“Nutrition Cookies,” My #!%: What To Give Kids At Snacktime

The thermometer on the cooling device in my attic office currently reads 90 degrees.  It’s not a long, contemplative blogging type of evening.

Luckily, I don’t have to take much time to sound off about a particular abomination that was revealed to me over the long holiday weekend.  As I relaxed with J. and my father, watching the “Rocky” movie marathon that AMC apparently felt was the most patriotic programming choice for the 4th of July, a commercial came on that literally bolted me upright from my half-asleep contemplation of Sylvester Stallone’s terrible enunciation.  It was an advertisement for…wait for it…”NUTRITION COOKIES.”

Oh, yes.  I’m sure some of you have seen these things before — apparently, they’re relatively new to the market, but they have been on store shelves for a couple of months now, at least.  They’re called “WhoNu? Nutrition Rich Cookies” and they come in a variety of flavors: Chocolate, Crispy, Soft and Chewy, and Vanilla.  I’ll spare you the suspense.  They’re gussied-up Oreos, Chips Ahoy, Keebler, and Hydrox knockoffs.  Yep.  Just cookies.

In a feat of nutritionist smokescreening that would probably give Marion Nestle hives, the WhoNu? website proclaims that the 3-cookie serving size provides the following benefits:
As much fiber as a bowl of oatmeal
As much calcium and Vitamin D as an 8-oz glass of milk
As much Vitamin C as a cup of blueberries
As much Iron as a cup of spinach
As much Vitamin E as two cups of carrot juice
As much Vitamin B12 as a cup of cottage cheese and fruit
As much Vitamin A as an 8-oz glass of tomato juice

Ooh!  All of that in just THREE LITTLE COOKIES?  You mean I don’t have to ever worry about my kids’ nutrition again — I can just let them scarf down chocolate sandwich cremes all day long?  Sign me up!

There’s just one teensy little problem: THEY’RE COOKIES, people.

A glib, frothy testimonial on the WhoNu? website has a mother gushing that she “can’t believe a cookie with so much nutritional value actually tasted good.”  Well, why wouldn’t it?  After all, there’s nothing in this cookie that is really any different from any other packaged cookie.  It comes with the same refined flours, sugars, and even hydrogenated oils as many other shelf-stable baked goods.  It’s just pumped full of synthetic “vitamins” and “minerals” so that the WhoNu? people can say that it’s better for kids than the other brands…and parents, desperate to feed their kids well without having to put in the effort of fighting over every truly nutritious mouthful, will believe them.

I can understand the temptation.  And let me be clear: I don’t care if you feed your kids cookies.  I don’t even care if you feed them packaged cookies full of HFCS and hydrogenated oil and endangered unicorn fur, for heaven’s sake, as long as it’s ONCE IN A WHILE.  But of course, the WhoNu? people are smart — they know that if they can convince you that feeding your kids these “nutrition cookies” is just as good, or even sort of nearly as good, as feeding them apple slices, you’ll give the little sweeties their “healthy cookie fix” ALL THE TIME.

Here’s my advice, for which you have not asked: Don’t.  Don’t do it.  Don’t even buy these things.  I’d rather you buy Oreos.  Know why?  Because the Oreos are not lying to you.  They are not cookies in sheep’s clothing; they are just plain old bad-for-you cookies.  And they’re okay with that.  Judging from their staggering annual sales, we American consumers are okay with that, too.  And if you KNOW that the Oreos are not good for you or for your kids, you’ll make sure they’re a “sometimes treat,” not a “nutrition rich” everyday snack packed with fortified vitamins and lies.  (How do lies taste with cold milk, Little Jimmy?)

So here, in no particular order, are ten snacktime substitutes (besides just plain fruits and vegetables) I think you can offer your kids pretty regularly, with an ACTUAL absence of guilt, not a manufactured one.  I am also willing to bet that even more selective eaters will happily chow down on a couple of things on this list. 

Unsweetened banana chips dipped in nut butter or sunflower butter
Raw oats with cashews, a drizzle of honey, and a splash of milk (Also an excellent breakfast)
Good old air-popped popcorn.  You can even put a little salt on it.  Maybe even a drizzle of real butter.  I won’t tell.
Yogurt with fruit — organic frozen berries keep the cost down, and when they’re thawed they make their own little juicy sauce for the yogurt,
Pretzel sticks (read the label) wrapped with slices of ham
Freeze-dried mango mixed with whole-grain cereal and raisins
Frozen chocolate-covered banana slices — once in a while, a little bit of chocolate on their fruit won’t hurt.
Veggie chips — kale, beet, and sweet potato are our favorites.  You can make them at home for far less than it will cost to buy them in the store.  We often season ours with garlic powder, salt, and paprika.
Whole-grain crackers or bread with “avocado butter” (puree the avocado with a splash of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil to make it really smooth and creamy)
“Mango shakes” — L.’s new favorite breakfast/snack/dessert.  Of course, you could do ANY smoothie, and even freeze them into popsicles if you’d like, but this one is a new winner in our house, so I’m sharing it.

Please.  Please.  If you ever see anyone you know reaching for the “WhoNu?” cookies at snacktime, hand them this list instead.  Make them a Mango Shake, then sit them in a comfy chair next to a cool fan and stay with them until they’ve regained their senses.  These “fortified” fantastical nutrition claims must come to a stop.

L.’s Mango Shakes
Makes 4 shakes
3 cups milk
2 very ripe bananas
2 cups frozen mango chunks
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and cardamom

Combine all ingredients in a blender; blend until smooth and thick, adding more milk as needed.  Serve immediately.

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5 Responses to “Nutrition Cookies,” My #!%: What To Give Kids At Snacktime

  1. Hi Robin! Thanks for reading.
    I looked at those Vita-tops…I hate to say it, but I really do think that they are just about the same as the silly cookies. The one thing I’d say Vita-tops have going for them is that they appear to be more natural and less refined/processed than the cookies, but they’re still not anywhere near as good as a breakfast made from real, whole foods. Thanks for sharing the link so I could check them out!

  2. Justin says:

    I’m glad you posted this. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “fortified foods” and have been considering a blog post about it, though I don’t really know where to start. I don’t think Americans realize how much of our foods (even the so-called less-processed ingredients) are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. In some cases, it’s added to trick people (as in the cookies). In other cases, it’s added to replace the good things lost through processing, shipping, or commercialized production of produce. In other cases, our dear old Government requires it. In fact, that’s how we got “iodized” salt, if I’m not mistaken. Back during WWII (or one of the wars), the Government asked the salt producers to add iodine to stave-off some disease (scurvy or some such illness of the past). It worked, but they’re still force-medicating us with it to this day every time you pick-up the salt shaker.

    Here are a couple more examples:
    – Most breads and baked goods have “enriched wheat flour” with added Niacin and whatnot.
    – A lot of “fresh” orange juice or bottled fruit juices have added calcium and vitamin C.
    – Milk, if I’m not mistaken, is fortified with extra vitamin D and calcium
    – Milk alternatives (soy, rice, etc.) are fortified with vitamin D and other nutritional supplements that are found in regular milk but not in the base product they’re made of.
    – Cereal, cereal, cereal (try and find a cereal that is NOT heavily fortified aside from granola)
    – You can even by “high Omega-3” eggs now, though they add it to the chicken feed as opposed to injecting it post-production

    I don’t think I have a problem with fortified foods in general because they offer a nice alternative when you have a selective eater. At least you know they’re getting *some* vitamin and mineral intake. What I do find disturbing, however, is that it’s hard to find foods without it if you don’t need/want it (short of making everything from scratch). I also dislike when folks at big corporations try to do what they did with this cookie brand. Added vitamins and minerals do not make a healthy or healthful food in the same way reducing fat does not necessarily make a healthy food.

    • You’re right on a lot of points, Justin, though I will quibble about a few things. 🙂
      There are some food fortifications that are essentially well-conceived and do contribute to overall health and well-being. Two key examples are the iodized salt and vitamin D in milk that you cite. Iodized salt came about because Iodide actually supports thyroid health and developmental structure; if you don’t have enough iodine in your system, you can fall victim to hypothyroidism, and in severe cases, extreme growth deficiencies and intellectual disabilities can result. Unfortunately, iodine isn’t easily gotten through food sources (you’d have to eat a whole mess of kelp every day, or something like that), so most people can’t get enough iodine just through diet. Adding it to salt was the best way to get it into the food supply in appropriate doses (and I might add that I keep iodized salt on hand for some baking and cooking applications, for just this reason). As far as Vitamin D in milk goes, Vitamin D and calcium work together in the body. Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed more efficiently, thus lessening the risk of things like osteoporosis — that’s why it was added to milk in the first place, rather than some other food source. It’s an essential nutrient on its own, though, which is again extraordinarily difficult to get in whole-food sources (basically, eggs and some fish will have it). Deficiencies of Vitamin D will give you muscle weakness and pain, fatigue, and a weakened immune system.
      Here’s the thing: I don’t care a whole lot about the fortification of food sources with vitamins, in terms of it making those foods less healthy than they were to begin with; I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think if you add some vitamins to milk, it’s not WORSE for you, necessariy, than the milk would have been otherwise (arguments for raw milk, etc aside — those are for another day). If you add vitamins to whole-wheat bread, it’s not any worse for you than it was to begin with. So, fine. But adding vitamins to a JUNK food to make that junk food appear more healthy… that’s dishonest and misleading, and it’s the kind of practice that really contributes to our screwed-up nutritional society.
      I totally agree, by the way, about reduction of fat not equalling a “healthier” product. i’ll post about that sometime. Thanks for commenting, as always!

  3. Blanca says:

    like the miracle pill that provides nutrition and burns the fat for you so you don’t have to actually physically do something. There’s no miracle water! It’s disgusting what these marketing food companies will do to deceive consumers. Good point on the Oreo! Great article, as usual!!

    • Thanks! 🙂 It’s sad that we’ve gotten to a point where food companies can actually get away with this stuff — I frankly don’t fault them for trying, really, since we live in a capitalist society and they’re trying to make as much money as they can. Clearly, it’s working. Shame on US, though — the consumers — for allowing ourselves to be taken in as often as we are. Fool us once, shame on you…fool us twice, shame on us.

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