Jul 28, 2009 10:47AM
Boy with Book and Apple Red Background
by Elisa Bosley
The kids just walked in the door, ravenous, and headed straight for the fridge. They grab an apple or a few mini-carrots and a big glass of organic milk. Sound hard to believe? Why fuss if they go for cookies or chips instead?
Because, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture research, snacking has increased fourfold in the past 25 years. Snacks now contribute 26 percent of total calories consumed by kids ages 2 and older—with sugar stealing the show from vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
“These days, kids have 5,000 activities that they are doing after school, on weekends or before school, and they really need to be fueled properly,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and mother of three from New York City, who has served as a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “It’s important that you think about what your kids are eating.”
Cookies, fish crackers and “juice” pouches, while easy to grab, lack the good stuff a child’s body needs, she says. The trick is to provide choices that are quick, irresistible and healthy. Here’s how to mind the munchkins’ munchies with smart-snack strategies.
Be a model. As with all things, children imitate what they see, so we can’t expect our child to eat healthy snacks if we’re noshing on junk. Start by eliminating unhealthy nibbles from the house. Instead, keep bowls of grapes, cherries or plums out on the counter, and be sure that the kids catch their parents eating them.
Give everyone a time out. Offer food in a relaxed environment, away from the television. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that increased TV time directly correlates to increased intake of sugary drinks and empty-calorie snacks, as well as lower vegetable intake. Have worthwhile bites ready and mindfully keep the to-do list from demanding attention while the family enjoys a snack together.
Choose satisfying combos. “The most important approach [to snacking] is to combine protein and whole grain carbohydrate,” says Taub-Dix. For example, offer whole grain crackers or toast, spread with nut butter. If a child insists on something sweet, add a little honey or cinnamon. For times when the kids go straight from school to an activity, “You can make them a sandwich; it can be kept in their backpacks,” advises Taub-Dix.
Think accessible and quick. What’s ready and in plain sight is what’s likely to get eaten, so make wholesome snacks easy to find at all times. Try string cheese or yogurt for calcium and protein; raw food fruit and nut bars for fiber and vitamins; unsalted nuts, trail mix with dried berries, and whole grain granola or organic breakfast Os for antioxidants and good carbs.
Dip it. Offer vegetables such as sugar snap peas, mini-carrots, sliced cucumber, red bell peppers or zucchini, paired with hummus or a yogurt-based dip. (Taub-Dix recommends Greek yogurt, which tastes more like sour cream.) If it has to be chips, buy varieties made with whole grains and baked.
Go easy on the juice. Although juice can be a good source of vitamins, it also delivers concentrated calories. Rather, focus on water or sparkling water, livened up with a splash of vitamin-rich lemon, cranberry, blueberry or pomegranate juice.
Teach youngsters to be label savvy. Just because something is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. “Take your kids to the market and look at the labels with them,” suggests Taub-Dix. “Compare two products that are similar and ask, ‘Why is this one better than that one?’ Emphasize cause and effect: When you teach a child that calcium is going to make bones strong for doing all those fun things that kids do, they understand the ‘why’ of healthy eating.”
Elisa Bosley is a freelance writer and a food editor who also develops and tests recipes.