Healthy food choices for children: guidelines you should follow

Learn how to combat the confusion of food health claims with these tips.

Credit: Flickr / Sandro Cuccia

While many consumers are striving to eat healthier, the marketing ploys of food manufacturers can lead people astray. Make truly healthy choices for yourself and your family by following these guidelines


Initially, I was excited when I saw the headline for a recent Global Ipsos Marketing Study that indicated parents are prioritizing serving healthy foods to their kids.


The survey, which polled parents from around the globe, indicated parents want their children to eat foods that contribute to “heart health, reduced risk of disease, brain development and immunity to health problems.”


Healthy food and false advertising

Healthy Eating Supergirl

If most of the ingredients in a “health” product label seem unfamiliar, chances are the product isn’t as healthy as it claims to be. (Image: Flickr / The Labour Party)

Who wouldn’t want to feed kids healthy food? Food manufacturers, it seems.


As I read further—expecting to learn that parents are seeking out more whole foods and are cutting back on processed products—I discovered the opposite is true.


Parents, it turns out, are counting on legislation and packaging rules to ensure that foods marketed to children are made from healthy ingredients.


The study’s press release went on to say, “Manufacturers are feeling the pressure from all angles to market healthier food to children. It is a whole new world for marketers. Today we see healthy options for kids in a wide range of categories, including beverages (juice boxes fortified with calcium), dairy (milk with DHA Omega-3), cereal (gluten-free options), and snacks (fruit chews containing Vitamin C).”


Seriously? Fruit chews (aka high-fructose corn syrup, gelatin and artificial flavours and colours—infused with Vitamin C) are healthy?


The study got more depressing as it went on: “As for tomorrow, we can expect innovations in kids’ foods that go beyond health basics, such as vitality boosting snacks and hunger-suppression products—and we can expect new marketing strategies that will be just as exciting.”


Hunger-suppression products for kids are considered innovating and exciting? How sickening. And how confused parents must be if so many of us are under the impression that heavily processed and manufactured food-like stuff is healthy.


Five ways to eat healthier

Shop at the farmer’s market and incorporate as many fresh food items into your diet as possible. (Image: Flickr / peyri)


The whole study made me feel a bit queasy, and I realized that we need help. We need sane information, not labels that lie to us.


My favourite guidelines are a set of rules written by Michael Pollan, which is expanded upon in his book, In Defense of Food. The list is easy to follow, makes sense and its tongue-in-cheek tone makes it stick with you:


  1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

    That means no fruit chews, energy drinks or foods that never grow stale because they’re full of preservatives.

  2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) unfamiliar, B) unpronounceable, C) more than five in number, or D) that include high-fructose corn syrup.

    This rule eliminates nearly every food product that is marketed to kids. Those multi-coloured yogurts, sugary breakfast cereals and syrupy juice boxes don’t contain many ingredients that can be considered real food.

  3. Avoid products that make health claims.

    Pollan notes that if food has a health claim, it’s probably in a package, which means it was processed. It’s hard to imagine there could be anything healthy about a product that claims to be a “vitality-boosting” snack.

  4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.

    Beware of high-fructose corn syrup. It’s sneaking into all sorts of things—especially in the dairy case.

  5. Get out of the supermarket whenever possible.

    Your farmer’s market is a far better place to look for real food—and it’ll taste better too.