Your kids just walked in the door, ravenous. They head straight for the fridge and grab … an apple or a few mini-carrots and a big glass of organic milk. Sound hard to believe? Why fuss if they go for the Oreos or chips instead? Because according to USDA research, snacking has increased fourfold in the past 25 years and now contributes 26 percent of total calories consumed by kids age 2 and older — with sugar stealing the show over vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
“These days, kids have 5,000 activities that they are doing after school, on weekends, or before school, and they really need to be fueled properly,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, mother of three and a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “So it’s very important that you think about what your kids are eating.” Cookies, fish crackers, and “juice” pouches, while easy to grab, lack the good stuff your child’s body needs. The trick is to provide choices that are quick, irresistible, and healthy. Mind your kids’ munchies with these smart-snack strategies.
- Be a model.
As with all things, children imitate what they see, so don’t expect your child to eat healthy snacks if you’re noshing on junk. Eliminate unhealthy nibbles from the house; what’s not there can’t be eaten. Keep bowls of grapes, cherries, or plums out on the counter, and be sure your kids catch you eating them.
- Give your child — and yourself — a time out.
Offer food in a relaxed environment, away from the TV. A 2006 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that increased TV time directly correlates to increased intake of sugary drinks and empty-calorie snacks, as well as lower vegetable intake. Have worthwhile bites ready and, if you can, clear the to-do list from your mind while you both have a snack.
- Choose satisfying combos.
“The most important approach [to snacking] is to combine protein and whole-grain carbohydrate,” says Taub-Dix. For example, offer whole-grain crackers or toast spread with nut butter. If your child insists on something sweet, add a little honey or cinnamon. For times when your kids go straight from school to an activity, “you can make them a sandwich; it can be kept in their backpacks,” says Taub-Dix.
- Think accessible and quick.
What’s ready and in plain sight is what’s likely to get eaten, so have wholesome snacks easy to find at all times. Try string cheese or yogurt for calcium and protein; raw-food fruit and nut bars for fiber and vitamins; trail mix made with dried berries, nuts, and whole-grain granola or breakfast O’s for antioxidants and good carbs.
- Dip it.
Offer vegetables — such as sugar snap peas, mini carrots, and sliced cucumber, red bell peppers, or zucchini — paired with hummus or a yogurt-based dip (Taub-Dix recommends Greek yogurt, which tastes more like sour cream). If it has to be chips, buy ones made with whole grains and baked.
- Go easy on the juice.
Although a good source of vitamins, juice delivers concentrated calories. Focus on water and sparkling water, livened up with a splash of vitamin-rich lemon, cranberry, blueberry, or pomegranate juice.
- Teach them to be label savvy.
Just because something is labeled “natural” doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. “Take your kids to the market and look at the labels with them,” says Taub-Dix “Compare two products that are similar and ask, ‘Why is this one better than that one?’ ” Emphasize cause and effect: “When you teach a child that calcium is going to make bones strong for doing all those fun things that kids do, they understand the why of healthy eating,” she says.
|• Apples and cheddar cheese
|• Graham crackers crumbled in cottage cheese
|• Yogurt dip with fruit slices
|• String cheese and whole-grain crackers
|• Salsa with baked chips
|• Whole-grain, low-sugar cereal and milk
|• Raw-food fruit and nut bars
|• Whole-grain pretzels and almond butter
|• Cinnamon graham crackers and peanut or cashew butter
|• Guacamole or hummus with jicama sticks
|• Smoothies with yogurt, milk, frozen berries, and banana
|• Organic dried veggies