Kids and Snacking: Keeping It Healthy

Kids and Snacking: Keeping It Healthy

Snacks can and should contribute to your child's nutrition and calorie needs. Follow these guidelines to ensure snack time is healthy.

By Jane Harrison, RD, Staff Nutritionist, myOptumHealth

Are you stumped when it comes to feeding healthy snacks to your kids? Do you have a hard time bypassing the junk food and serving up more nutritious options?

Truth is, most growing children need more calories than they can eat during their three standard meals. Nutritious, well-planned snacks can be a vital part of your child's diet. In fact, snacks can account for as much as 20 percent of your child's daily calorie and nutrient needs. It's up to you to make them count.

Guidelines and suggestions
The first rule of thumb is to think of your child's snack time as a planned mini meal and not a spur-of-the-moment indulgence. Kids should get used to snacks that are not loaded with sugar or fat (this applies to you, too, parents)!

Here are some guidelines and tips to get you started:

Make a list of healthy choices and let children choose their snacks. Even if they don't go to the supermarket with you, try to get your kids involved. Letting them have some input with their food choices can help avoid snack time battles.

Try to prepare snacks in advance whenever you can. If healthy snacks are easy to grab, your children will be more likely to choose them when hunger strikes.

Offer low-fat dips with those healthy food choices. Children eat more fruits and vegetables when they are served with yogurt dips and healthy salad dressings (such as olive-oil based vinaigrette).

  • Add dried dip mix to plain, low-fat yogurt instead of mayo.
  • Let kids dip their fruit into flavored yogurt (avoid those made with high-fructose corn syrup).
  • Have them dip their veggies in hummus.
  • Mash avocado and stir in some salsa. Use as a dip for veggies or trans-fat-free tortilla chips.

Limit cookies, doughnuts, brownies and other baked goods. Wean them off sugar! Instead, serve mini bagels, rice cakes, toasted English muffins or tortillas.

  • Allow your child to add a bit of natural peanut butter, jam and/or low-fat cream cheese to their selections.
  • Children also enjoy mixing several types of ready-to-eat cereals (6 grams of sugar or less) together for a snack.
  • Add a crunchy cereal to flavored yogurt (again, no high-fructose corn syrup, please).

Limit chips and other salty, high-fat snacks. Instead, offer low- salt pretzels, air-popped popcorn, low-sugar dry cereals or granola. Add dried raisins or cranberries for sweetness. Better yet, squeeze in some protein. Think outside the box and try the following:

  • Low-fat cheese or hardboiled egg and whole-grain crackers
  • A bowl of chicken, veggie or bean soup
  • Crackers dipped in hummus
  • Rolled up deli turkey and carrot sticks

Find ways to increase your child's calcium intake.

  • Buy plain or flavored low-fat yogurt and let kids make individual sundaes. Use healthy toppings such as fruit, nuts and granola.
  • Add a little flavored syrup to a glass of milk for a special treat.
  • Allow your child to help prepare a milkshake or smoothie made with low-fat milk, yogurt and frozen fruit.
  • Add shredded low-fat cheese to a whole-wheat English muffin.

Plan ahead when going on family outings. Instead of buying snacks at fast-food restaurants or concession stands, pack individual snack bags.

  • Fill with pretzels, whole-grain crackers, nuts and dried fruit.
  • Other ideas include fresh fruit and low-fat cheese sticks.

Don't be swayed by advertising. Many prepared foods that are marketed as kid-friendly are low in nutrition. Read labels carefully and avoid foods that have excess sugar, salt or hydrogenated fats.

Finally, avoid classifying foods as "good" or "bad." All snack foods can be enjoyed in moderation. The key to healthy snacking is to provide a balance of food choices that your child can enjoy.

Sources:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. Tips for using the food guide pyramid for young kids. Accessed: 01/05/2010
  • American Heart Association. Eat healthy stuff Accessed: 01/05/2010

Copyright © 2011 myOptumHealth.