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Harmful ingredients you should avoid giving your kids

As a parent, you want the best for your children. You strive to provide them with a healthy diet that supports their growth and development. However, with so many processed foods marketed towards children, it can be difficult to navigate the grocery store aisles and choose foods that are truly nutritious. Unfortunately, many of the foods marketed towards children are filled with harmful ingredients that can have negative effects on their health. Below you will find some of the most common harmful ingredients found in children's food, and why it's important to avoid them. This way you'll have a better understanding of what to look out for when choosing foods for your children, and how to make healthier choices that support their long-term health and well-being.

Artificial colors and flavors

Artificial colors and flavors are often added to children's food to make it look and taste more appealing. However, these additives have been linked to multiple health risks in children and have been banned in some countries such as Norway, Austria, Finland, France, The United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of the potential health risks of giving your children artificial colors include:

  • Hyperactivity: Several studies have linked the consumption of artificial colors to hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in children.
  • Allergic reactions: Some people may be allergic to certain artificial colors, which can cause a range of symptoms from mild itching to anaphylaxis.
  • Cancer: Some animal studies have suggested that certain artificial colors may be carcinogenic, meaning they could cause cancer.
  • Impaired learning and memory: A study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that exposure to some artificial colors during development may lead to long-term impairments in learning and memory.
  • Asthma: Some studies have suggested that certain artificial colors may exacerbate asthma symptoms in some people.

Some of the most common artificial colors used in children's foods to look out for include:

  • Red 40: This is one of the most commonly used artificial colors, and it can be found in a wide variety of foods, including candy, fruit snacks, and cereals.
  • Yellow 5: This artificial color is often used in snack foods, candy, and even macaroni and cheese. It has been linked to hyperactivity in some children.
  • Blue 1: This artificial color is often used in candy, ice cream, and other sweet treats.
  • Green 3: This artificial color is often used in candy and baked goods.
  • Yellow 6: This artificial color is commonly used in snack foods, candy, and baked goods.

Instead of relying on artificial additives, parents can choose foods that are naturally colorful and flavorful, such as fruits and vegetables.

High-fructose corn syrup

High-fructose corn syrup is a type of sweetener that is commonly found in processed foods, including many children's snacks such as:

  • Sodas
  • Candies
  • Baked goods
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Condiments and sauces
  • Processed snacks (chips, crackers, dressings, ketchup, etc.),
  • Canned fruits and vegetables

This ingredient has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, liver damage, tooth decay, and cardiovascular disease. Instead of giving children foods with high-fructose corn syrup, parents can choose natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or fruit.

Trans fats

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that are often used in processed foods to improve their texture, flavor, and shelf life. However, consumption of trans fats has been linked to a number of health problems, particularly cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are a type of unhealthy fat that are often found in processed foods, including many types of snacks and baked goods such as:

  • Fried foods
  • Baked goods (cakes, pastries, and cookies)
  • Margarine and shortening
  • Processed snacks (chips and crackers)
  • Frozen foods (pizzas, pies, and baked goods)

These fats can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. Parents should look for foods that are free of trans fats, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.


While sodium is an important nutrient that plays a role in many bodily functions, consuming too much of it can be harmful to your child's health. Foods high in sodium can lead to several health problems like high blood pressure, kidney problems, dehydration, obesity, and cognitive issues. Many children’s foods high in sodium include:

  • Processed meats ( deli meat, hot dogs, bacon, etc.)
  • Canned foods (soups, canned vegetables or beans)
  • Snacks like chips
  • Fast food (pizza, burritos, burgers, fries, etc.)
  • Some cheeses
  • Condiments (ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, etc.)

How much sodium can my child have?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA) children between the ages of 1 and 3 years old should consume no more than 1,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 should consume no more than 1,200 mg per day, children between the ages of 9 and 13 should consume no more than 1,500 mg per day. For teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18, the recommended daily sodium intake is 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day, depending on their age and sex. For adults aged 19 and older, the AHA recommends consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, and ideally aiming for an intake of no more than 1,500 mg per day.

It's important to note that many children are consuming more sodium than is recommended, often due to a diet high in processed and fast foods. Parents should look for low-sodium options when choosing foods for their children, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins and avoid processed and fast foods that are high in sodium. Encouraging children to drink plenty of water and limiting their intake of sugary drinks can also help to reduce sodium intake.


Preservatives are often added to children's foods to increase their shelf life and prevent spoilage. However, many preservatives have been linked to health problems such as asthma, allergic reactions, and hyperactivity. Parents can choose fresh, whole foods instead of processed foods to avoid these harmful additives. Some preservatives commonly found in children’s food to avoid include:

  • Sodium Nitrite: commonly used in processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon. Has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.
  • BHA and BHT: synthetic antioxidants used in cereals, gum, and snack foods. Have been linked to cancer and may also affect hormone levels and cause behavioral changes in children.
  • TBHQ: a preservative used in crackers, chips, and fast food. Has been linked to nausea, vomiting, and ringing in the ears. High doses can lead to delirium, seizures, and even death.
  • Propyl Gallate: commonly used in baked goods, gum, and processed meats. Has been linked to cancer and has also been shown to cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
  • Sodium Benzoate: a preservative found in soda, fruit juice, and condiments. Can cause hyperactivity and may also lead to cell damage and DNA changes.
  • Potassium Bromate: a preservative found in bread and other baked goods. Has been linked to cancer and is banned in many countries such as The European Union, Canada, Nigeria, Brazil, and China.
  • Calcium Propionate: a preservative used in bread and other baked goods to prevent mold growth. Can cause migraines, digestive problems, and hyperactivity in children.
  • Sulfites: used to preserve dried fruits, wine, and some baked goods. Can cause allergic reactions, particularly in individuals with asthma.

If you want to reduce your child’s exposure to these harmful additives it’s best to focus on serving minimally processed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, and limiting the consumption of highly processed foods, which are more likely to contain additives and preservatives.

Here are some useful tips:

  1. Read food labels carefully: Look for foods with simple ingredient lists, and avoid those with long lists of additives and preservatives.
  2. Choose organic: Organic foods are produced without the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which can leave behind harmful residues on food.
  3. Cook at home: Preparing meals at home allows you to control the ingredients that go into your child's food.
  4. Limit processed foods: Highly processed foods, such as fast food, snack foods, and sugary drinks, are more likely to contain additives and preservatives.
  5. Educate your child: Teach your child about the importance of healthy eating and encourage them to make healthy choices when selecting their own food.

We want to do everything we can to ensure our children are healthy and thriving. This includes paying attention to what they eat and minimizing their exposure to harmful additives and chemicals commonly found in processed foods. By focusing on a balanced, whole foods-based diet, we can provide our children with the nutrients they need to grow and develop while minimizing their exposure to potentially harmful ingredients.

If you are struggling to plan and prepare healthy meals for your kids amidst the chaos of daily life Little Lunches is here to help you. Our meal planning app takes the stress out of meal planning by providing personalized meal plans for your kids that the whole family can enjoy. With Little Lunches, parents don't have to worry about additives or preservatives - we do the thinking, planning, and grocery list for you.

So if you're looking for an easy and convenient way to provide your child with healthy, delicious meals, try Little Lunches. Your child's health and well-being are worth it.



Bansal, R., Kim, H.R., & Suh, J.H. (2013). Differential effects of two synthetic food colors on learning and memory function. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(6), 707-714. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205704 

American Heart Association. (2021). Sodium and kids. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-kids

Council on Environmental Health, Blaisdell CJ, Goodman M, et al. Food additives and child health. Pediatrics. 2018;142(2):e20181408. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-1408

1 year ago