Fruit snacks are fixtures in lunch boxes and party goody bags. They show up on soccer sidelines and are beloved by kids (yes, including mine). But for something that calls itself “fruit” and a “snack”, they’re also highly overrated.
Here are the three biggest misconceptions about fruit snacks–and what ALL parents should know about these ubiquitous little pouches:
Myth #1: Fruit snacks are healthy.
Here’s the ingredient list for a popular brand of fruit snacks that features superheroes on the front of the box:
Corn syrup, Sugar, Apple Puree Concentrate, Water, Modified Corn Starch, Gelatin, Contains 2% or less of Citric Acid, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Natural and Artificial Flavors, Yellow 5, Red 40, Sodium Citrate, Blue 1.
Here’s the ingredient list for Gummy Bears:
Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1.
See any similarities?
- Both have two forms of added sugar (corn syrup and sugar) as the the first two ingredients–meaning, those are the ingredients in the largest quantities
- Both contain artificial flavors and preservatives
- Both contain three kinds of artificial food dyes
See any differences?
- Fruit snacks have added vitamin C. But keep in mind: Children ages 4-8 need just 25 milligrams of vitamin C a day–that’s the amount in 3 medium strawberries OR about a quarter of an orange. In other words, C isn’t a vitamin that’s terribly difficult to get.
- Fruit snacks contain apple puree concentrate, which allows the box to claim “made with fruit”. But keep in mind: Fruit concentrate is actually more like a source of added sugar than actual fruit.
Myth #2: Fruit snacks are fruit.
Yes, some fruit snacks are made with fruit juice, but not in a meaningful amount. Some fruit snacks are made with fruit juice concentrate, which is more of a sweetener than actual fruit. Fruit snacks should not be considered a serving of fruit. They don’t have the fiber of fruit. They also don’t have the texture of fruit. So kids who gobble fruit snacks are not learning to like fruit. They are learning to like gummies.Fruit snacks teach your kid to like gummies, not real fruit.
Myth #3: Fruit snacks are harmless.
Fruit snacks, like other kinds of chewy candies, stick to the teeth. Bacteria in the mouth feed on these sugary residues, producing acids that can cause decay. Fruit snacks are also loaded with added sugar. Take a look at exactly how much is in one tiny pouch:
Are Homemade Fruit Snacks Healthy?
There are plenty of recipes online for homemade fruit snacks. Sure, they have simpler ingredient lists and are fine for occasional treats (I have recipes on this blog for homemade fruit leather).
But keep in mind that that same issues exist: Homemade fruit snacks will still stick to the teeth like the packaged kind. They are also not equivalent to real fruit, even though they’re made from real fruit, and teach your kid to like gummies, not whole fruit.
Should You Give Your Kid Fruit Snacks?
I know fruit snacks aren’t going away anytime soon, and I know kids like them. So if you’re going to buy them…
- Consider choosing one without artificial food dyes. There’s growing evidence that some children’s behavior may be affected by these dyes (read: Are Artificial Food Dyes Safe For Kids?)–and besides, these dyes are simply not necessary. Several brands including Annie’s and Mott’s use fruit or vegetable juices to colors their fruit snacks.
- Treat them as you would a dessert. Packing them in your child’s lunch? Skip the cookie. Giving your child a choice of a sweet treat after dinner? Fruit snacks should be on par with candy or ice cream.
- Have your child drink or swish water after eating them to get rid of the sticky residue on their teeth.
- Be sure you’re offering actual fruit at snack time a lot more often than fruit snacks.