Parents with toddlers are being urged to ditch supermarket snacks and fruit juice drinks and go for fresh alternatives to give their children a healthy start to life with a review finding many pre-packaged options contain alarmingly high levels of sugar, salt and unhealthy fats.
A nutritional analysis undertaken by nutritionist and chef Zoe Bingley-Pullin for Australian Avocados looked at the contents of products in eight popular children’s snack categories and found most contain a range of hidden sugars and high levels of saturated fat along with a range of additives and preservatives. MSG was also shown to be used to flavour leading savoury biscuit snacks aimed at kids.
According to the review, some cheese and cracker snack packs contain up to or over 100 per cent of a three year olds’ recommended daily sodium intake. Sweet puffed rice bars were also shown to have up to a quarter of a toddler’s daily sugar allowance. Disturbingly, some children’s yoghurts can be higher in sugar than adult options.
Ms Bingley-Pullin said that while packaged snacks may seem convenient and even healthy based on face value, many parents are unwittingly purchasing foods with poor nutritional credentials for their families.
“Research shows that 70 per cent of food preferences are established at an early age so to ensure a healthy diet later in life, parents need to stop relying on processed snacks and whip up nutritious options with fresh produce instead, involving little ones in the process wherever possible,” she said.
“Use a rainbow of ingredients in each meal plus different textures and temperatures to make food interesting and fun. Apart from being a rich source of dietary fibre and low in sodium and sugar, avocados are colourful, delicious and texturally appealing so they are a perfect food to experiment with,” she said.
Bingley-Pullin said that along with parents, childcare centres play an important role in guiding the food preferences of toddlers and must help to improve their eating.
She pointed to the ‘Eating My Colourful Vegies and Fruit’ resource kit, developed in 2010 by the growers of Australian avocados in conjunction with nutrition and education experts Shelley Woodrow and Nadine McCrea, as an initiative using development-based food exploration activities to help establish good eating habits for life.
The program has already helped 60,000 preschoolers embrace a variety of plant-based foods and this October, it will launch across another 600 child care centres and be piloted in 10 primary schools nationwide.
Mel Ellis, Director at Midson Road Child Care Centre in Epping, NSW, said the program proved a major success last year with toddlers delighting in trying a diverse range of healthy new foods.
“The ‘Eating My Colourful Vegies and Fruit’ kit engages children and helps them develop varied food preferences in fun and positive ways through activities that get them using all their senses when discovering new flavours and textures,” Ms Ellis said.
“The program also assists with building social, science and food literacy skills, so we will definitely be using it again this year with our toddlers,” she said.
The Australian avocado growers are committed to playing a part in improving the wellbeing of future generations and see the resource as a valuable way to help achieve this.
Along with the resource kit, each participating centre receives a tray of fresh Australian avocados to help support the implementation of a range of sensory activities.
Key Findings from Toddler Snacks Nutritional Analysis*
These yoghurts can be a good source of calcium and in some cases have added Vitamin D and Omega 3s which are beneficial for children. But surprisingly, some of these products were generally higher in sugars (added and from fruit) than some adult options. Be sure to check the nutrition information panel when shopping.
Rolled Fruit Snacks
While the fruit content in these products varies greatly from as little as 1% fruit, it is usually processed and there are high levels of a range of sugars, additives and preservatives. They are not a substitute for fresh fruit.
Fruit-filled Baked Cereal Bars
Can contain a range of unnatural additives and are very high in energy, carbohydrates, sodium and sugar, both natural and added so read the ingredients lists – better to eat small tubs of real fruit packed in natural juice.
Puffed Rice Sweet Treats
On average these products are high in energy and contain high GI carbohydrates, high in fat (some products have half the fat from unhealthy saturated fat!), a range of sugars and sodium.
Cheese and Crackers Snack Packs
On average these contain processed cheese with a high saturated fat and sodium content. The biscuits are loaded with sugar, sodium and processed carbohydrates. A piece of low fat cheddar is a good alternative as a calcium-rich snack.
Sweet Nut Spreads
Hazelnut spreads tend to be high in added sugars and fats (some natural, derived from healthy hazelnuts) including a high percentage of saturated fat (around 30 per cent on average). 100 per cent fruit spreads look to be a better option containing less energy and saturated fat and natural rather than processed sugars. 100 per cent nut butters and pastes with no added fats, sugars or sodium are also a good alternative.
Savoury biscuit snacks
These products tend to have a very high salt content and are up to one third saturated fat. Some popular options also contain MSG (monosodium glutamate).
Fruit Juice Drinks
These drinks are high in sugars (natural and added) and are a dentist’s worst nightmare as they can contribute to dental erosion. Water or plain milk are better options for toddlers. Flavoured milks provide a good source of calcium but are still high in sugars (natural and added).