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The 22 Most Unhealthy Snacks for Your Kids & What to Eat Instead

a boy's choice of a healthy or unhealthy snack

The 22 Most Unhealthy Snacks for Your Kids & What to Eat Instead

When cruising the grocery store, numerous unhealthy snacks jump out at us. There are many reasons why we choose unhealthy snacks over healthier alternatives. These snacks tend to come prepackaged, making grabbing and going more accessible for busy families. Additionally, many unhealthy snacks are loaded with sugar, which is very addictive. The more junk food we eat, the more addicted we feel. Consuming unhealthy snacks can be a hard habit to break, not because we lack willpower but because of the dopamine effect they can have on our brains. Dopamine taps into the pleasure center in our brains, leading to addictive behaviors. These unhealthy snacks for kids are no exception. 

This article will dig deep into what makes these snacks unhealthy and which healthier alternatives to choose. 

The Most Unhealthy Snacks For Kids And What to Eat Instead

It is essential to start our children on a great path while they are young toward developing a healthy relationship with food. These simple ideas may help you implement healthy habits with your children:

  • Do not food shame. Instead, offer healthier alternatives. 
  • Talk openly about nutrition and how it affects our bodies, such as “protein helps us become strong.” 
  • Develop routines around eating habits.
  • Eat meals together.
  • Model healthy eating habits by being choosy about your snacks. 
  • If you have time, prepare healthy snacks and meals ahead.
  • Involve your child in preparing healthy snacks or picking them out at the grocery store.

Now, let's look at some of the most unhealthy snacks for your kids and what to eat instead. 

1. Soda

aluminum cans of soda background. the view from the top


Soda is very popular. In fact, over half of adults in America drink at least one soda a day. Regarding unhealthy snacks for our kids, soda is on top of the list. These drinks are loaded with empty calories and a ton of sugar and have little nutritional value. Excessive soda may contribute to adverse health issues in the long run, including insulin sensitivity and risk of type 2 diabetes. 

Even worse? Soda is highly addictive. The extra sugar sends messages to our brains to release dopamine, which gives us instant pleasure and leads to the desire for more and more soda. 

Healthy Alternative: Water

One of the healthiest alternatives to any sugary drinks is water. It keeps us hydrated and has no added sugars or unwanted additives. Teaching children how to drink water while young is always a good idea. The sooner they learn the habit, the easier it will be to carry it into adulthood. 

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2. Fruit Juice 

Apple juice pouring from red apples fruits in summer into a glass

©Markus Mainka/Shutterstock.com

Fruit juice is a healthier choice than soda. Most fruit juice contains vitamins and minerals vital for growth, including potassium. 

However, some brands and types of juice still contain loads of sugar. Juice, on average, has between 20-26 grams of sugar in each cup. Therefore, if you want to watch the sugar content in your child's beverage, try limiting the amount of juice they drink or give a healthier alternative. 

Healthy Alternative: Almond or Coconut Milk Smoothie With Fresh Fruits and Vegetables 

If your child loves vegetables, try giving them vegetable juice, which is lower in sugar. Additionally, unsweetened almond or coconut milk is also lower in sugar. Try making a fresh fruit or vegetable smoothie with these two drink choices. Your child may prefer the smoothie over juice boxes! 

3. Sweets like Cakes and Donuts

Homemade Old Fashioned Donuts Ready to Eat

©Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock.com

Sweets are all around us. This can be difficult if you and your child have a sweet tooth. Eating cakes, donuts, or sweets like Little Debbies or Hostess occasionally will not necessarily destroy health. When consumed daily, there can be adverse effects with all the added sugar, calories, and high fructose corn syrup. 

Healthy Alternative: Overnight Oats or Oatmeal Muffins

One way to satisfy a sweet tooth is by eating oats instead. Oats have several essential nutrients that are great for our bodies. These include fiber, which keeps us fuller longer. Additionally, oats also have iron, zinc, calcium, and more. Offering overnight oats for breakfast or healthy oatmeal muffins as an after-school snack are healthier choices. 

4. Fruit Snacks

Colorful jelly bears isolated on white background


Fruit snacks are easy! This is one reason kids and parents love them. Although quick and easy, fruit snacks can also be high in sugar, have long ingredient lists, and add dyes such as Red 40. While the dyes in the fruit snacks are FDA-approved, some parents raise concerns about this particular dye because it may be linked to certain negative behaviors in children, migraines, and allergies. 

Healthy Alternative: Fresh Fruit 

Fresh fruit is always the better option. Fruit can help children feel fuller while taking in essential nutrients like fiber, vitamin C, folate, and potassium. While fruit does contain natural sugar, eating a diet that involves fresh fruit can lower the risk of certain conditions such as heart disease or type 2 diabetes. 

Bowl of healthy fresh fruit salad on wooden background. Top view.


5. Yogurt Tubes 

Greek yogurt in blue bowl on rustic wooden table top view.

©Julia Sudnitskaya/Shutterstock.com

Yogurt tubes are fun for kids and easy for adults! Of course, yogurt is a healthier option for us. However, it depends on the type that we eat. Many yogurt tubes contain unnecessary ingredients and too much sugar. 

Yoplait Go-Gurt has 21 grams of sugar in each tube, which is still quite a bit, especially if a child eats more than one tube. Therefore, if your child enjoys sugar, choose healthier yogurt. 

Healthy Alternative: Greek Yogurt

A healthy alternative to yogurt tubes is Greek Yogurt. Yoplait Greek Protein Yogurt contains less sodium and sugar and more protein. Additionally, greek yogurt includes plenty of nutrients such as calcium and vitamins D and A.

6. Lunchables

Cute little boy putting his school lunch in bag


Lunchables are a favorite among kids. They contain crackers, cheese, and meat, so they should be healthy, right? Yet, the ingredient list is extensive. Additionally, Lunchables can be high in sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat

Healthy Alternative: Do It Yourself Bento Boxes

If your child loves Lunchables, make your own with a bento box. You can be in charge of the ingredients, crackers, meat, and cheese added to the bento box. You can also include fresh fruits and vegetables, making a healthier version of this kid's favorite. 

What's even better? You can control the amount of cholesterol and sodium in your child's bento box by being picky about the items you add. 

7. Potato Chips

Bowl of crispy wavy potato chips or crisps with cheese flavor isolated on white background, top view


Potato chips are highly addictive. Many of the popular versions have low nutritional value and high calories. Additionally, they can be high in trans fats and contain acrylamide. These can have adverse health effects, such as increasing the risk of inflammation. 

Healthy Alternative: Kale or Sweet Potato Chips or Sun Chips in Moderation

If your child enjoys the crunch of potato chips, opt for a healthier version, such as sun chips, which are lower in fat. If you want to go even healthier, kale or sweet potato chips can be made at home and are full of essential nutrients while low in fat. 

Bowl with yummy sweet potato chips on table

©Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

8. Goldfish or Packaged Snacks

A bowl of fish shaped crackers.

©Regalado Santos/Shutterstock.com

Goldfish, as well as packaged snacks, do not contain a ton of essential nutrients. They can also be higher in sodium. Therefore, try choosing a healthier alternative that packs plenty of nutrition. 

Healthy Alternative: Homemade Trail Mix

Knowing which one is worth buying can take much work regarding prepackaged snacks. There are some healthier versions to choose from. Nevertheless, making your homemade trail mix as a quick snack can help you keep an eye on alternative ingredients, sodium content, and more. 

9. Ice Cream

bowls of various ice creams on dark gray table, top view


Ice cream is a fun and favorite sweet treat for kids. Nonetheless, it is something that should be eaten only sometimes. Depending on the type of ice cream and flavors, it can be high in fat, sugar, cholesterol, and sodium. It also has very little nutritional value. 

Therefore, try a healthy alternative if your child has a sweet tooth. 

Healthy Alternative: Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt is a healthier alternative to ice cream. Yet, it can still be high in sugar. However, the lactose content may be low enough for those with lactose intolerance to eat, and it has lower calories and fat content than ice cream, making it a healthy choice. 

Other Unhealthy Snacks to Avoid

While the above list contains the most common unhealthy foods, there are still many others you may want to consider. Here are 11 more snacks that you may want to limit or avoid altogether:

  1. Cereal bars
  2. Protein bars
  3. Popcorn
  4. Chocolate
  5. Cereal
  6. Pop-Tarts
  7. Pretzels
  8. Processed veggie chips
  9. Pudding
  10. Cookies
  11. Pizza pockets
  12. Peanut butter
  13. Store-bought smoothies

One Last Note

Many unhealthy snacks for your kids are on the market today. They are full of sugar, fat content, empty calories, and offer little nutritional value. Teaching our kids how to make wise choices and develop a healthy relationship with food is a skill they can carry into adulthood. 

Looking for a recipe that uses fresh fruit? Try this great fruit salad!

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Bowl of healthy fresh fruit salad on wooden background. Top view.

Healthy Fruit Salad Recipe

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  • Author: Moms Who Think


Units Scale
  • 2 cups fresh seedless grapes, whole or cut depending on size
  • 4 cups melon balls, cantaloupe, or honeydew
  • 4 cups nectarines or peaches, peeled & sliced
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries
  • 2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
  • 1 cup sliced kiwi fruit


  1. Combine all fruits and chill.
  2. Serve with cool whip if desired.
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