The “Snack Attack” has become an area that needs fixing if we are going to have kids eating healthier. The amount of calories derived from snacks, mostly form sugary and fatty foods, is rising fastest in the young. Snacking makes up a larger percentage of calories in a child’s daily diet today than 20 years ago.
In 1977 about 19% of calories came from snacks; in 1996, snacks made up about 24% of a 2- 5-year-olds daily calories. Nearly one in seven 10-year-olds get 50-70% of calories from snacks. Today’s snacks are richer and more calorie-dense than those of years past.
Here are some ideas to keep healthy snacks fun and available:
- Keep cut fruits and vegetables handy and available in small containers to make them easy to eat. Cut into interesting shapes (you can purchase small cutters for vegetables at cooking stores) for toddlers to keep it fun. After school leave out on the counter top and they are more likely to disappear.
- For dips – if your kids love ranch dip, mix with low-fat or non-fat yogurt to make it healthier choice. Mix vanilla yogurt with a little honey and cinnamon for a great dip for fruits and vegetables.
- Use hummus for dips.
- Frozen fruit bars. Cut up chunks of real fruit (a great way to use up fruits that are starting to fade) and add to a blend of orange juice and yogurt. Freeze in ice cube trays, paper cups or plastic popsicle makers.
- Rice cakes topped with applesauce.
- Pretzels or air-popped popcorn instead of chips.
- Mix dried fruit with granola or nuts. I prefer to use dried fruits without the sulfites, so read the labels. (NOTE: Nuts are a choking hazard in children under 3 years of age).
- Toast an English muffin and top with tomato sauce and low-fat mozzarella cheese.
- Find whole wheat crackers like Kashi 7-grain or Ak-Mak.
- Try Green Machine juice from Naked Juice.
Avoid letting kids snack throughout the day and avoid using snacks when kids are bored, or in the car, or being just plain ornery. Don’t let kids snack in front of the TV. Eating in front of the TV leads to increased food consumption, because the eating becomes more mindless.
For older kids who need some direction in snack choices, have them develop their own snack plan. Have you and the kids list foods in a chart. Create 3 categories: Anytime, Sometimes, and Occasional. Post them on the refrigerator. If it is too close to dinner, only allow the anytime snacks. You can decide what category of snack is allowed, they decide what off the list they want to eat. Here are some suggestions for the different categories.
- Anytime snacks – all fruits and vegetables qualify here
- Sometimes snacks – low-fat cheese, low-fat crackers, pretzels, dried fruit, low-fat yogurt, popcorn, nuts, trail mix
- Occasional snacks – chips, candy, cake, cookies
Print out and post on the refrigerator Our Healthy Goals sheet to track the family’s fruit and vegetable intake, activity time and make a list of the Anytime, Sometimes and Occasional Snacks.