Top 10 Calorie Sources in Kids’ Diets, and an Easy Way to Fix Them

baby drinking coke


Just before 2010 ended, The USDA released its 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a document that is updated every 5 years to reflect the evolving understanding of nutrition science. (And agriculture business concerns. But we won’t discuss that today.)

The document is a wonderful source of information, including the stats that led up to the 2010 decisions.  Here, for example, is the list of the top sources of calories for kids age 2-18:

  1. Grain-based desserts (138 kcal) – Cakes, muffins, pies, pop tarts, etc…
  2. Pizza (136 kcal)
  3. Soda/energy/sports drinks (118 kcal)
  4. Yeast breads (114 kcal)
  5. Chicken and chicken mixed dishes
    (113 kcal)
  6. Pasta and pasta dishes (91 kcal)
  7. Reduced fat milk (86 kcal)
  8. Dairy desserts (76 kcal)
  9. Potato/corn/other chips (70 kcal)
  10. Ready-to-eat cereals (65 kcal)

When looking at the general population, the table is slightly different, with soda moving to 4th place.

Why are we bothering to mention data from 3 years ago?

Because it is irritating to see how beverage companies distort the truth in order to advance their business. In a recent infographic published by the Coca Cola company, the top sources of calories in the American diet are disclosed. But only the top 3.

Top 3 Calorie Contributors

Conveniently leaving soda out. Unfortunately that’s not the case for kids, and we want to make sure everyone knows it.

While some of the foods mentioned in the list are not a symbol of health and nutrition, they do provide some amount of nutrients to a growing body. Soda is the only one on the list that provides ZERO nutritional benefits. And it’s the third highest source of calories for our kids!!! This is ridiculous.

Parents: One the best and easy steps you can take for your child’s nutrition, is to stop buying sweetened drinks. Switch the family over to water and acclimate everyone’s taste buds to pure H2O. You’ll be saving a lot of money too.

(h/t to Marion Nestle)

  • Lauren Smith

    And don’t respond with the, “I just hate water. I’ve tried.” garbage. Your body is designed to want, crave, and need water. You just have to commit to fixing your destroyed taste buds!

  • Michele Hays

    Does Coke own pizza franchises? I’m curious why Coke also dropped pizza from their infographic.

    At any rate, anybody accepting dietary advice from a soda company needs to take a step back and think. I wonder if they can be hit with a truth in advertising lawsuit.

    • Fooducate

      No, but they work closely together.

  • Hannah

    It’s simple. Don’t have it in the house. Just don’t buy it. You make the choice whether to buy it or not as the responsible adult. Just don’t.

  • Gerome

    Not to be an apologist for the soda industry, but 118 kcal/day of sweetened beverages may not really be the problem.

    Lets add up all the grain:

    Items by number above: 1, 4, 6, 9, and 10 — mostly grain. Care to consider the value of the added sugar in #1 and #10 alone? Hell, kids are eating white flour and sugar. Where are the green veggies? They consume more calories from desserts, chips and cereal than vegetables?

    Really, I appreciate that soda is not good for you — but if you cut soda out of this mix entirely, the American diet is STILL A DISASTER!

    Sorry, but this news does not convince me that Coke is *the* culprit. The stupidity and laziness of the average parent who gives kids Twinkies, chicken fingers, sugary cereal, pizza, bread and pasta is the problem with the diet.

  • averagemama

    Just found your blog. It’s very informative. I am just an average parent trying to balance being as nutritional as possible but without being over controlling. My children are 7 and 5, they are well aware that they are not to drink soda until they are as least teenagers (hopefully by then they won’t want it) and we have explained by showing them in a cup how much sugar they would be drinking if they had one can of soda and how that sugar would affect their body from functioning the way a child’s body should. They get it.
    I don’t go over board saying you can’t have this or that, just the no soda rule and we don’t have cookies, junk food, desserts unless it’s at these social occassions that are out of our control, such as birthdays, family gatherings etc., which ends up being 1-2 week anyway. My point on that is there is so much inappropriate social eating that is out of my hands I gave up fighting it and instead I educated them on how much sweets is appropriate (1 juice box, 1 dessert item) at these social outings and I decided to keep all “sweets & treats” out of the house on a regular basis. I am saddened by how hard it is to take a midline approach and to even know what is right and wrong anymore.

    • Penelope

      It sounds like you are doing a great job! More power to you! My parents had a no soda, no gum rule until we were teenagers as well and I just can’t drink soda or chew gum because they are so sweet and not appealing. I thank my parents for that decision. I know it probably won’t happen, but just be really careful about not being over controlling or finicky about food because even though I live in a super healthy family it has caused some problems for me with disordered eating and anorexic tendencies. It is pretty hard to get the perfect balance, so just be really careful because things at a young age can really affect a child later on. Good luck! :)

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  • Jessica Isabel

    A word of advice to parents who are worried about kids drinking sugary beverages outside the home — let them have it sparingly in the house, then try cutting it with about 2/3 water or seltzer water. That way, when they leave the house, even if they try to drink it, it’s just an overload of sweetness to them. Something that can be really difficult is just not exposing them to it, because when they do have it it’s wonderful and that can create a real Catholic-school-insanity pattern after they leave the nest. My parents did this with me when I was younger with orange and apple juice. Now I can’t touch the stuff unless I cut it with at LEAST 2/3 water.

    • Fooducate

      Thanks Jessica