Take a walk down any aisle in the grocery store, especially the snack aisle, and check out a few food labels. Chances are pretty darn good you’re going to find something you don’t want to on a whole bunch of them: high fructose corn syrup. It may say something else, like corn sugar, maize syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, or something else just as misleading, but it’s all one in the same. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a manufactured form of sweetener that’s much cheaper than regular table sugar. It’s found in all kinds of packaged foods, most notably soda.
While it’s similar to sugar, it’s not exactly the same. To get all science-y on you, regular sugar, or sucrose, is made of two molecules: glucose and fructose. Sucrose is composed of 50% of each of those molecules. HFCS contains 55% fructose and 45% glucose, which is close to sucrose, but with a big difference —there are no bonds holding the fructose. Fructose is sweeter than glucose, making HFCS sweeter than table sugar. Less HFCS needs to be used than sugar which keeps costs down.
The reason HCFS is labeled “bad”, or at least questionable depending on who you talk to, is that there’s no definitive answer on how our body processes fructose differently. Because the fructose and glucose is unbound, it doesn’t need to be digested to enter the bloodstream. That means it happens fairly quickly and causes a big spike in blood sugar. In addition, fructose enters the liver where it’s used to create fats like cholesterol and triglycerides. It can also affect how you feel hunger.
What all of this adds up to is bad news. But there is some good news: if you look carefully, you can find plenty of things that don’t contain the questionable ingredient. Better yet, look outside the package —fresh fruits and vegetables don’t have any high fructose corn syrup either.
Here are 10 snacks you can feel good about sticking in your kid’s lunch box, no HFCS included.
Ditch the HFCS 1 of 11
Next time you're packing school lunches, try one of these 10 HFCS-free snacks. Don't forget to peak at the label on anything packaged though!
Cheese and Crackers 2 of 11
Cheese and crackers are an easy portable snack that kids love to eat. Use a cheese with a strong flavor so you don't need to use as much to still pack a tasty punch.
Fruit and Veggie Pouch 3 of 11
I've yet to meet a kid of any age that isn't obsessed with squeezable fruit pouches. These Fruit and Veggie FruitBurst Squeezers from Del Monte include veggies along with the fruit and contain no HFCS. Better yet, they're not applesauce-based like many pouches.
Turkey Roll Ups 4 of 11
So easy yet a hit in any kids lunch box: rolled up slices of deli meat. Meats from the deli counter (as opposed to pre-packaged) tend to have less additives and a richer flavor. Plus, you can choose any thickness you like for your slices.
Greek Yogurt and Berries 5 of 11
Greek yogurt is a great source of protein and kids love picking what kind of fruit or other toppings to stir in to make their own custom creation.
Homemade Banana Bread 6 of 11
It tastes like dessert but packs in whole grains, fruit, and no HFCS or added fillers. Homemade banana bread is a great way to use up those overripe bananas sitting on your counter, or get even more creative and mix in some shredded carrots or zucchini for an extra veggie dose. If you add chocolate chips for a little extra treat, just be sure you choose a brand without HFCS.
Apples and Peanut Butter 7 of 11
Apples become much more fun when you have something to dip them in. Try peanut butter for a source of protein and healthy fat. You could also use Greek yogurt or a slice of cheese instead.
Veggie Chips 8 of 11
Kids love chips because of their satisfactory crunch. They don't have to be made of potatoes or deep fried to please kids though. Instead try making your own chips out of thinly sliced zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, or parsnips. You can often find them pre-made in health stores if you're short on time, but baking your own chips can also be a fun activity for kids.
Hardboiled Egg 9 of 11
An often forgot about portable snack, hardboiled eggs contain both protein and fat -the healthy kind of fat. Try hard-baking eggs instead: place an egg in each cup of a muffin tin, then bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. You don't have to stand over a boiling pot of water and they typically end up easier to peel!
Hummus, Veggies, and Pita Slices 10 of 11
Kids love to "dip" their snacks. This is a snack you can serve over and over again without boredom by using different kinds of hummus. Try spicy red pepper, spinach artichoke, or even a sweet cinnamon version for variety. My favorite dippers include carrots, celery, and pita wedges, but broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper strips, and baked tortilla chips are yummy too.
Fruit Cups 11 of 11
Fruit cups are an easy snack to toss in a lunchbox or diaper bag without having to spend time slicing and dicing. These Del Monte cups of mango and pineapple tidbits contain no HFCS and are a fun flavor kids won't be able to get enough of.
Always read labels —different brands may or may not use HFCS.