Pre-Packaged Toddler Foods Are Not As Nutritious As You May Think


Are those Toddler Pre-Packaged Foods As Healthy as You Think?Food marketed to kids is a trap and I fell for it.

When my twins were transitioning to table foods, I started buying the foods that I thought I was supposed to buy “toddler foods”. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what I was doing.

I bought mac and cheese, toddler pre-made ravioli, chicken nuggets, puffs and so many other foods.

I thought that was what toddlers were supposed to eat? I assumed they were starter foods and kids would grow into adult foods as they get older.

Wow! I couldn’t have been more wrong ;( 

Most pre-packaged kid foods is sadly considered empty calories. These foods have a lot of calories but can have little to no nutritional value. This is especially prevalent in snack foods.

After reading countless books on toddler nutrition and speaking with Pediatric Nutritionists, it became clear that toddlers should be eating the same things the rest of the family is eating, minus the salt and some spice. Toddlers should be exposed to spice, but maybe not at the same level as the adults.

Watch to See How Much Sugar Is Added to Food that Is Marketed as Healthy

Toddler Foods

The Toddler entrees and foods marketed as toddler foods are sold in stores can be low in calories and fat, according to Dina Rose, PhD, author of It’s Not About The Broccoli. She goes on to say that toddlers can often feel hungry after eating these toddler specific meals and seek to fill up on snacks and empty calorie foods.

She goes on to discuss these empty calorie snacks, “…prepackaged snack foods like pretzels or crackers, which are primarily stomach fillers with little or no nutritional value.”

Yes, those pretzels are just empty calories. Protein and fat help a child feel full for longer than simple carbohydrates.

What Are Empty Calories?

Empty calories are considered foods that contain solid fats and sugars, but add little nutritional value and are primarily devoid of micronutrients.

Foods Considered to be Empty Calories:

The goal is to reduce how much of these foods your child is eating on a regular basis. Your toddler should be eating these foods in moderation. There are new studies that recommend babies and toddlers should avoid sugar.

  • Sweets like cookies, cakes, donuts and pastries
  • Juices, sodas, sports drinks
  • Cheese (in moderation because it’s loaded with sodium and saturated fat)
  • Pizza
  • Ice cream
  • Bacon, ribs, hot dogs and sausages


Snack Foods Are Often Empty Calorie Foods, But They Don’t Have To Be

Snack foods are some of the biggest empty calorie culprits, especially with the current toddler specific snack foods sold in grocery stores.

Try to avoid the snack aisle and visit the produce section to find healthy snacks filled with nutrients. Check out our Snack Guide for tons of toddler healthy snack ideas.

Other Snack Resources:

Annie-Snack -Bunnies Snacks for KidsSnacking is A Huge Reason Obesity in Children is Increasing at an Alarming Rate

A new study has found “that high-calorie snacking [empty calories] is proving to be a major cause of childhood obesity. Chips, candy and other snack foods account for up to 27% of the daily caloric intake for children, age 2 to 18,” according to findings by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Let’s spend a second to take that in! Snack time should not be associated with treat time. There is a time and a place for treats, but it should NOT be daily.

A small amount of empty calorie snack foods is ok and it’s also ok to indulge occasionally. Try to get your kids in the habit of having some fruit after a meal versus the dessert trap that so many families are in.

Pre-Made Toddler Food

What You Think is Healthy Might Not Be!

Those YoKids Sqeezers have 4.5 grams of sugar per oz vs a Coca-Cola that has 3 grams of sugar per oz, according Dina Rose, PhD, author of It’s Not About The Broccoli.

She continues to say children get locked into a self-perpetuating cycle of eating these types of foods. Then kids start to crave these empty calories because their palates get used to the high fat and sugar content.

But My Kids Reject Healthy Foods

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, vegetable eating starts to wean around 9 months of age, when snack foods start to get introduced to young children. I saw this with my twins. They started to ask for pretzels and crackers (which I thought was a good snack option).

As they got older they started to demand these types of foods. And, I experienced the pester affect. This is where your child pesters you so much and you just give in to whatever their demands are.

At first, I thought I was helping my kids get used to table foods. Little did I know, I was actually helping them create unhealthy habits.

Once I became more mindful of what I was feeding them, I was able to successfully changed their eating habits. Now, they never ask for these foods anymore.

The pester effect is gone. We now give fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts as a snack. Check out our mega list of snack ideas.

Check out Snacking FAQs to answer your most pressing questions.

Be Careful of Low-Fat Foods!

They can often contain additional sugar to make up for the loss of flavor from the missing fat.  Don’t avoid healthy fats like olive oils, avocados and nuts! Avoid sugar.

Foods With Some Empty Calories Foods with Fewer Empty Calories
Sweetened applesauce
(contains added sugars)
Unsweetened applesauce
Regular ground beef (75% lean) (contains solid fats) Extra lean ground beef (95% or more lean)
Fried chicken (contain fats from frying & skin) Baked chicken breast without skin
Sugar-sweetened cereals
(contain added sugars)
Unsweetened cereals
Whole milk
(contains solid fats)
Fat-free milk**

Table from

** Don’t switch your toddler or child from whole milk to lower fat milk without speaking with your Pediatrician.

The Case For Staying on Whole Milk

New research indicates there is a lot of value in having kids drink whole milk. Whole milk is more filling and may reduce the need to snack (5). Generally, the foods children snack on are considered empty calories and can contribute up to 27% of the calories children consume in a day. If you can, stick with whole milk for kids.

So when it comes to milk, be sure that your child is consuming the correct amount of it. Too much milk is not good for your kid, for their health or for their lifestyle.

The study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a sister publication of the British Medical Journal, finds that low-fat milk was associated with higher weight for preschool-aged children .

The study found that kids drinking low-fat milk tended to be heavier. This is just the opposite from what doctors and researchers hypothesized.

If you feel he may have some of these issues, consult your child’s Pediatrician. And, if he isn’t aware of these studies, please pass them along.

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