If I had a nickel for every time my daughter asked me for a snack, well — you know how the saying goes.
Snacks are a big topic when you are a little person. They can be a great way to fill nutritional gaps and can help a child from getting too hungry and cranky. Unfortunately, many children are getting snacks that are calorie-dense and nutrient-poor. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, almost 90 percent of preschoolers consume one or more energy (calorie) dense snack foods or beverages every day. This can lead to an increased intake of saturated fat and sugar. In addition, children who consume these types of snacks begin to develop a taste for sweeter, energy-dense foods.
What can we do? The first step may be changing our own perception of what “snack” means — from packaged, salty, sweet or dessert-type foods, to lower-fat cheeses, whole grains, yogurts, fruits and vegetables.
Consider snacks as an extension of a meal and as a great opportunity to fill in what may have been missed at mealtime such as a fruit, vegetable or protein according to Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobson. This can be especially helpful when the snack request comes 30 minutes before dinnertime.
Here are some simple nutritional guidelines for snacks from the Rainbow In My Tummy program:
• Keep it in the 100- to 150-calorie range for young children. Be sure to check serving sizes on packages.
• Read the ingredient label and nutrition facts. Avoid snacks with added sugars, transfats or artificial colors.
• Mix it up. A variety of healthy snacks can help ensure that your child is getting a variety of nutrients.
• Prepare in advance. If you can make your own trail mix, for example, you can control the ingredients. It is cheaper too.
• Try to structure snack times so that they happen about the same time each day and are eaten at the table (as often as possible). This prevents constant grazing and helps children eat more regularly at mealtime.
• Be a snack role model. What do your kids see you snacking on? As kids get older, they generally follow your lead, so choose your own snacks wisely.
Fortunately, Asheville is a community that supports fresh, healthy and locally grown products that can easily be incorporated into healthy snacks. Some great seasonal snack ideas are available from Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project’s Growing Minds program at growing-minds.org/recipes/.
If you are stuck in a rut and feel as if you are serving the same snacks over and over, you can try pairing items from two of the categories below. These are just a few suggestions, and some are a natural fit: fruit with yogurt, hummus on pita, and nut butter on celery. By all means, be creative. You and your child may find some new favorite snack pairs.
Fruit: Sliced apple, kiwi or orange, banana, berries, watermelon or pineapple chunks, grapes, dried fruit. Note: Be sure to chop into small pieces for younger eaters. Serving size: about ½ cup (¼ cup if dried fruit)
Vegetable: Vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, cucumber, zucchini, etc.), edamame, cherry tomatoes, broccoli stalks, pepper slices (green, red, yellow or orange), sugar snap peas, cauliflower pieces, string beans, avocadoes. Note: Be sure to chop into small pieces and lightly steam to soften for younger eaters. Serving size: about ½ cup
Protein/Dairy: Hummus, bean dips, part-skim cheeses, nut butters, unsweetened or lightly sweetened yogurt, hard-boiled or scrambled egg, low-fat cream cheese, slices or cubes of lean meat, skim milk, part-skim cottage cheese, chicken or tuna salad. Serving size: ½ ounce or 2 tablespoons of spreads such as hummus
Grain: Whole-grain crackers, toast, English muffin, mini-bagel, tortillas or waffles; instant oatmeal; plain popcorn (for older children); whole-wheat pasta; baked tortilla triangles (not fried); whole-grain, low-sugar cereal; bagel chips. Serving size: ¼ cup or about ½ slice of bread
Rainbow In My Tummy is a nutrition-enrichment program created by Mountain Area Child and Family Center. Rainbow In My Tummy works with early care and education centers to improve the quality of food served to young children and to cultivate a food culture that establishes a foundation for lifelong health. The program’s menus, recipes and food policy have been reviewed by a registered dietitian. For details, contact Rainbow In My Tummy Director Bronwen McCormick. For more program information, visit www.macfc.org.