7 Nutrition Mistakes All Parents Make

7 Nutrition Mistakes All Parents Make

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links from Amazon Associates. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

We all want our kids to eat healthy, but between food marketing, brands that tout health claims and some outdated advice from experts, deciding what to feed your kids and what to avoid can be challenging.

Although most of us are well intentioned and try our best to offer healthy foods, there are still some common nutrition mistakes all parents make that can affect kids’ health now, and well into the future. Here are 7.

Nutrition mistake #1: Serving only “breakfast foods” for breakfast

Let’s face it: if you have young kids, mornings are stressful.

I get it.

Most mornings, I’m up at 5am to pray, read a devotional and enjoy a cup of coffee—and quiet—before my kids get up.

Once they’re awake however, it’s always a mad rush to feed them breakfast, get them ready and on the bus.

Cereal and toast are definitely easy and quick options for breakfast, but serving the same ‘ol breakfast foods every day can be a missed opportunity to get nutrition into your kid’s diet. Not to mention—it can get boring.

If you think out of the [breakfast] box and offer new types of foods, kids can also become healthier, more adventurous eaters.

Since lunch and dinner may be the only time kids are offered vegetables, breakfast is another chance to get them into your kid’s diet. The more you offer vegetables, the more likely your kid will be to eat them.

It’s not necessary to re-invent the wheel every day, but try to change things up a few times a week. Add leftover veggies to scrambled eggs, make chia seed or pumpkin pudding the night before, pull together a bean burrito or serve baked tempeh instead of toast, for example. 

Nutrition mistake #2: Filling up on processed snacks

We must recognize that our kids are growing—physically, mentally and emotionally—and what we feed them should be real, whole foods packed with nutrition to fuel that growth.

Bags of crackers, chips, cookies and other snack foods are easy to throw in a lunch box or pack when you’re on the go.

But processed snacks are usually made with refined carbohydrates and are high in sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients. They also lack the protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals kids need.

Do your best to avoid processed foods and instead, stick to whole foods for snacks. For ideas, check out my blog post, Healthy Kids’ Snacks 101: When, What and How Much

Nutrition mistake #3: Thinking all yogurt is healthy

Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, which promotes satiety and can prevent weight gain. It’s also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12 as well as probiotics, the healthy bacteria that boost kids’ gut health and strengthens their immune systems.

Yet many yogurts, those that are marketed to kids or otherwise, are also sneaky sources of sugar.

Yogurts with pretzels, candy and crushed cookies are obvious sources, but those that are blended with fruit can also be high in sugar.

Read labels carefully and stick to brands with less than 11 grams of sugar, according to nutritionist Joy Bauer.

Siggi’s is one of my favorites for kids. Or serve plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness and fiber.

Nutrition mistake #4: Missing sneaky sources of sugar

You already know to limit foods that are obvious sources of sugar like candy, cookies and ice cream, but sugar is sneaky and can hide behind at least 61 different names like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.

Foods like dried fruit, canned fruit and fruit cups, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, ketchup, juice, sports drinks, granola, instant oatmeal and cereal can all be sneaky sources of sugar.

Nutrition mistake #5: Avoiding all types of fat

Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. and as a result, parents are consistently told to limit the amount of fat in their kids’ diets and serve low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat, for example.

Although experts say trans fats and some saturated fats should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods like fish, avocado, nuts and seeds and olive oil are all essential to kids health.

Nutrition mistake #6: Labeling foods “good” or “bad”

Labeling foods “good” or “bad” can turn mealtime into a power struggle and make your kid want the poor choices even more.

Teaching kids about healthy eating includes teaching balance. So although there are healthier choices, it’s OK to indulge in sweets and junk food.

When food is off limits, it can also create the same unhealthy eating habits many adults struggle with down the line.

Instead, talk to your children about making healthy choices and why they matter. For example, choosing celery sticks with almond butter will give your kid the energy she needs for sports while a bag of crackers will cause her to crash.

Nutrition mistake #7: Cutting carbs

Low carb diets like keto are all the rage for people looking to lose weight, but cutting some carbohydrates from a kid’s diet is a nutrition mistake. Check out my blog post, Is Keto Safe For Kids?

Refined carbohydrates like those found in white breads, pastas and rice and processed foods should be limited because they break down into simple sugars easily, cause blood sugar levels to spike and don’t satiate hunger—which might be one of the reasons your kid is always hungry.

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, provide kids with the energy they need and support their muscle growth and brain development. They also take longer to break down, which keeps blood sugar levels steady.

Complex carbs are also high in fiber which satisfy hunger and prevent constipation.

Offer a variety of foods with complex carbohydrates including vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, fruits like berries, apples and pears, beans and legumes and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa which are also high in B vitamins, magnesium and iron.

Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

Why My Kids’ School Lunch Is Unhealthy (+ What I’m Doing About It)

When my older daughter started school three years ago, another mom in our community who already had kids in the school system gave me a word of caution: wait until you see what they serve for school lunch.

My husband and I had already decided that we would pack lunch from home because no matter what they served in school, we knew it wouldn’t be the healthy, homemade meals she was already eating.

Although I knew it wasn’t likely that the schools were serving roasted salmon and fresh green salads everyday, I never thought it would be as bad as it is.

When I took a look at the school lunch menu I was shocked.

Foods like hot dogs, tater tots and chocolate milk were on the menu every single week.

After the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was passed, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program made some positive changes to their menus like adding more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, limiting the amount of calories and reducing the amount of sodium in meals.

Take a closer look at most school lunch menus however, and I’m sure you’ll find that just because the meals meet certain dietary requirements, the foods that are served are not foods our kids should be eating.

And now that the Trump administration has rolled back the school lunch standards, schools have even more flexibility to serve unhealthy foods that meet a budget but only worsen our kids’ health.

Although I can’t say that my kids’ school has relaxed the Obama-era standards, their menus still fall seriously short.

Here are some reasons why my kids’ school lunch is unhealthy and what I’m trying to do to improve it.

Junk food is served as a “snack”

My kids’ school encourages parents to have lunch with their kids, so from time to time I do.

Last year while I was sitting with my daughter in the cafeteria, one of the cafeteria aids walked up to the front of the room and with mic in hand, announced it was snack time.

“Snack?,” I asked my 5-year-old. It was only 15 minutes into their 30 minute lunch time.

When I hear the word snack, I think about something small that tides my kids over until the next meal and is most certainly something they eat between meals.

Yet what my kids’ school dubs a snack, is actually a junk food treat: chips, ice cream, popsicles crackers and cookies.

One of the foods they sell are Nacho Cheese Doritos.

Sure, it satisfies the National School Lunch Program guidelines because it has whole grains (corn), but it’s processed, made with GMOs and contains artificial ingredients and artificial food dyes.

Take maltodextrin, which has an even higher glycemic index than sugar and evidence suggests it can alter gut bacteria and lead to allergic reactions and food intolerances. This is definitely not something our kids should be eating, especially during the school day.

Oh and did I mention, less than 3 hours later when the kids are packing up for the day, they get another snack?

Most of the food is fake

Nearly all of the school lunch items that are offered are highly processed, made with factory-farmed animal products, and are frozen foods that come out of a package and are re-heated. 

Take a look at some of the foods they sell:

  • crispy chicken patty          
  • general tso’s chicken
  • beef nachos with tortilla chips 
  • hot dogs                  
  • tater tots
  • processed deli meats                                                  
  • popcorn chicken
  • chicken nuggets
  • mozzarella sticks
  • pizza
  • hamburgers and cheeseburgers
  • French toast sticks

While they do serve fruits and vegetables every day, it’s not exactly fresh. The packages of apple slices for example, are prepared with preservatives that give them a 21-day shelf life.

Totally unbalanced

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a healthy plate is made up of 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 whole grains.

In my kids’ school, the kids are required to pick a fruit or a vegetable, but I doubt it makes up half the plate. They do offer salads as the main dish every day, but I’m sure the amount of kids that purchase salads is negligible, if non-existent.

Besides, some of the meal options seem totally unbalanced and only meet the requirements.

Take the yogurt or a cheese stick with a bagel meal and the macaroni and cheese with a wheat bread stick meal—not exactly the healthy, balanced meals we should be teaching our kids to eat.

A lack of healthy fats

Healthy fats like those found in fish, avocado and olive oil are essential to kids health, but they’re not a major part of the school lunch menu. The one caveat? The sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.

Sugar everywhere

While fruits and vegetables and foods with whole grains are offered, the school lunch menu has several items that are high in sugar, including:


Free cookies

Despite how unhealthy the lunch menu is, my kids are allowed to purchase it every once in a while.

Although I want them to eat healthy, whole foods most of the time, I also don’t want school lunch to be a power struggle or something they think is forbidden, which can create unhealthy eating habits down the line.

Nevertheless, I was blindsided when my daughters told me that after purchasing lunch one day, they were given free cookies. As I came to learn, kids are given free cookies on Fridays and on their birthdays.

You might think I sound like an uptight mom, but I don’t understand why the school (or the food service provider) thinks it’s OK to give them cookies without my permission.

My kids can have cookies, but not during the school day.

Junk food is served as a “snack”

My kids’ school encourages parents to have lunch with their kids, so from time to time I do.

Last year while I was sitting with my daughter in the cafeteria, one of the cafeteria aids walked up to the front of the room and with mic in hand, announced it was snack time.

“Snack?,” I asked my 5-year-old. It was only 15 minutes into their 30 minute lunch time.

When I hear the word snack, I think about something small that tides my kids over until the next meal and is most certainly something they eat between meals.

Yet what my kids’ school dubs a snack, is actually a junk food treat: chips, ice cream, popsicles crackers and cookies.

One of the foods they sell are Nacho Cheese Doritos.

Sure, it satisfies the National School Lunch Program guidelines because it has whole grains (corn), but it’s processed, made with GMOs and contains artificial ingredients and artificial food dyes.

Take maltodextrin, which has an even higher glycemic index than sugar and evidence suggests it can alter gut bacteria and lead to allergic reactions and food intolerances. This is definitely not something our kids should be eating, especially during the school day.

Oh and did I mention, less than 3 hours later when the kids are packing up for the day, they get another snack?

Most of the food is fake

Nearly all of the school lunch items that are offered are highly processed, made with factory-farmed animal products, and are frozen foods that come out of a package and are re-heated. 

Take a look at some of the foods they sell:

  • crispy chicken patty          
  • general tso’s chicken
  • beef nachos with tortilla chips 
  • hot dogs                  
  • tater tots
  • processed deli meats                                                  
  • popcorn chicken
  • chicken nuggets
  • mozzarella sticks
  • pizza
  • hamburgers and cheeseburgers
  • French toast sticks

While they do serve fruits and vegetables every day, it’s not exactly fresh. The packages of apple slices for example, are prepared with preservatives that give them a 21-day shelf life.

Totally unbalanced

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend a healthy plate is made up of 1/2 fruits and vegetables, 1/4 protein and 1/4 whole grains.

In my kids’ school, the kids are required to pick a fruit or a vegetable, but I doubt it makes up half the plate. They do offer salads as the main dish every day, but I’m sure the amount of kids that purchase salads is negligible, if non-existent.

Besides, some of the meal options seem totally unbalanced and only meet the requirements.

Take the yogurt or a cheese stick with a bagel meal and the macaroni and cheese with a wheat bread stick meal—not exactly the healthy, balanced meals we should be teaching our kids to eat.

A lack of healthy fats

Healthy fats like those found in fish, avocado and olive oil are essential to kids health, but they’re not a major part of the school lunch menu. The one caveat? The sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich.

Sugar everywhere

While fruits and vegetables and foods with whole grains are offered, the school lunch menu has several items that are high in sugar, including:


Free cookies

Despite how unhealthy the lunch menu is, my kids are allowed to purchase it every once in a while.

Although I want them to eat healthy, whole foods most of the time, I also don’t want school lunch to be a power struggle or something they think is forbidden, which can create unhealthy eating habits down the line.

Nevertheless, I was blindsided when my daughters told me that after purchasing lunch one day, they were given free cookies. As I came to learn, kids are given free cookies on Fridays and on their birthdays.

You might think I sound like an uptight mom, but I don’t understand why the school (or the food service provider) thinks it’s OK to give them cookies without my permission.

My kids can have cookies, but not during the school day.

5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids.

Fats are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger. Fats are essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like  A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.

Here are 5 foods with healthy fats you should consider getting in your kid’s diet.

1. Avocado

Avocado is a super-food because the polyunsaturated fats are vital for brain growth and development during pregnancy and for babies and children.

Avocado also packs in a ton of nutrition without a lot of calories.

A good source of fiber, avocado also has 20 vitamins and minerals including vitamins B5, B6, C, E, K, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium.

Avocado also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids or plant pigments, found in the eyes that can improve memory and processes speed, one study found.

Add avocado to salads, make avocado toast or an avocado chocolate pudding.

2. Chia seeds

An excellent source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are by far one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

In fact, chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show support cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, prevent chronic disease, and support brain health.

Add chia seeds to smoothies, mix them into oatmeal, incorporate them into your favorite baking recipes or make a chia seed pudding.

A word of caution: young children shouldn’t eat chia seeds because of the risk of  an obstruction in the esophagus.

3. Walnuts

The only nut with a significant source of  alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, walnuts are a great way to get healthy fats in your kid’s diet.

An excellent source of magnesium and phosphorus, one ounce of walnuts also have 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber which will satisfy your kid’s hunger and give him plenty of fuel during the day.

Walnuts make for an easy, healthy snack, or add them to salads, savory meals or mix them into breads, muffins and other baked goods.

4. Olives

Most of the healthy fats in olives (a fruit), are oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat, but they also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Olives are also a good source of vitamin e, selenium and zinc.

Add olives to salads, pasta or rice dishes or make an olive tapenade kids can snack on before dinner.

5. Sunflower Seeds

An ounce of sunflower seeds has 14 grams of fat, including omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats.

Sunflower seeds are also rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that protects cells from the damage of free radicals, as well as magnesium and selenium.

Add sunflower seeds to salads, on top of yogurt or make your own healthy trail mix.

Healthy Kids’ Snacks 101: When, What and How Much

Healthy Kids’ Snacks 101: When, What and How Much

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links from Amazon Associates. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

In the U.S., our kids snack all the time.

Kids eat snacks at daycare, pre-school, mom’s groups and on playdates.

They snack in their strollers, in the car, on the playground and after sports.

At school, young kids have a mid-morning or afternoon snack.

At my kids’ elementary school, some parents pack lunch along with several snacks like “veggie” sticks, crackers, pretzels and fruit-flavored gummies.

Starting in the first grade, kids can also buy “snack,” in the cafeteria. About 15 minutes after purchasing their lunch, they’re called up to get cookies, ice cream and chips.

Of course, there are also after-school snacks and after-dinner snacks.

Snacking is often seen as a healthy habit because it balances blood sugar, staves off hunger and prevents overeating, but it’s often used to keep kids occupied and happy.

Plus, experts say kids are snacking too much—a trend that’s responsible for the one-third of children who are overweight or obese.   

According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers and candy. What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.

So you may have wondered, like I did, do kids need snacks in the first place? And if so, what is a healthy snack and how often should kids snack? Here, answers to those questions and more.

Do kids need snacks?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to support your child’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.

Most kids don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables every day anyway, but snack time can be a way to pack in more.

Snacks also give kids plenty of opportunities to learn what they like to eat—

and what they don’t—and chances to choose healthy foods and eventually become adventurous eaters.

Some experts however, challenge whether kids even need snacks in the first place.

“When I was a child no one snacked mid-morning and we all survived just fine. I don’t even remember being especially hungry. In other words, snacking is a philosophy. It’s an approach to eating. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a necessity,” Dina Rose, PhD, author of It’s Not About The Broccoli says in this blog post.

Another drawback to non-stop snacking is that kids are less likely to be hungry when mealtime rolls around. If they’re snacking on junk food, it can displace calories from healthy foods which they’re more likely to get at meals. 

What is a healthy snack?

Surprisingly, there’s actually no static definition of a snack. Research shows it can be defined according to the time of day, type of food, amount of food, and location of where the food is consumed.

Generally speaking however, a kids’ snack is a small amount of food that satisfies hunger between meals and a way to add nutrition and increase fruit and vegetable intake in their diets.

With so many snack food labels calling attention to health claims like all-natural, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, high in fiber, made with real fruit, no sugar added and sugar-free, it can be difficult to choose a healthy snack for your kids.

Although it’s not always realistic to avoid processed foods, snacks in bags, boxes and packages are usually high in sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients, and low in fiber and protein and overall poor sources of nutrition.

A good rule of thumb: stick to whole foods and nutrient-dense options. Some good choices include:

  • Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen)
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Edamame
  • Beans and legumes
  • Hummus, bean dip or guacamole
  • Avocado
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Popcorn
  • Green smoothies (homemade, otherwise read labels)
  • Homemade, low-sugar muffins, energy bites and other baked goods.

How often should kids snack?

Just as there’s no clear-cut definition of a snack, there’s no hard and fast rule about when and how many times a day kids should have snacks.

“A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about 1-2 hours before the next meal begins,” Jo Ellen Shields, MED, RD, LD, co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, said in this article.

The AAP suggests toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day to get the nutrition they need.

According to Jill Castle, RDN, in addition to 3 meals a day, school-aged kids need 1 to 2 snacks a day and teens need one snack a day unless they’re athletes or having a growth spurt.

When offering snacks, you should also pay attention to portion sizes so the snack doesn’t turn into a meal.

How do you handle snack time? And how many snacks a day does your kid eat? Let me know in the comments!

5 Healthy Types of Fish For Kids (& How to Make Them Delicious)

5 Healthy Types of Fish For Kids (& How to Make Them Delicious)

If you’ve tried to feed your kids fish, chances are their reactions—yuck! and gross!—and the mealtime battle that ensued was enough of a reason to never offer it again. 

There’s no getting around that fish is right up there with other offensive foods like Brussels sprouts and beans, but if you can get your kids to take a few bites, they’ll get a ton of nutrition into their diets.

Packed with protein, low in saturated fat, and rich in micronutrients, perhaps the biggest benefit of eating fish are the omega-3 fatty acids which support kids’ brain health and memory.

According to a December 2017 study out of the University of Pennsylvania, kids who eat seafood at least once a week have higher IQ scores—4 points higher on average—than kids who eat fish less frequently or not at all.

Studies also show that omega-3’s may prevent anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

In fact, an October 2011 study in the Journal of the American Academy and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has a small, but significant, effect on improving attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.

Of course, there’s always the concern of mercury in fish, which types of fish are safe for kids and how many servings are best.

Before introducing fish and shellfish to your child, be sure to check in with your pediatrician because of the risk of food allergies.

Although all types of fish are packed with nutrition, there are some that you might consider focusing on.

These 5 healthy types of fish for kids are high in vitamins and minerals, excellent sources of protein and healthy fats and low in mercury.

1. Tuna fish

Thanks to its mild flavor and aroma, tuna is perhaps one of the easiest types of fish to get your kid to eat.

Tuna is an excellent source of protein: an ounce has more than 8 grams. Tuna fish is also a good source of vitamin B12, phosphorus, niacin and selenium.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), canned light tuna (solid or chunk, including skipjack) is a “best choice” for kids.

White albacore and yellow fish are both considered a “good” choice, but because they’re higher in mercury, stick to one serving a week.

Serve tuna in a sandwich, lettuce wrap or in a green salad.

2. Salmon

To get dinner on the table almost every night, I tend to stick to the basics and serve many of the same meals.

Since it’s so easy and fast, salmon has become my go-to meal on Monday when we’re off to the races of a busy week.

Salmon is an excellent source of protein and a good source of niacin, vitamins B6 and B12 and selenium.

It’s also versatile enough to serve at any meal, not only dinner. Serve leftover salmon on toast for breakfast or make an omelet. Canned salmon also works well in a sandwich or a lettuce wrap for lunch.

3. Anchovies

My kids love anchovies as much as I do and actually fight over who gets more when we crack open a can.

Although anchovies are definitely a type of food anyone—including adults—either love or hate, they’re one of the healthiest types of fish for kids.

A good source of protein, anchovies are also rich in iron, niacin, selenium, magnesium and phosphorus.

An ounce of anchovies provide 7 percent of the daily value for calcium, which helps build strong, healthy bones and teeth.

Since they can be an acquired taste and are high in sodium, try adding small amounts to pizza, pasta and rice dishes, and chopped salads.

4. Sardines

Sardines are another type of fish my kids started to eat regularly after they saw me eating them and asked to have a taste.

A good source of protein, calcium, vitamins B12 and D, phosphorus and selenium, sardines are less pungent that anchovies but still packed with plenty of nutrition.

Fresh or canned, you can grill or sauté sardines, add a small amount of mayonnaise just like you would with tuna fish or add them to pasta and rice dishes.

5. Scallops

With a mild and slightly sweet flavor and soft, buttery texture, scallops are another healthy type of fish that kids may be more likely to try.

Scallops are an excellent source of protein, phosphorus and selenium and a good source of vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and copper. Scallops are also a good source of zinc, which supports a healthy immune system.

Kids like bite-sized foods and since scallops are so small, try serving them as an appetizer or paired with a dipping sauce.