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Diet Drinks, Small Snacks Have Drawbacks

Diet soft drinks and packaged minisnacks seem like painless ways to provide treats as you trim calories from your child’s diet.

Sugar-free soft drinks may be especially tempting. Children get an increasing share of their total calories from sugar-sweetened sodas, and studies link this to kids’ rising weight. And common sense suggests that smaller snack packages will help keep your child from eating too much.

But the experts aren’t giving the go-ahead. There are drawbacks to controlling calories through sugar-free soft drinks and small prepackaged snacks.

Water is best

Although sugar-free soft drinks don’t add calories, they don’t provide nutrients either. Studies show that most children aren't getting enough calcium in their diets, which is important for strong bones. And sugar-free soft drinks may harm teeth.

What about minisnacks? One 2008 study found college students who had been primed to think about their diets actually ate more when given small bags of potato chips than students who were given large bags. The Journal of Consumer Research says the small bags slipped “under the radar,” but the large bags made youths stop and think before they ate.

It’s vital to teach children how to read food product labels so they can make healthy choices. Instead of buying single-serve snacks, help your child measure the right servings based on the Nutrition Facts panel of full-sized packages.

Help kids keep off pounds

  • Teach the difference between calories per serving and calories per package. A drink might have 70 calories per serving. But if a bottle holds two servings, a child who drinks the whole thing is getting 140 calories.

  • Buy small packages of precut carrots for snacks instead of cookies. To save money, buy larger bags of carrots and do the prep work at home.

  • Look for ideas that fit your child’s needs and tastes as an individual.