Are Fruit Cups Healthy for Toddlers?
Fruit cups make a convenient snack for toddlers, as they come in small portions and are very portable. Canned fruit, such as in fruit cups, is usually not as healthy as fresh fruit, however. That's because it often has added sugar, and the canning process can destroy some of the vitamin C. Still, fruit cups can be a good alternative for your child if you choose the right type.
Healthier Fruit Cup Options
The healthiest fruit cup options are those canned in water or fruit juice. A 1/4-cup serving of fruit cocktail canned in water contains about 19 calories and 4.5 grams of sugar, while the same-sized serving of fruit cocktail canned in heavy syrup delivers 45 calories and 11 grams of sugar. Both types of fruit cup contain about 0.6 grams of fiber. While the super-sweet taste of fruit in heavy syrup may appeal more to kids, it isn't healthy for them to consume a lot of added sugar. Fruit cups that instead contain fruit juice can be a good compromise, since they are a bit sweeter than fruit packed in water.
Vitamins and Minerals
Unless fruit cups are fortified with added vitamins and minerals, they only contain small amounts, partly because of the small serving size. Toddlers would get more nutrients from eating chopped up fresh fruit. However, fruit cups do help toddlers meet their daily recommended intake for vitamins and minerals, providing 2 to 4 percent of vitamins A and C and folate.
Recommended Fruit Intake
Toddlers should consume about 1 cup of fruit a day, according to the USDA's ChooseMyPlate. This includes fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit as well as fruit juice. However, since children need most of their calories from nutritious foods, limit their consumption of foods with added sugars, including fruit cups canned in light or heavy syrup. Added sugar provides calories without offering essential nutrients. That can make it more likely a toddler will eat too many calories and gain weight or consume the right amount of calories but not get enough essential nutrients.
Rather than making fruit cups an everyday snack, use them as a treat when you are out and about. When at home, give your child fresh fruits and vegetables to snack on instead to limit the amount of sugar and maximize the nutrients she consumes. However, eating fruit cups is better than not eating any fruit, so if this is the only way your child will eat fruit, you don't have to stop serving them. Have her try the various healthier options to find the fruit combinations she likes the best.
- Consumer Reports: Which Fruit Cups Will Kids Actually Eat?
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Fruit Cocktail, (Peach and Pineapple and Pear and Grape and Cherry), Canned, Water Pack, Solids and Liquids
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Fruit Cocktail, (Peach and Pineapple and Pear and Grape and Cherry), Canned, Heavy Syrup, Solids and Liquids
- Ohio State University Extension: Food for the Toddler Years
- ChooseMyPlate: Fruits