Before having children, many would-be parents envision raising healthy and adventurous eaters and vow to avoid feeding their little ones foods that aren’t nutritious and good for them. But the reality tends to fall far from that vision.
“Overall, don’t stress out about it,” advised Dr. Elizabeth Davis, a pediatrician and sports medicine physician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. “I’m a pediatrician, and I was humbled once I became the parent of a super picky eater. My 5-year-old has never met a chip or sweet treat or ‘snack’ she doesn’t like! Fruits and veggies are a different story.”
She emphasized that parents can’t completely restrict all things they don’t want their children to have. For example, her daughter only drinks water and milk at home.
“However, if she goes to a birthday party and gets a juice box or two, that’s OK,” Davis said. “Or if we go out to dinner and she wants lemonade or chocolate milk as a special treat, OK. We just don’t do it every day or even weekly. It’s a treat!”
Still, there are certain foods that pediatricians like Davis tend to avoid giving to their children, or at least limit how often they do. We asked some to share one food or drink item that they never or rarely serve their kids.
“There aren’t many foods that should be 100% off limits. Moderation, variety, and balance are the keys to nutritional health and overall body health. Having said that, hard candy is something I generally avoid and never give my own children. The sugar content in hard candy is considerable, and it contributes to tooth decay and enamel chipping. It is also a choking hazard, so if I had to ban one thing, this might be it.” — Dr. Christina Johns, pediatric emergency doctor and senior medical adviser at PM Pediatric Care in Annapolis, Maryland
Highly Processed Packaged Food
“I grew up in the South eating quite a bit of foods like bologna and potted meat or ramen noodles for lunch and snack time. I don’t give my kids these foods because they are highly processed and packaged foods containing too much salt and bad fats when there are healthier, real whole food options available.” ― Dr. Candice Jones, a pediatrician in Orlando, Florida
“As a pediatrician who advocates for mindful and intuitive eating, I do my best not to demonize or condemn any foods. However, there is one commonly consumed beverage that I warn my children about, and that is energy drinks. Energy drinks can be dangerous and have caused adverse effects in children. I do not recommend that children consume caffeine in general as it is a stimulant drug and can lead to dependency, but energy drinks in particular can have severe consequences. Energy drinks are not regulated and can have very high doses of caffeine in addition to other potentially harmful substances that can lead to caffeine overdoses, insomnia, cardiac effects, seizures and even death. At the very least, energy drinks will often affect sleep and can dysregulate mood. I do not consider energy drinks safe or in any way beneficial for children.” ― Dr. Yami Cazorla-Lancaster, a pediatrician in Yakima, Washington, and author of “A Parent’s Guide to Intuitive Eating: How To Raise Kids Who Love to Eat Healthy”
Fish High In Mercury
“I avoid fish high in mercury, like mackerel, marlin, roughy, swordfish, tilefish, tuna. Mercury can be toxic to the nervous system/brain if there’s high exposure, so it’s best to avoid altogether in young children and adolescents with a developing brain.” — Davis
Sugary Juice And Soda
“I never ever served juice to my kids. Juice and soft drinks are very high in concentrated sugar ― sucrose ― and also often high fructose corn syrup. They additionally contain way too much added sugar and are very low in fiber. Serve and encourage water especially starting at age six months and up so they get used to it and with it serve fruit that has the added benefits of high fiber. It makes you fuller with fewer blood sugar spikes, and water is the best quencher of thirst.” — Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, a pediatrician in New York City
“Foods that are choking hazards for toddlers and young children include popcorn, hotdogs, grapes, cherry tomatoes, hard candies, gum, carrots, chunks of cooked meat, etc. These foods should be cut into very small pieces or avoided altogether until kids are older.” ― Davis
“My children don’t have unpasteurized, or ‘raw’ dairy or other food and beverage products. There’s a risk of gastrointestinal infections and severe diarrhea.” — Davis