By Laura A. Jana and Jennifer Shu, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
One of the biggest problems with snacks is, quite simply, that they typically consist of high-calorie, unhealthy foods rather than nutrient-dense, healthy foods. With fresh fruit, all too frequently replaced by juice and other sugary drinks, more candy, less milk, and the prize for the largest increase in snack foods over the past 30 years going to chips and crackers, what’s clearly not lacking in snacking is salt, sugar and fat.
So now that you know what not to serve for snacks, we wanted to make sure to impress on you the fact that snacking can and still should play an important role in your child’s daily diet. Simply put, the right approach to snacking can help keep kids from getting hungry and cranky while also giving them added energy and (if you plan it right) added nutrients. By following simple, smart snacking advice like the tips below, you can ultimately help your child grow better, think better, and stay active throughout the day and throughout childhood.
- Snacks should not be the exception to the rule that food, in general, should have nutritional value. Make sure you commit to applying the same noble goals in choosing your snacks as you (hopefully) do for your child’s meals.
- Keep finger foods on hand. Finding foods that are quick and easy to grab and serve is actually quite easy. Simply cut up some fresh fruits or veggies; keep whole grain crackers, pretzels, or ready-to-eat (and preferably low-sugar/high-fiber) cereals on hand; and then let your toddler or older child handle the feeding part independently.
- Don’t be fooled by packaging. Labels on snack foods for kids, along with sugary children’s cereals, seem to be the most commonly misleading when it comes to nutrition. Don’t let creative labeling such as “fruit snacks” or “low-fat” lead you to believe that sugary treats are necessarily healthy.
- Figure out some “free foods” that your child can eat at any time. It’s entirely appropriate to agree on some healthy “free foods” (such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt or hard-boiled eggs, for example) that your child can sit down and eat whenever he’s hungry. Remembering that your ultimate goal is to help your child learn to eat when he’s hungry and refrain when he’s not, your role is to simply make very sure that the criteria you use for creating this list is based squarely on the food’s nutritional value.
- Keep junk food out of sight and out of mind. This means not only limiting the amount of junk food you buy and allow into your pantry, but also the amount of television your child is allowed to watch. With literally thousands of television ads designed specifically to make your child’s mouth water over unhealthy snacks and cereals, turning off the television — not just when you’re eating but keeping it turned off throughout the day — can go a long way toward preventing unhealthy eating habits.
This excerpt is taken from the new edition of “Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor and a Bottle of Ketchup” (American Academy of Pediatrics, March 2012) by Laura A. Jana, MD, FAAP and Jennifer Shu, MD, FAAP. For more information about “Food Fights,” please visit www.HealthyChildren.org, the official American Academy of Pediatrics web site for parents.