Junk Food Alternatives Your Kids Will Love

by Julie Snyder

Junk Food DayNational Junk Food Day -- that obscure July holiday -- celebrates all goodies high in fat and calories, but low in nutritional punch. In 2011, Cookie Monster took time out of his busy schedule to explain how to feed your baby bump on Junk Food Day.

In 2012, we're looking at ways to turn those calorie-laden, sometimes addictive foods into yummy nutritional bombs. Instead of embracing these foods, we suggest you replace them in your family's diet.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16 and 33 percent of children and adolescents are obese.

Obese children face a strong risk of becoming obese adults. Health concerns don't wait until adulthood.

Concerns that can develop early include:

✔ Type II diabetes
✔ Increased risk of heart disease
✔ High blood pressure
✔ Difficulty breathing
✔ Increased risk of cancer
✔ Sleep disorders

While no single cause stands out as the smoking gun for childhood obesity, fast foods and junk food snacks seem a likely contributor. A 2010 study released in the journal, Health Affairs says that kids get more than a quarter of their daily calories from snacks.

The 2- to 6-year-olds topped the list of for calories eaten as snacks, mostly from salty and sugary eye-appealing treats. Between-meal eating serves up a fourth of the calories. Shouldn't it offer a fourth of the nutrients?

What's your child's favorite snack? If it's one of these popular junk foods, you can whip up a tasty, healthy alternative to fill that empty spot.

Your Guide to Junk Food Alternatives


A Center for Science in the Public Interest report states, "Carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet." Does your family drink soda? Versus people who don't drink sweetened sodas, here's what your daily intake means:

→ 1/2 can increases risk of being overweight or obese by 26 percent
→ 1/2 to 1 can increases the risk by 30.4 percent

Instead of soda, offer natural, thirst-quenching water with a twist or straight from the tap.

  • Sparkling water or seltzer water with a twist of lemon or lime
  • A clear glass of water with watermelon ice cubes
  • A cup of ice chips
  • Blackberry lemonade iced tea


Reading the nutrition label on bags of cheese doodles, potato chips, or corn chips reveals that 60 percent of their calories come from fat. The ingredient list contains unpronounceable chemicals. Substitute one of these lower fat treats for a bag of chips.

  • Baked kale chips
  • Oven-bake tortillas, with (or without) a touch of olive oil
  • Dried strawberry chips

Chicken Nuggets

Do your children love chicken nuggets? Do you cringe when you think of the fat and calories?

  • Bake up a batch of chicken nuggets
  • Make baked, breaded chicken fingers
  • Low-fat cheese cubes


While not considered a junk food according to national school nutrition standards, moms know better. Candy has plenty of sugar or fat, but little nutritional value. What can quell their sweet tooth and nourish their body?

French Fries

Hot, crispy, salty, perfect...french fries are one of the most popular foods in the U.S. In addition to being so delicious, they can be damaging to your health. Deep-fried food in general, and french fries in particular, have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic conditions. These foods can satisfy the same cravings without negative health effects:

  • Roasted sweet potato fries
  • Crispy green beans with parmesan and garlic
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Roasted daikon or parsnip fries


Instead of frozen sugar water with its empty calories, make a chilly treat with an attitude -- and a nutritional boost.

  • Banana pops
  • Juice-flavored snow cones
  • Yogurt pops in a cup with pretzel stems
  • Frozen fruit and veggie salad

Sugary Breakfast Cereals

Who doesn't love wee marshmallow critters, rainbows and moons? Unfortunately those cereals serve up a bunch of sugar and very little fiber.

  • Mix 1/4 to 1/2 cup of kid's cereal with a half cup of low-sugar, high fiber cereal
  • Whole-grain pancakes cut in shapes with nut butter
  • Whole-grain waffles decorated with fruity faces
  • Cookie cutter peanut butter sandwiches
  • Home-made trail mix

Cue your child in on the healthy changes you're making in the household menu. Kids will be more willing to embrace the idea of an apple instead of potato chips for snack when they know why it's a better choice.

Will you change your eating habits?