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Parent “Traps” at the Supermarket

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You’re rolling your cart through the aisles, thinking you’re doing alright by your kids. Organic? Check. Whole grains? Check. All natural? Check. But what’s really in that cart? Have you been hoodwinked by marketing gimmicks into thinking that you’re getting better foods than you really are? Check out our checklist of the top parent “traps” at the supermarket:

“Organic”: Organic fruits and vegetables? Great. But once you move beyond the produce aisle, there’s plenty of organic stuff that still falls into the “junk food” category. Did you know, for instance, that you can buy organic cheese puffs? Researchers have found that when consumers were told a product was organic, they tended to think it tasted better and was more nutritious than its non-organic counterpart.  It’s part of the “health halo” that in many cases isn’t an accurate image of the food.  As Consumer Reports puts it, organic junk food is still junk food.

“Made With Real Fruit”: You see the bright, fresh strawberries on the package of Kellogg’s Frosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts, and you see the “Baked with Real Fruit” banner, and you think, “That can’t be so bad, right?” Take a look at the list of ingredients and you’ll see corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup way up at the top, followed later on by “less than two percent” of various ingredients including dried strawberries. That’s pretty far from a fresh strawberry. And Pop-Tarts aren’t the only offender – you’ll find that dubious claim on popsicles, fruit leather, and breakfast bars; all highly processed sugary foods that your kid could easily do without. Want them to eat real fruit? Try real fruit instead.

“Whole Grain”: This is super-confusing, especially when some notorious kid-marketed foods (we see you, Apple Jacks) can claim they are “Made With Whole Grains.”  Whole grains contain all three parts of the kernel of a grain (bran, endosperm, germ), whereas refining usually removes the bran and the germ. Foods can claim they are “made with whole grains” but only if the food is made entirely with whole grain can they claim “100 percent whole grain” — which is ideally what you want. And if the rest of the ingredient list is a nutritional nightmare, you’re not getting much of the intended whole-grain benefit. Want to learn more about whole grains? Check out the Whole Grains Council for more detail.

“All Natural”: Put it this way: Plenty of things are natural, but that doesn’t mean you want to eat them. Bacon fat is “all natural” but we’re still not going to serve it for breakfast. So even though plenty of junk foods have started marketing themselves with the “all natural ingredients” label, it still doesn’t mean you should eat them. Exhibit A: Tostitos, as analyzed by Fooducate. And to paraphrase the earlier mantra: “All natural” junk food is still junk food.

“Great for Kids on the Go”: If you’re buying lots of snack food in cute little packages, it probably isn’t all that “great” for your kids. The worst example we’ve seen is these bananas wrapped in individual packages (isn’t that what the peel is for?). Even foods like these GoGo SqueeZ applesauce squeezers, which portend to be healthy, represent tons of processing to get down to that little package. If you really want applesauce on the go, make a big batch and freeze it in small plastic containers – it’ll serve double-duty keeping the lunches cold as well. And if you really want a banana on the go, just grab a banana. It’s not brain surgery.

Hidden Food Dyes: Did you know that many pickles have food dyes? Go on, check in your refrigerator. We did, and we were shocked to see that our “naturally” green pickles were actually colored with blue and yellow food dyes. Other lesser-known culprits, noted in this WalletPop article, include yellow cake mix, some “brown” cereals, fruit yogurts, and condiments like salad dressings or barbecue sauce. Read the label before you buy to make sure.

“Good Source of Fiber“: Sure, some foods can market themselves as a “good source of fiber,” but there’s no telling how much sugar they might have put in there to make kids like it. (See Apple Jacks, above.) Ideally, kids should eat foods with naturally occurring fiber (Hell-ooo! Fruits and vegetables!) before they turn to foods with added fiber.

The moral of the story is that there are lots of dubious food products out there for your kids. Is it any surprise that a study earlier this year found that 84 percent of the “better for you” food products for kids had health claims that were misleading? So be a critical consumer: Fill up your cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, and take everything else you read with a grain of salt (so to speak).

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