Unhealthy Foods For Kids: Don’t Feed These Unhealthy Foods to Children

Unhealthy Foods For Kids: Don't Feed These Unhealthy Foods To Children, boy eating cereal

Unhealthy Foods For Kids: Don’t Feed These Unhealthy Foods to Children

By: Julie Mancuso, founder of JM Nutrition, nutritional counselling service by team of nutritional practitioners


In this post: 

  • a list of unhealthy foods for kids

  • why you shouldn’t feed these unhealthy foods to children

Don’t feed these unhealthy foods to your children: introduction

Although not the only influence on the development of the eating habits of their children, parents are by far the biggest influence, especially early on in life.

Being impressionable, children eat what they see others eat. If they are repeatedly exposed to certain foods for a good part of their childhood, chances are the same foods will form the foundation of their diet in adulthood.

For this reason, it is critical that parents make healthy food choices, if not for themselves, then for the future health of their kids. After all, children’s nutrition is of utmost importance. 

So where do you start?

What are some common unhealthy foods consumed by children?

Let’s take a look.


Unhealthy Foods: Don’t Feed These Unhealthy Foods to Children:


Macaroni and Cheese

The ever-popular staple of kids, teens and cash-strapped college students, mac and cheese is unfortunately one of those unhealthy foods you shouldn’t feed to your children.

What’s the problem with macaroni and cheese?

  • Being highly processed, it has preservatives, food colouring, etc.
  • It contains a significant amount of sodium—too high, in fact. Even if you consume half of the contents of the package in one sitting, you will take in almost half the daily recommended sodium value.
  • Mac and cheese has little nutritional value with the exception of a small amount of protein, riboflavin, thiamine and folate.
  • It is highly caloric. A package contains just under 1000 calories, when prepared. 
  • Some mac and cheese variations contain a cheese mix, which isn’t real cheese.
  • Fibre–fundamental to proper and healthy digestion–is virtually nonexistent (Kids Need Fiber: Here’s Why and How).
  • Sugar content: about 28 grams in a package.
  • To top it all off, macaroni and cheese is a refined carbohydrate, one of those unhealthy foods that are over-consumed in today’s world and contribute to weight gain.

Macaroni and cheese alternative

If you just must have your macaroni and cheese, buy some pasta and sauce, cook it yourself, add a little real cheese and serve it to your children. This way you retain control of the ingredients that go into your little one’s meal.

If you really want to go the distance, or want a lower-carb meal, replace pasta with zucchini noodles. Alternatively, you can add more vegetables to the pasta for bulk while reducing the pasta (or carb) portion.

Otherwise, macaroni and cheese is one of those “don’t feed these foods to your children” foods. 

Related: 10 Simple Ways to Reduce Carbohydrates


Fruit Snacks

Speaking of unhealthy foods for kids, we turn our attention to fruit snacks.

Strike fruit snacks, fruit rolls, and fruit-like candy from your grocery list once and for all. 

These children’s snacks are small bundles of junk sold under the banner of the word ‘fruit’ which, to some parents, equates to ‘healthy’.

Unfortunately, fruit snacks, and I’m using this term very loosely, find a spot near the top of the unhealthy foods for kids list. 

Fruit snacks: an unhealthy food

Reason being, most of these fruit snacks brim with sugar, corn syrup and all sorts of additives and artificial flavours.

It’s also important not to get fooled by the claims of added Vitamin C either. The added Vitamin C is a gimmick designed to persuade you to buy the product because it appeals to your concern for the kids’ health. The truth is the health hazards far outweigh any of the benefits.

Fruit snacks alternatives

A good alternative to fruit snacks is a piece of fruit such as an apple sprinkled with cinnamon. And if you need to add more Vitamin C to your child’s diet, turn to oranges, which will do the trick just fine.

Developing healthy eating habits

Healthy eating habits have to be developed early on in the childhood. For years, kids are bombarded with and exposed to all this excess sugar. As a result, it’s difficult for them to make the switch-over to healthy food alternatives in their natural form. Often, they find the taste of the healthier foods bland and unappealing.

But all is not lost. The situation can be reversed. Kids can be re-programmed to choose healthier foods. Over time you can help to wean them off the unhealthy foods. Usually, this is a slow, gradual process, but it’s worth it.

Related: Tips For Picky Eaters And Their Parents


Cheese Strings

Cheese Strings are one of the children’s all-time favourite go-to snacks.

The main problem with the cheese string is that often it isn’t made of real cheese. Instead, it’s made from a cheese product or processed cheese

Even if you manage to find cheese strings made with real cheese, it is likely that these contain emulsifiers, food colouring, perhaps dairy substitutes, sometimes even sugar. Your kids should not be consuming these ingredients on a daily basis.

What about the nutritional value of cheese strings?

Besides calcium and a little protein, there is not much to speak of in terms of nutritional value. Both, calcium and protein can be easily obtained via other common calcium-rich food sources.

For example, broccoli contains a high amount of the former, while chicken—a lean and healthy meat—carries the latter.

Singles Slices: A relative of Cheese Strings

Look out for the Cheese String’s cousin, the Singles Slices, which are another one of those unhealthy foods for kids.

The sodium content in these slices is much too high, while vitamins are virtually non-existent. For these reasons the Singles slices are one of those “don’t feed these foods to your children” foods. 

If you’re really craving cheese, buy the real stuff, slice it up for your kids and give the Single Slices a pass.

And, if you’re concerned about calcium intake for your children, rest assured plenty of other means of getting the required calcium exist.

Related: What Are Good Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium?


Energy and Sports Drinks

Sports drinks, and energy drinks in particular, are one of those unhealthy foods (drinks) for kids that you should avoid feeding to your children.

Peddled by commercial ads and/or the sports industry as the quick energy fix for athletes, energy and sports drinks are enormously overhyped and overused.

It pains me to see ten year old children gulping down these sugar-water beverages like they have just run a marathon and in a dying need of electrolytes.

Here’s where I think the adults need to step in and explain to our young and impressionable children that their favourite athletes are paid sports bags of money to advertise these unhealthy beverages.

And just because you’re a young hockey, soccer or football player, it doesn’t mean you have to chug sugar-laden sports drinks after every practice or game just because you see your favourite athlete do so on TV. 

What’s the problem with sports or energy drinks?

Loaded with spoonfuls of sugar and virtually no nutritional value, sports and energy drinks are one of the most unhealthy foods for kids. Well, drinks. Avoid them, just like soda.

Unless your children run for hours on end in oppressive sun, heat and/or humidity, losing the much-needed electrolytes by the bucketful and facing severe dehydration, don’t feed them sports drinks.

In most cases, running around a soccer field for 60 or 90 minutes does not justify the gulping down of a such a drink afterwards.

Healthier alternatives to sports drinks

And if you feel your child’s electrolytes to be replenished, then stick to feeding your children fruit.

Alternatively, purchase an electrolyte replacement powder that contains no sugar and no artificial sweeteners. Simply mix a scoop of this powder in a glass or bottle of water, and you have the perfect, healthy electrolyte drink minus the sugar overload.

Worst case scenario, dilute the sports drink with water: half and half.


Why is Drinking Water Important and How Much Water Should You Drink

What Should A Soccer Player Diet Look Like?


Orange and Apple Juice

Did I just read that orange and apple juice aren’t healthy?

Yes and no. Let me explain.

Fruit in its natural form is better

First, let me emphasize that eating a whole orange or a whole apple is a much healthier choice than drinking juice. Always!

Second, both juices contain essential vitamins and minerals, so they’re not bad.

Problem with fruit juice

The problem, however, lies in the fact that most orange and apple juice carries too much sugar. In fact, the sugar content is not too dissimilar to soda, making fruit juice one of the unhealthy foods or drinks for kids.

In addition, these juices are low in fibre, unlike the fruit itself, which doesn’t help digestion.

Worse still, some juices contain added flavours, which are a far cry from fruit in its natural form.

Read the nutrition facts label

So next time you’re thinking of putting a juice box in your child’s lunch bag, take a look at the ingredients and analyze carefully. Not all of them are created equally. Some are lower in sugar whereas others are brimming with it.

To be safe, replace these drinks with juice in its natural form, low in sugar (and no added sugar) and one that contains no additives.

When in doubt, drink water, perhaps with a twist of lemon if plain water just doesn’t cut it.

Remember that children may find these changes difficult at first, but things will get easier with time. Eventually, they will get used to the healthier options.

For a more in-depth look at fruit juice take a look at: Fruit Juice is Just as Unhealthy as a Sugary Drink.


Granola Bars

For many people the word granola evokes images of a young, fit and healthy adult reaching the peak of a rugged mountain and then, with a big smile, biting into a granola bar. Health and fitness personified. 

It’s because of images like this that we perceive granola bars as a healthy snack full of nutrients that will help our children grow into healthy adults. And for this reason we freely pack these convenient snacks in our children’s school lunch bags.

This, unfortunately, is the wrong move.

Why avoid most granola bars

Reason being, most granola bars on the market contain a number of unhealthy ingredients, not the least of which is sugar. Often, granola bars hold large amounts of sugar, sometimes as high as in the average chocolate bar.

After consuming these sugar, er granola, bars, all your children are going to experience is a sugar high followed by a swift crash. This is especially detrimental at school where focus and energy are required throughout the day. All this excess sugar makes granola bars one of those unhealthy foods for kids that you should avoid buying.

Although healthier granola bar options exist, read the nutrition label carefully. If you’re unsure, it’s best to give them a pass.



Although it may seem that I’m picking on cereal, as I frequently encourage people to choose more healthy meals for breakfast, I do so with good reason.

It is now common knowledge that sugar is an unhealthy ingredient, when consumed frequently and in large quantities. The excessive consumption of sugar also contributes to weight gain, including that of our children. 

Related: Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

How a weight loss nutritionist can help


Cereal and sugar

Sugar is everywhere.

We ingest sugar in our morning coffee, in sodas and juices, in our desserts, in salad dressings, in condiments, in processed foods and in cereal. The cumulative effects of this overconsumption can be devastating over time. 

Although some healthy, low-sugar cereals exist, they are few and far between. Most contain too much sugar. If you find sugar near the top of the list of ingredients, it’s found in large amounts. 

Why are refined grains unhealthy?

To add fuel to the fire, many cereals, especially the ones for children, are made from refined grains.

Refined grains cereals are starchy, low in fibre, contain additives, colouring and flavouring, and are generally devoid of many nutrients.

Undoubtedly, this unhealthy alliance of sugar and refined grains makes cereal one of the most unhealthy foods for kids that steadily contributes to the obesity epidemic and poor digestion.

Related: Childhood obesity management with a dietitian

Digestive health dietitian and nutritionist

How to select cereal?

Select your cereal wisely. That is, low in sugar, with limited additives, unprocessed, high in fibre and lower in calories.

What’s more, much better breakfast and snack options exist that are just as easily and quickly put together. 

I elaborate on this here: Snacks For Kids: Unhealthy vs. Healthy.

Related: How to Create a Healthy Food Environment



Adults have an undeniably massive influence on our children in many ways, including the responsibility of instilling healthy eating habits. As a result, we must be aware of the food choices we make because they not only affect our own health, but the health of our children.

And, since children need our guidance in selecting which foods to buy and eat, in order to grow up healthy, we have to be strong and resist the temptation of purchasing unhealthy, convenient foods as much as possible.

Is it always convenient? No.

Can it cost more? Sometimes.

Is it worth it? You bet it is!

More information: Pediatric Nutritionist, Family Nutritionist, Dietitian and Nutritionist for Teenage Children 



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JM Nutrition is a nutritional counselling service by registered nutritionists and dietitians in Toronto, dietitian in Mississauga, dietitian in Ottawa, dietitian in Scarborough, dietitian and nutritionist in Woodbridge, dietitian and nutritionist in Hamilton, nutritionist in Vancouver and dietitian in Halifax. We offer in-person appointments, as well the services of a dietitian and nutritionist online.


Author: Julie Mancuso

Julie Mancuso


Julie Mancuso is a graduate of the University of Toronto, founder and owner of JM Nutrition, a nutritional counselling service by registered dietitians and nutritionists. For 15+ years, JM Nutrition has helped thousands reach their health, wellness and nutrition goals. Julie and her team regularly lend their expertise to a variety of health publications such as Reader's Digest, Livestrong, Business Insider, Food Network, Today's Parent, MyFitnessPal, Toronto Star, Elle Magazine, Best Life, Weight Watchers and many more.