Nutrition Bars — Not So Nutritious

Three_Nutrition_Bars_Using_WPC-ResizedEnergy bars, protein bars, health bars — they’re called all kinds of names, but are they really any of those things? When you’re running (or, more likely, driving) from home, to school drop-off, to work, to pick-up, to sports, to after-school programs, to the galaxy and beyond, planned meals can fall through the cracks. That’s where the bars come in.

It’s so convenient to grab a few of those suckers and throw them in the car to satisfy your ravenous crowd. But buyer beware. Take the time to read the ingredients. Some brands are chock full of sugar and fat, with very little sound nutrition to be found.

Sugar, for example, has so many different names that it’s easy to underestimate just how much is in a bar. Sucrose, fructose, dextrose, and the biggest culprit, corn syrup, all add up to mucho grams of empty calories, no nutrition sugar.

Then there are all those other ingredients that you’ve never heard of and can’t even say. Good rule of thumb for kids and parents and humans of all types: if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Choose a bar with the fewest ingredients that are as close to nature as possible.

And keep an eye on those calories. Some bars have upwards of 250 — more than your average candy bar without much in the way of real food. Look for a brand with no more than 30 grams of carbohydrate, 14 grams of sugar, and less than 1/3 of total calories from fat.

Best bet is to plan meals so there’s something quick and easily available, even on the busiest days, but here are a few ideas for some healthier snacks to keep your gang fueled when you absolutely, positively, can’t get home for dinner:

  • Baby carrots, snap peas, and dried fruit will stay fresh in zip-lock bags for several hours. Add a bit of ranch dressing and it’s almost a salad.
  • Nuts, nuts, and more nuts. Loaded with protein and nicely filling. Combined with the above-mentioned salad you’ve got your food groups covered.
  • Healthy cereal. Most kids love it eaten dry and it’s generally WAY better for them than a bar.
  • A jar of peanut butter and a box of crackers goes a long way. If you have some fruit lying around peanut butter makes an awesome dip.

So blow off the bars and think about some healthy foods of your own. I’m sure you’ve already come up with some great ones …

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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