Healthy Snacks

Whether it’s mid-morning, after-school or bedtime, growing kids sometimes need a snack.  Although it’s cheap and easy to grab a bag of chips, a cookie or a candy bar, the best choice is something that satisfies hunger while it meets the changing nutritional needs of growing children.

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, registered dietitian, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of Feed Your Family Right! (Wiley, 2007) points out that, “[Parents] need to focus more on calcium-rich snacks.”

As children grow, “calorie and nutrient needs increase,” explains Zied.  “Teens need more iron, girls because they menstruate and need to replace losses, and boys to support increases in lean muscle tissue.  They also need increased calcium as they develop peak bone mass.”

The challenge for parents is in how to meet the nutritional needs of their children while generating enthusiasm for healthy foods.

For fifteen years, Michelle Kooiker has been teaching elementary and preschool in northern Wisconsin.  Her struggle has been to entice picky eaters at snack time, and her creative technique seems to pay off.

“Sometimes kids are turned off by unfamiliar textures, so I ask them to break it down into steps,” says Kooiker, “the first of which is to ‘kiss it goodbye.’”

Kooiker’s method is to have a balking child bring a new food to his or her lips for a kiss.  Sometimes the taste on the lips is enough to tempt a bite.  Sometimes it takes longer to become comfortable with a new flavor and texture.  After a positive connection has been made to the food, she encourages a nibble.  Later on, she suggests a bite.  Before too long, the introduction is a success, and the child is picking up something new to “kiss goodbye.”

What defines a healthy snack food?

“Parents should think of snacks as extensions of meals and should include foods that fall into the key food groups:  dairy, fruits, veggies, grains, lean meats/beans,” says Zied.

Creative presentation is also helpful in selling these snacks to kids.  Peanut butter spread on celery with raisins on top becomes “Ants on a Log.”  Guacamole and hummus can be “Monster Mash” into which carrots, pita chips or jicama can be dipped.  Spinach and cheeses combine to make a great dunk for multigrain crackers and veggies.  Sweet dips are popular, too.  Blend honey with mascarpone, cream cheese or peanut butter and plunge sliced apples or graham cracker sticks into the tasty mix.

For the parent with little free time for whipping up specialty dips, low-fat pudding, chocolate milk and single-serving cheese sticks can provide a speedy calcium boost for kids.  If it’s your day to provide a snack for the class at school, bring yogurt.  Add a dollop of Cool Whip, and the kids have an activity food for stirring and cracker-dunking.  If there are 10 squealing tweens in your living room for a sleepover, sprinkle air-popped corn with tasty seasonings for their movie treat.

Avoid highly processed foods if at all possible.  Instead, buy fresh fruits and vegetables for easy munching.  Clean, slice and store them in a clear bowl in the refrigerator where they are easy to see and consume.  Sliced oranges are easier to approach than whole ones, and prepared berries are more fun to tackle than ones with stems.  A clear tray of carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber and broccoli with a tasty dip or salsa is a quick sell to hungry kids.

A good dose of fruits and vegetables will help keep kids hydrated, which is important in maintaining good health.  Water is the best drink for kids, followed by fat-free milk.  But a cup of 100 percent fruit juice per day or a sport drink from time to time can be a treat.

To be sure kids are hydrated enough, Zied advises that they have, “enough water and other liquids so that their urine is pale in color, not yellow.”  Deep color and odor indicate dehydration and disappear with the proper amount of fluid intake.

Include kids in their own snack selections.  Talk about food groups and healthy choices.  Include them in the purchase and preparation of their snacks, and lead by example.  A kid won’t choose sliced cucumbers if Mom is tearing into a bag of Cheetos.  Keep the experience fun, and don’t make snack-time into a food battle.  By being a positive role model, you will instill in your children life-long habits that will set them off on good, long lives.


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