It happens every day to almost everyone: That moment when your
stomach is telling you it is time to eat, yet your next meal is still a ways off. What should you do? You can push through the hunger and wait until your next meal, or listen to your body and have a snack. As adults, we can make that decision for ourselves, but children are often at the mercy of their adult caretakers.
Your body and mind do better when you have more frequent smaller meals and snacks. Skipping or delaying meals may cause you to overeat later. Your child has a small stomach and may not be able to eat enough at a meal to last until the next one. Healthy snacks help fill the gap and ensure a steady supply of energy for children and adults.
Your child is busy learning, playing and growing. Healthy snacking, along with balanced meals, can provide all of the nutrients your child’s body needs to get them through their day. We all know that grumbly tummies make for grumpy kids. For most children (and adults), three meals and two snacks is a perfect plan.
In an ideal world, we would always serve our children whole, minimally processed foods. However, in the real world, that is not always an option. You can learn a lot about prepackaged snack food by reading the ingredient and nutrition labels. Check the ingredient label to make sure the first ingredient is one you want your child to have more of, such as whole grains, vegetables or lean proteins. The nutrition label helps you determine if the food is low in fat, contains no transfat, and is low in sugar and sodium. Also listed on the nutrition label are nutrients that you want more of, including fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C.
Tips for healthy snacking
1. Make the healthy choice the easy choice. Have vegetable sticks, string cheese, fruit cups and whole-grain crackers and cereal ready for easy access.
2. Think about portion size. This is a snack, not a meal. Aim for 100- to 200-calorie portions.
3. Make those calories count! Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein are great snacks and add important nutrients to your child’s diet.
4. More beans please! Beans are one of the superheroes of the food world. Canned beans, drained and rinsed, provide a low-cost snack high in protein and fiber without the fat. For elementary-age children, offer kidney or other beans in a snack cup. Try it! Children love them!
5. Bag up individual-portion-size bags of low-sugar, whole-grain cereal. Add a few pieces of dried fruit for sweetness.
6. Don’t forget the drinks. Sometimes dehydration can feel like hunger. Be sure to offer a drink as part of the snack. Your best choices are water and low-fat milk or milk alternatives. To add flavor to water without extra sugar, place slices of fruit such as limes or watermelon in a pitcher of water and place in the refrigerator to chill.
7. Pick fruit over fruit juice. Small glasses of fruit juice are OK occasionally. Whole fruit provides fiber and other nutrients removed from the fruit in the juicing process.
8. Leave the cookies and chips at the grocery store. If they are not in the house, no one can be tempted to choose them over healthier options.
9. Make your own homemade goodies. You can control the fat and sugar you add to sweets you make at home. Substitute half the fat in a recipe with unsweetened applesauce. Chances are you can cut the amount of sugar and no one will miss it.
10. Pick foods from two food groups. Try pairing apple slices with peanut butter, string cheese and whole-grain crackers, or carrot sticks with hummus. Eating food from different food groups gives your child a wider variety of nutrients and will help their tummies feel full longer.
For more recipes and ideas on healthy snacking check out these websites: Washington State University’s Growhappykids.org, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Choosemyplate.gov, or Oregon State University’s Foodhero.org.