Healthy and satisfying kid-friendly school snacksPublished 10:21pm Saturday, September 15, 2012
By ANDREA NIKOLAI
Kids get about one-fourth of their calories each day from snacks. If the usual snack consists of chips, cookies, cakes, or other foods high in fat or sugar, it is difficult for kids to meet their daily requirements of major food groups, such as fruits and vegetables that are needed to help them perform at their best. Kids who eat better are better able to learn. Snacks should add to kids’ nutrition, and they also have to be something they will eat.
So where do you start? First, think of snacks as “mini meals.” Serve your child foods you might include in meals, only in smaller amounts. Beware of the after school “snack.” In addition to homework, children come home with large appetites, and it is important to remember an after school snack is meant to hold them until dinner, not act as another meal. Guide children toward healthier options, and they are more likely to quench that hunger before they overeat. Snack times are great opportunities to serve often lacking fruits or vegetables that are filled with fiber and water to help them feel full. Whole grain foods, such as rice cakes, whole grain crackers and breads, and popcorn are also good choices. Add some protein for some additional holding power, and you’ve got a powerful snack to ward off hunger until dinner.
Snacks for school often need to be something quick and easy to grab. Bypass the aisle with the value sized package of chips, and head to the produce section where you can stock up on nutrient rich fresh fruits and vegetables. Take your kids to the store to access options, and let them pick. The more involvement they have with the snack, from picking it out to helping pack it, the more likely they are to eat it. Apples, oranges, easy-to-peel clementines (sometimes sold as “Cuties”), and grapes are packable options and often a hit with kids. Bananas, berries, pears, plums, peaches, and kiwi are also great choices and just need a small plastic bag at most. You can even find precut apples and individually packaged baby carrots at most grocery stores. Vegetables can be harder for kids to like than other foods, but kids love to dip! Try some baby carrots, cut cucumber, celery, broccoli or cauliflower pieces, or bell pepper strips (each color tastes different) paired with some low-fat ranch, peanut butter, salsa, bean dip, or other low-fat vegetable dip. If ketchup or BBQ sauce is the only dip for your child, it works too!
For days when these fruit and vegetable snacks aren’t options, stock up on prepackaged containers of no sugar added applesauce, little boxes of raisins, individual bags of almonds, pistachios, peanuts or sunflower seeds, dried fruit, mozzarella or 2 percent cheese sticks, or squeezable tubes of yogurt. Pick up some rice cakes that can be found in mini flavored versions (perfect for snacks) or other whole grain crackers. Packages can be misleading so to ensure it is a whole grain, check the ingredient list yourself. Look for the word “whole” in the first ingredient on the list, indicating that the food is made of mostly whole grains. Pair these with some lean protein, such as peanut butter, canned tuna, low fat cheese, a slice of turkey, ham, or roast beef, or a handful of nuts or seeds.
To save money make your own individual grab bags with your kids. Let them package some crackers or cut vegetables or fruit, or set out bowls of low-sugar cereal, low-fat popcorn, nuts, dried fruit, and mini chocolate chips, and make individual bags of trail mix with your kids. Prepare a couple containers filled with dip for fruits or vegetables, and you’ll be ready to go.
If you find you overbought on fresh fruit and vegetables, make a fruit salad for dinner, add vegetables or pineapple to pizza, or cut them up to make banana snakes or fruit and vegetable smiley faces. Set out toothpicks with a variety of fruits or vegetables with cut cheese and make fruit and vegetable kabobs with your kids. Pair some cut fruit with some yogurt to make a parfait, or scoop pieces of fruit or yogurt into an ice cream cone. It is hard to resist a fun snack!
What about fruit snacks, baked chips, animal crackers, pretzels, cheese crackers, or vanilla wafers? These are better choices than cookies and regular chips but don’t contribute many needed nutrients, if any, or have that fiber, water, or protein to help your child feel full. Choose these foods sometimes, and aim to have nutrient filled fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein foods most of the time. Save the sweets and regular chips for occasional treats. This is a pattern that will keep your kids fueled for the day and for the week, ready to learn, and on a healthy path for life.
Andrea Nikolai is a Registered Dietitian at Washington Pediatrics, 1206 Brown St.