Gone are the days when children would eat three square meals a day, with no snacks in between. Today’s kids are eating more snack foods than ever, filling up on empty calories without the nutrients necessary for growth.
However, that doesn’t mean we should lock the cabinets and keep kids from eating between meals. In fact, there are many benefits of snacking, and new nutritional wisdom suggests kids should graze on healthy foods throughout the day.
Think of your child’s tummy like the fuel tank of a car. While an empty fuel tank brings a car to an abrupt halt, an empty tummy often triggers a child’s repertoire of undesirable behaviors. Keeping high-quality fuel in the tank plays an important role in a child’s ability to regulate their behavior.
Snack foods should be considered small meals so children fill up on nutrient-dense foods. Snack time is a perfect time to serve foods from the major food groups: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, foods high in calcium like yogurt, reduced fat cheese, lean animal and plant proteins like nuts, legumes, and turkey. A good rule of thumb is to serve foods as closely as they occur in nature. For example, an apple is more nutritious than apple fruit leather.
If you’re a family on the go, consider the purchase of a small lunch cooler that’s big enough for an ice pack yet easy to haul around. Fill it with healthy snacks before rushing out and keep your kids fueled on high-octane foods throughout their busy day.
Here are some healthy snack ideas:
• Consider serving snacks that can be dipped in organic peanut or almond butter. Apple slices and bananas taste great with nut butters. Bananas can be cut into circles, topped with peanut butter, or served whole with nut butter lathered on top like icing.
• Try tossing your favorite trail mix into a small container, and grab a piece of fruit. Involve the kids in making a signature trail mix with their favorite nuts and dried fruit. For an extra special treat, add some dark chocolate chips. This is especially important for moms!
• Fresh berries with vanilla yogurt.
• Whole grain cereals packed in small snack bags.
• Rice cakes with nut butters.
• Fresh fruit like mango slices, kiwi, berries, apples, oranges, bananas, pineapple chunks, and grapes.
• Fresh vegetables like carrots, celery, slices of red and orange bell peppers, and fresh beet slices. Amp up the nutrition by dipping these veggies in hummus.
• Legumes like soybeans (edamame), hummus (chickpeas), and sugar snap peas.
• Dried fruit like blueberries, cranberries, cherries, and raisins.
• Water, small boxes of soy milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, rice milk, or low fat milk instead of soda and other sugary juice drinks.
Keep snacking simple. Offer foods that are similar to those served at mealtime, just in smaller portions. Our children will be healthier for it.