This post is by Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist’s Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.
If there were one “kid food” I wish would go away, it would be fruit snacks.
Packets of fruit snacks seem to be everywhere, from birthday party goody bags to pee-wee soccer sidelines. But here’s the thing. They are neither fruit nor a healthy snack. Yet they’re marketed that way by some manufacturers and perceived that way by many parents. That drives me nuts.
What’s in Packaged Fruit Snacks?
Let’s look at the ingredient list for a leading brand of fruit snacks:
FRUIT SNACK INGREDIENTS: Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Sodium Citrate, Blue 1.
Here’s the ingredient list on a package of gummy bears:
GUMMY BEAR INGREDIENTS: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.
Both contain multiple kinds of added sugar, have artificial flavors and preservatives, and are colored with synthetic dyes. Crunching the numbers on the label, they actually have almost the exact same amount of sugar, gram per gram.
What about “Natural” Fruit Snacks?
What about brands that use more natural ingredients? Yes, you lose the fake flavorings and synthetic dyes (which is a good thing) but added sugars are still the top ingredients. And they are still more like candy than fruit (don’t be fooled by healthy-sounding fruit juice concentrate, which is basically just another source of added sugar).
The front of the package may also tout the amount of vitamin C in fruit snacks, but I’m not impressed. Vitamin C is actually not very hard to get, especially if your child eats any fruits or vegetables. Kids ages 4-8 only need 25 milligrams of vitamin C per day. That’s how much they get in just three medium strawberries.
I don’t mind if my kids have an occasional package of fruit snacks at a party, but I make sure they understand what fruit snacks are – a sweet treat, just like cookies or candy.
Do Something About It
If your child is getting fruit snacks and other unhealthy items in sports, school, camp, or other places, and you want to do something about it, check out my e-book The Snacktivist’s Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home, a toolkit for any parent who wants to make positive change to the snack culture. It includes email templates you can customize and send to coaches and teachers, talking points to use in discussions, and more than a dozen printable resources. Learn more here.
Also, you can consider making your own homemade fruit snacks as well. We like this recipe from Wellness Mama and it’s easier to make than you’d think!
How do you feel about fruit snacks? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!