When did it become the normal and accepted rule that anytime people get together there will be something to eat or drink offered? Whether it’s your kid’s soccer practice, baseball game, after-school program, or your office meeting, social club or workshop, you are likely to be offered food and beverages, no matter what time of day it may be.
We have evolved into a nation of constant eaters, especially when it comes to our kids. According to a University of North Carolina study, 98 percent of kids in the survey had a snack every day, and 42 percent ate three snacks every day. The researchers found snacks now account for almost one third of a child’s daily calories.
Maybe this is the reason that one out of every three kids is overweight. Because snacks most often consist of nutritionally poor, high sodium or high sugar foods, snacks are likely a contributing factor to the obesity problem.
Of the top 12 snacks most frequently offered to kids, none were fruits or vegetables. Candy, cookies, and chips topped the list. Even fast food restaurants have jumped on the snacking bandwagon by offering mini meals and snack options that you can conveniently drive through and pick up on your way to the next activity.
Have a picky eater? Excessive snacking might be one reason. Kids know that if they refuse a healthy meal, a snack is never far away. And, what kid wouldn’t refuse broccoli and baked chicken knowing that in an hour or so, they can have cookies and ice cream for a snack? Even parents who offer healthy meals often fall into the trap of offering the typical prepackaged, empty calorie snack foods. Plus, if the kid has just had a snack shortly before a meal or have been snacking all day, they aren’t going to be hungry when dinnertime rolls around.
Giving our kids free access to constant food may seem like a good idea. After all, no one wants their children to go hungry. But, what we are actually doing is setting them up for a lifetime habit of nonstop eating. They never experience the feeling of hunger or learn how to recognize their body’s signals of being hungry or of being full. They learn to eat when they are bored, out of habit or just because it tastes good, instead of because they are hungry. This is a sure way to guarantee that your child will grow up to have weight problems.
What can you do? First, you can be a trendsetter and stop providing snacks for every little activity. Next, know how often your kids really need to eat. Toddlers need to eat every two or three hours. But they don’t need much — just a few bites of a couple different foods is usually enough. Preschoolers should be able to go three to four hours between eating. By the time the kids are in school, they should be eating three meals and just one snack a day. Finally, change what you consider a snack. Most of the snacks served to children should be fruits and vegetables, rather than sweet treats or salty chips. Fruit is naturally sweet, and most kids love it. Try serving fruits and vegetables in different ways to keep kids interested. Whole grains, low-fat dairy products, nuts, and healthy beverages also make good snack choices.
Page 2 of 2 - Following are some ideas to try.
Fresh fruit: cut it into bite size pieces. Cut a kiwi in half and use a spoon to eat it. Or, freeze grapes, berries, melon or peaches and let the kids eat them frozen.
Canned fruit: look for unsweetened applesauce and single-serve fruit bowls packed in fruit juice.
Dried fruit: try raisins and cherries or freeze-dried crunchy fruit
Fruit popsicles made with 100 percent fruit juice
Smoothies: blend fruit with juice, yogurt or milk and ice. (Toss in some vegetables for good measure.)
Cut up raw vegetables and serve with a low-fat dressing, bean dip, hummus, salsa or nut butter.
Look for whole-grain cereals, like Cheerios, Frosted Mini-Wheats or Raisin Bran, to package in individual bags for snacks.
Low-fat microwave popcorn
Yogurt: look for brands that have no more than 30 grams of sugar in a 6 ounce cup and are low fat or fat-free.
String cheese or Babybel cheese make a good low-fat snack, along with some whole grain crackers.
Homemade trail mixes with whole grain cereals, nuts, seeds and dried fruits
Water should be the main drink at snack times, but low-fat milk or milk alternatives (like soy, almond, or coconut milk) are OK, too. Try to avoid sweetened drinks, including fruit juice. For a treat, try mixing equal parts 100 percent fruit juice with unsweetened sparkling water or club soda.
Planning healthy snacks takes a little time and preparation, but your child’s health is worth it.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.