Parents: These 6 Foods Make Up 40% of Kids’ Empty Calories

One of the most important things a parent can do is help their child develop healthy eating habits. Even with the best intentions though, parents often find that their little one is eating a less-than-healthy diet. When long hours, a picky child, and a society that makes high-calorie, low-nutrition foods readily available come together, it can be a real challenge for parents to provide a meal that is healthy, delicious, and easy to make.

Even if your child isn’t the biggest fan of fruits and veggies, you can help them eat healthy by being mindful of avoiding serving them empty calories. Empty calories are calories that fill a little one's tummy but don’t provide any essential nutrition and, shockingly, 40% of the calories consumed by children ages 2-18 are considered empty calories. When kids eat empty calories, instead of calories that have the essential nutrients they need to function and grow at their best, it means that they’re either eating too many calories to meet their nutritional needs, or they're missing out on essential nutrients.

Parents who want to reduce the empty calories their kids consume don’t have to look far – just 6 foods and drinks make up the bulk of the empty calories eaten by kids. These foods include soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts (like ice cream), grain desserts (like cookies), pizza, and whole milk.

empty calories
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Just by eliminating soda and fruit drinks, parents could have a major impact on their kids' calorie consumption. While it might not seem like a big deal to give kids juice or soda a few times a week, evidence shows that kids who drink more soda and juice are more likely than their peers to be overweight both in their youth and when they grow into adults.

Many parents indicate that they would like to serve their kids healthier food but that their kids don’t like healthy foods as much as they like sweets and sugary drinks. If that’s the case in your family, you might have to be persistent. Experts recommend removing foods that you don’t want your child to eat from your home, offering plenty of healthy choices, and modeling healthy food choices.

Making the switch away from empty calories can be hard but when your child grows up eating a well-balanced diet they are much more likely to keep eating one as an adult!

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Parents: These 6 Foods Make Up 40% of Kids’ Empty Calories

Julia Pelly has a master's degree in public health and works full time in the field of positive youth development. Julia loves hiking after work, swimming during the summer and taking long, cuddly afternoon naps with her two sons on the weekends. Julia lives in North Carolina, with her husband and two young boys. You can find more of her work at ... More

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