easy to see their prevalence—just visit an athletic field, a swimming pool or any other sporting venue. Day-Glo candy, orange-colored chips and crackers, and candy-coated granola bars litter the sidelines, and masquerade as "healthy" snacks.
From individually packaged snacks to pre-made mini-lunches, convenience foods were created, in part, to speed up preparation and to keep food fresher for long periods. No doubt it is more convenient to pull into a fast food joint between soccer games for lunch rather than trek home to make a sandwich. And it’s easier to rip open a granola bar for a quick snack rather than toil in the kitchen to make a homemade version.
But there's another side to all this convenience, ease and speed.
Pre-packaged foods, fast food and sugar-sweetened beverages make up about 50% of children’s diets, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
About 23% of calories eaten by kids are from snacks, according to a 2010 study out of the University of North Carolina. Researchers found that while snacks provided critical nutrients, they also supplied a good amount of sugar and saturated fats.
Use of convenience foods is associated with weight problems and unhealthy eating habits in children.
Convenience food items generally taste good, as they contain significant “flavor kicks”—salt, fat and sugar. These train a child’s taste buds to desire more of the same.
Many convenience foods contain extra additives, food dyes and colorings, preservatives and trans fat to keep them shelf-stable, or fresh for long periods of time. We don’t know the long-term impact on health, but we do know that some children are sensitive to these elements, altering their behavior.
Can we afford to offer children a diet loaded with convenience foods? Share your thoughts below!