Ten best & worst foods for kids

Updated July 19, 2017

When it comes to the best and worst foods for kids, there are some obvious heroes and zeroes: blueberries are nutritious winners, while french fries are fatty losers. You may be surprised, however, at some of the foods that make the 10 Best and 10 Worst lists. For example, fruit leather isn't as healthy as you'd think, and 100-calorie snack packs help kids keep their junk food intake in moderation.

10 Best Foods for Kids: Ages 1 to 3

  1. Milk If your child is under 2, he or she should drink whole milk; full-fat dairy promotes growth and development in babies and toddlers. Kids over 2 should be drinking low-fat milk: it's packed with Vitamin D and calcium, for good skin and strong bones.

  2. Whole Grains Whole-wheat breads and cereals contain whole grains and fibre, which are good for the heart and digestive system.

  3. 100-Calorie Snack Packs There will probably come a point--or several points--in your life when your kids are begging for processed snacks like Oreos or Hostess cupcakes. Sometimes it's just impossible to deny them a treat. If you must buy these snacks, buy the prepackaged 100-calorie packs: this way you can control the portion size, fat and sugar content. You can also buy healthier cookies such as Fig Newtons and make mini-portions yourself.

10 Best Foods for Kids: Ages 4 to 6

  1. Blueberries If fresh blueberries are not in season, pick up a bag of frozen blueberries. Because freezing can affect some nutrients in fruit, the frozen kind are not quite as good as fresh berries, but they still have plenty of health benefits. They contain fibre and antioxidants.

  2. Pomegranates Pomegranates are fun to eat and filled with nutrients. Younger kids might choke on the arils, or seeds, of the pomegranate, however: give them pomegranate juice instead. While giving your kids juice generally isn't the best way for them to get their daily servings of fruit, you can make an exception for this antioxidant-rich juice.

  3. Extra-Lean Ground Beef Make burgers or bolognese sauce with extra-lean minced meat rather than the full-fat kind. Beef is a great source of protein.

10 Best Foods for Kids: Ages 7 to 10

  1. Skinless Chicken Breast This is a good source of lean protein. If you're going to bread it, bake it in the oven rather than pan-frying it with oil: baking will keep the fat content low.

  2. Lentils Packed with protein, these little legumes give kids caloric bang for the buck. One cup of cooked lentils contains around 230 calories and hardly any fat or cholesterol. Lentils are high in potassium, fibre and iron as well as protein.

  3. Spinach Dark leafy greens, if you can get your kid to eat them, are incredibly nutritious. Spinach has lots of Vitamin A and potassium, and is completely fat-free. Try adding raw spinach to a salad, or sneaking cooked spinach into some lentil soup.

  4. Pumpkin This low-calorie squash has plenty of Vitamin A and fibre, and can be made into a sweet, healthy mash with just a little butter and brown sugar. You can also steam it and put chunks of it on top of brown rice.

10 Worst Foods for Kids: Ages 1 to 3

  1. French Fries These greasy treats taste great, but have little nutritional value and are very high in fat. Make your kids baked potatoes instead.

  2. Soda A 354ml. serving of soda can contain 10 tsp of sugar, which isn't good for your kids' waistlines or their teeth. Even if your kids drink diet soda, they're still ingesting large amounts of chemical sweeteners: have them drink milk or water instead.

  3. Hot Dogs Hot dogs are high in fat and sodium, and not as high in protein as non-processed meats like chicken or beef. Small children can choke on hot dogs. If you must feed your kids hot dogs, try turkey or veggie dogs, and cut them into very small pieces for your little ones.

10 Worst Foods for Kids: Ages 4 to 6

  1. Juice Check the label carefully before giving your child fruit juice: some store-bought drinks contain only a very small percentage of juice. The rest of the drink is sugar or other sweeteners and water. It's better to give kids whole fruit instead.

  2. Bagels The average bagel has 200 to 400 calories and a lot of sodium. While it does contain a fair amount of protein and iron, it's a calorically dense way to get those nutrients: a kid would be better off getting his protein and iron from eating meat. Whole-grain bread has more fibre and less calories per serving.

  3. Fruit Leather This supposedly healthy treat often contains sweeteners, and doesn't have much fibre or many vitamins. Again, it's better to give kids whole fruit.

10 Worst Foods for Kids: Ages 7 to 10

  1. Chips Most chips are high in fat and sodium, and don't contain very many nutrients. This goes for crisps, tortilla chips (corn and flour) and Cheetos-type corn puffs.

  2. Sugared Cereal The extra sugar in cereals like Frosted Flakes can add up to weight gain and tooth decay. It's best to stick with whole-grain cereals like Kashi and Raisin Bran.

  3. Fried Chicken Breading or battering chicken adds extra empty calories, and frying adds extra fat. Chicken nugget dipping sauces can also contain a lot of sodium. Serve your kids grilled or baked skinless chicken breast instead.

  4. Doughnuts These are dense little calorie bombs. They're low in nutritional value and high in fat, sugar and salt. The fats in a doughnut are the worst kind: they're saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to heart disease. One small doughnut can equal 200 to 300 calories.

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About the Author

Kate Wharmby Seldman is a writer, ghostwriter and editor. She writes about subjects including electronic music, jewelry making, baby and child care, and ecologically friendly building construction. Originally from London, England, she now lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband and son.