The Knack to Healthier Snacks for Children
With the abundance of commercially processed, high-sugar and brightly-colored foods available, it can be a challenge to educate kids about more natural, satisfying options. When preparing healthy snacks, it’s key to consider nutritional value along with fun presentation. Children actually need good quality fats for cell growth, metabolism and brain development. They also need good quality protein for growth and immunity. New evidence suggests a correlation between a child’s diet and their academic performance. Poor diet is likely to lead to a child with concentration issues, challenges with memory, irritability and an increased susceptibility to illnesses. By contrast, children who eat regular, healthy meals tend to have increased energy, better grades at school and lower obesity rates. Nationally representative surveys of food intake in U.S. children show large increases in snacking between the early 1990s to the early millennium. Childhood snacking trends are moving toward three snacks per day, and more than 27 percent of children’s daily calories are coming from snacks. The largest increases have been in salty snacks and candy.
Desserts and sweetened beverages remain the major sources of snacking calories. Keeping all of this in mind, it’s key to create snacks that are more complex, featuring natural carbohydrates, proteins, and essential fatty acids found in nuts, seeds, and natural oils. Instead of just having a simple piece of fruit, a more creative approach is to combine it with a yogurt or tofu dip. Homemade fruit and nut muffins served with a nut butter can also be convenient. Store-bought peanut butters are often full of hydrogenated fats and sugars, so switch to a high-calcium almond butter or other nut butter blends. A classic favorite that follows the rule of having a fruit or vegetable combined with protein and fat is “ants on a log”, where celery stalks are filled with nut butter and raisins.
These more “complex” snacks provide greater satisfaction and make for a longer-running fuel source. These days, part of the challenge of packing a healthy snack into a school lunch is nut allergies. The commercial manufacturers of some of the less-nutritious snacks on the market are also the ones that have eye-catching decals on them that read “peanut free”. Some examples of these types of products are various brands of granola bars, fruit strips and gummy snacks, along with pre-packaged puddings and fruit purées. While it may be tempting to purchase a cart full of these products, I would encourage parents to read the label more closely to determine if and how much nutrient value you’re sacrificing in favor of a “ready-made” solution. Most of these pre-packaged snacks are not only wasteful, due to excessive packaging, but also contain high amounts of salt, hydrogenated fats, sugar, additives and preservatives – all of which effectively contribute to poor brain development and function, and ultimately, adverse effects on a child’s health. For kids, food has to look great and be fun.
Kids love to dip, and making a variety of colorful, healthy dips can provide some of the essential nutrients they need. Traditional hummus can be turned bright pink by adding half a steamed beet, or bright green by adding steamed spinach or kale. Have colourful veggie sticks and fruit pieces available at all times to dip, such as red, yellow and orange peppers, sliced strawberries, broccoli florets, cubed pineapple, cucumber, or any fruit and vegetable that your child likes. Flax seed or hemp seed oil can be added to sweet tofu dips, hummus or smoothies and is highly recommended by most health-care practitioners. Smoothies are also a terrific vehicle for fruit servings and a good protein source if you add staples such as yogurt, soy milk or soft tofu.
They’re also a great way to satisfy a child’s sweet tooth, and a great substitute for any store-bought juices. With a recent study revealing that 55 percent of five year olds consume less than two servings of fruits and vegetables per day, it’s time to focus on having fruits and vegetables as a basic ingredient of every snack your child eats throughout the day. With the cost of food steadily climbing, you’ll find that increasing your fruit and vegetable purchases at the grocery store will not only be healthier for you and your family, it’ll also be easier on your wallet. References Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Barbara A. Dennison, MD, Helen L. Rockwell, and Sharon L. Baker, MS. Trends In Snacking Among U.S. Children: Carmen Piernas and Barry M. Popkin; Health Aff March 2010.