Children need regular, healthy foods to develop properly.
However, when snack time comes around and good choices are not available they will normally choose the most easily accessed items, which can sometimes include prepackaged foods. Children can also adopt the “there’s nothing to eat” syndrome when looking for something to snack on and there aren’t easy to grab, kid centered options.
The U.S. in particular has been scrutinized for offering foods to children that are mostly nutritionally deficient even in places where they need a health boost the most, like at school. School lunches in general have been under a microscope for being overly processed and not including the freshest varieties of foods.
Many studies have been done regarding children’s eating habits with findings that show food inclinations develop young, and that more accessible choices are normally eaten over harder to prepare foods. Also, numerous research has been conducted on school lunch programs and their nutritional information. One study published in the Journal of School Health examined specifically what they termed “competitive foods and beverages” such as convenience items like prepackaged and vending machine foods and drinks.
Looking at children’s food preferences from 2,309 school aged children across 48 states, they found that out of the 397 schools they looked at 88% of high schools and 52% of middle schools had onsite vending machines. Further, 22% of the children ate convenience foods in a usual school day, and the usage was the highest among high schoolers.
Those that ate the easy to grab packaged foods had higher sugar levels, lower amounts of detectable iron, dietary fiber and vitamin B than students who did not visit the vending machines.
This puts the spotlight on childhood obesity and the current state of the cafeteria in U.S. schools and their contributions to potentially damaging the developmental health of the children they are supposed to be educating. Schools across the nation are plagued with enormous, worsening budget cuts which make it nearly impossible to run their buildings as needed, but more needs to be done to offer healthier choices for students and staff. And this is just one arena where children are put in the position to snatch what is on hand to eat.
Developed by the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, this list from Snackwise, a research oriented snack rating system, looked at the nutrition factors in many popular U.S. snacks often offered in vending machines and snack times at schools and lists their nutritional density in a ranking system. Many of those listed are less than healthy and it gives a good idea of just what is in – or isn’t in – some prepackage options.
Although you may not be able to control what they eat at all times, offering mostly healthy choices at home and a variety of them will expand their palate and expectations for what real food tastes like and where it really comes from, and it’s not from a package. They may even actually navigate themselves to natural flavors instead of synthetic ones.
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