Katherine Martinelli / The Daily Meal
Juice boxes are as much a part of American childhood as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But we’re a lot more health-conscious than in the 1980s when the lunchbox beverage staple exploded in popularity. Even if you know that the American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting juice consumption for kiddos, it’s hard to deny the appeal of those cute containers. And at least the kids are hydrating.
It can be challenging to sift through all the juice boxes available, especially when studies show that their labels are frequently misleading and objectively confusing. Often they’ll draw attention to things they don’t have — like corn syrup, artificial colors or preservatives — to distract from their high sugar content or other unhealthy components. Here are some qualities to look for in a juice box as well as some of the healthiest and unhealthiest juice box options. Whenever possible, we compared fruit punch flavor to keep variables to a minimum.
As much as some juice box companies claim that their contents are equivalent to a serving of fruit, they are no substitute for biting into the real thing. What constitutes healthy and unhealthy can be subjective depending on personal diets and needs. For example, some juices are diluted with water, which means lower sugar content but can result in little to no vitamins. Others sneak in some veggies, which can be appealing, but those juices will frequently add sugar to mask the flavor.
Look out for information on the label about natural and added sugar content, whether the juice box contains 100% juice, is mixed with something else and what vitamins are in the drink. Though being organic doesn’t automatically make something healthy, keep an eye out for that distinction if it’s something that’s important to your family.
Capri Sun is a classic brand but with 13 grams of sugar in a single pouch of juice, you may want to reconsider adding it to your kid’s lunch. The package touts that it’s made with all-natural ingredients and “naturally” sweetened with sugar, but when sugar is the second ingredient on the label after water, that’s a red flag. A similar product, Capri Sun 100% Juice Fruit Punch, contains juices from concentrate and has a whopping 20 grams of sugar just from the fruit. Neither option has any vitamin C.
Capri Sun Fruit Punch ingredients: filtered water; sugar; pear and grape juice concentrates; citric acid; orange, apple and pineapple juice concentrates; natural flavor.
If you have a kid who doesn’t drink enough water, Capri Sun’s line of fruit-flavored waters may be a choice to consider. However they don’t contain any actual juice — just “natural flavors” — and sugar is still the second ingredient; there are 8 grams of it per serving with no vitamins. It's not bad for you per se, but you may be better off diluting real juice with water.
Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters ingredients (every flavor): Filtered water; sugar; citric acid; stevia leaf extract; natural flavor.
Though Hi-C’s claim of 100% the daily dose of vitamin C is appealing, this is probably one of the unhealthiest juice box options out there. It has 10 grams of sugar — including 8 grams of added sugar — which isn’t the worst, but the second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, which should make this a hard pass.
Hi-C Torrential Tropical Punch ingredients: Pure filtered water; high fructose corn syrup; pineapple, pear and orange juices from concentrate; less than 0.5% of natural flavors; citric acid; vitamin C; sucralose; acesulfame potassium.
Minute Maid fruit punch, another common juice box brand, has 0 grams of added sugar but 19 grams of sugar from the juices. The brand has added vitamins and minerals, and boasts 70% the suggested daily value of vitamin C, plus some calcium, potassium and magnesium. Although it’s super sweet, at least it might help fend off a cold.
Minute Maid Fruit Punch Ingredients: Apple, pear and grape juices from concentrate; less than 2% of: pineapple juice from concentrate; natural flavors; calcium citrate; vitamin C; citric acid; potassium phosphate.
Probably one of the best-known names in the kids’ juice market, Mott’s fruit punch juice box is all juice with no added sugar and a supposed 1 1/2 servings of fruit. But it also has 15 grams of sugar and just 20% the suggested daily value of vitamin C, which isn’t as good as some other options.
Mott’s 100% Fruit Punch Juice ingredients: Water; apple, grape, orange and cherry juice concentrates; ascorbic acid; natural flavors.
This juice pouch can’t claim to be 100% juice, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Water is the first ingredient and there’s no added sugar—just 9 grams total, which is pretty low for a juice box. For comparison, Juicy Juice’s fruit punch juice box with 100% juice has a whopping 27 grams of sugar, while their “lower sugar” berry lemonade still has 17 grams. Plus, Splashers Organic juice boxes have 100% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C, so all in all, this is a pretty healthy option.
Juicy Juice Splashers Organic Fruit Punch ingredients: Filtered water; organic apple juice from concentrate; organic pear juice from concentrate; ascorbic acid; organic cherry juice from concentrate; citric acid; natural flavors.
With 8 grams of sugar per juice box, this organic, water-heavy option is a good health-conscious contender. By comparison, their 100% juice fruit punch has 13% sugar. Both boast 70% the daily recommended dose of vitamin C.
Apple and Eve Organic Quenchers Fruit Punch Burst ingredients: Filtered water; organic apple juice concentrate; natural flavors; organic cherry juice concentrate; organic strawberry juice concentrate; organic pear juice concentrate; ascorbic acid; malic acid.
If you can’t get your kids to eat their veggies, maybe they’ll drink them. That’s the idea behind Apple and Eve’s Fruitables line of juice boxes. With sweet potato, purple carrots, beets, tomatoes and butternut squash in addition to apple, pineapple and cherry juice, the brand claims that each box provides 1 combined serving of fruits and vegetables. Each serving contains 13 grams of sugar — none added — plus 70% vitamin C and 10% each of vitamins A and E.
Apple and Eve Fruitables Power Punch ingredients: Filtered water; apple juice concentrate, sweet potato juice concentrate; pear juice concentrate; purple carrot juice concentrate; natural flavors; beet juice concentrate; butternut squash juice concentrate; pineapple juice concentrate; cherry juice concentrate; citric acid; ascorbic acid; tomato juice concentrate; vegetable extract; vitamin A palmitate; vitamin E acetate.
Known for being a healthy option for kids, the nutrition label on Honest juice boxes lives up to the claim. Besides being non-GMO and organic, the fruit punch also has no added sugar, just 35 calories and 8 grams of sugar. The juice is cut with water, but adds vitamin C, giving kids 70% of their recommended dose in a single serving.
Honest Kids Organic Super Fruit Punch ingredients: Filtered water; organic apple juice from concentrate; organic white grape juice from concentrate; organic strawberry juice from concentrate; organic cranberry juice from concentrate; organic natural flavors; vitamin C; natural flavors; citric acid.
Though it's harder to find at major supermarket chains than other options, R.W. Knudson’s line of Sensible Sippers juice boxes is quite possibly the lowest sugar option on the market with just 6 grams. However, if added vitamins are important, there are none of those here.
R.W. Knudson Sensible Sippers Organic Fruit Punch ingredients: Filtered water; organic apple, organic pineapple, organic orange and organic lemon juice concentrates; organic banana puree; organic grape and organic pear juice concentrates; organic natural flavor.
Though this list isn’t exhaustive, it is representative of some of the most popular options available. Hi-C is the unhealthiest juice box we encountered, and Capri Sun isn’t far behind, though at least they don’t have corn syrup in their juices.
Determining the healthiest will be a bit of a personal preference but R.W. Knudson’s Sensible Sippers have the lowest sugar content we saw. Honest Kids and Juicy Juice Splashers Organic both balance a relatively low natural sugar content with high vitamin C. Apple and Eve Fruitables, meanwhile, has more sugar but also boasts veggies. If these juice-box choices have you considering other drink options, there are plenty of healthy smoothie recipes that taste great.
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