As a dad of two young boys, buying snacks for my kids can be a nightmare, a cursed hellscape with traps strewn liberally across supermarket aisles.
I'm always asking myself two questions:
1. Will my children even eat this thing if I pack it in their lunchboxes?
2. Is it actually good for their growing bodies?
The second question is often more difficult to answer.
At CHOICE, we've spoken about the issue of added sugars in children's snacks at length. Huge swathes of pre-packaged foodstuffs use on-package messaging to convince parents they're "healthy" or "natural" but the reality is often different.
Many of the snacks advertised as such are actually packed with sugar, and not the naturally occurring kind. A CHOICE review of 78 packaged meals and snacks marketed specifically for toddlers found that over half contained large amounts of added sugar.
That's worrying to say the least. In fact, many foods marketed as being "healthy" actually contain more sugar per 100 grams than jelly snakes. Allen's Snakes Alive are made up of roughly 44% sugar. All of the snacks we're about to list are hitting 60% at least and, worse, they're being marketed to parents of toddlers as a healthy option, not a one-off treat.
The kids foods with the highest levels of added sugars
Here are some of the worst offenders we uncovered in our review.
1. Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles
We'd be remiss if we didn't open this list with Kiddylicious Strawberry Fruit Wriggles. Their appalling ingredients list and misleading marketing led us to award this product a Shonky back in 2021.
2. Kiddylicious Smoothie Melts Strawberry & Banana
The Kiddylicious brand is a repeat offender here. This snack comes a close second to the Fruit Wriggles in terms of sugar content.
3. Kiddylicious Crispy Tiddlers Raspberry
Noticing a theme? The Kiddylicious Tiddlers Raspberry snack has 19% more sugar than the Allen's jelly snakes.
4. Rafferty's Garden Mixed Berry Yoghurt Buttons
Finally we've got a non Kiddylicious brand snack on this list. While yoghurt can be a healthy option for kids, these "yoghurt" buttons are mainly sugar.
5. Rafferty's Garden Strawberry Yoghurt Buttons
And the last offender on this list is another Rafferty's Yoghurt Buttons product, just in a different flavour.
Now, we're not saying kids shouldn't be allowed to indulge in a sugary snack every now and then – that's the stuff memories are made of. But if the snacks you thought were healthy are, in fact, packed full of sugar, you might as well give your kids the jelly snakes they're begging for!
Another thing to be aware of: there's an incredible amount of trickery involved in actually identifying sugar in an ingredients list. CHOICE has identified a ludicrous 60 different names that essentially amount to added sugar. Everything from panocha to rapadura to [checks notes] turbinado? Are these sugars or Pokemon?
When it comes to added sugar, you definitely don't wanna catch 'em all.
No matter how fancy some of these ingredients may sound, they're all just added sugars.
How to choose healthy kids' snacks
So what should you give your kids as snacks? The answer may not be exciting, but it's fairly simple – good old-fashioned whole foods. I try to stick to the stuff I know they'll actually eat and is relatively easy to chuck in a lunch box – like grapes, blueberries or bananas.
But, as we all know, kids will complain. And sometimes it does make sense to grab some pre-packaged snacks. On those occasions it pays to scan the ingredient list.
Here are a few quick tips when you're shopping for kids' snacks:
- Smaller ingredient lists are typically better. It's also worth noting that ingredients are always listed in order of greatest to smallest quantities. If some form of sugar is near the top of that list, beware!
- Look for whole food ingredients. Essentially, if an ingredient is a food you could easily identify in the fresh produce aisle (like apples, oats or nuts), it's probably pretty good. Try to avoid foods with ingredient names your grandmother wouldn't recognise.
- Try to avoid snacks with fruit concentrates, pastes, purees or powders in their ingredient lists if you want to keep sugar intake low. You'll probably be surprised by how many kids' snacks contain one or more of these sneaky ingredients that sound healthy but are actually added sugars.
- Health star ratings are a quick and useful guide if you're busy and time is short. Just be aware that the star ratings are designed to compare food products within their category. You can't compare biscuits to yoghurts, for example.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.