Eating well


Does snack food have to be junk food? :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Bev Bennett

As you've probably noticed, you no sooner hear the cry "I'm home," than it's time to provide a snack. Although snacks may not be on your agenda, these mini-meals are important in providing nutrients and fuel for your active child. Whether snacks contribute to your child's health depends on what you have available.

"I think snacks have become more like junk food than healthy food episodes," says Jackie Raleigh, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Edward Diabetes Center in Naperville.

Unfortunately, it often seems easier to open a bag of chips than prepare an alternative, especially when you're tired or short on time. But you can encourage your child to eat wholesome snacks if you make them available and set a good example yourself.

"Ask yourself what healthy foods your kids really like," says Keith Ayoob, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

"Promote the positives. When I take diet histories [of patients] I find that kids really do like some fruits and vegetables," says Ayoob, director of nutrition at the Rose F. Kennedy Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center in New York.

He recommends stocking up on grapes, grape tomatoes, cucumbers and baby carrots. Produce has to be ready-to-eat or your child won't select it. Either trim fruits and vegetables yourself or buy pre-cut products for a few cents more.

Sometimes foods such as cucumber sticks or cold cooked corn on the cob that seem a little peculiar to you seem perfectly normal and appetizing to your child.

You may find your child prefers foods he can help prepare. Ayoob is a big fan of apple coring and slicing gadgets.

"Kids love those things. Ditto with hard-cooked egg slicers. Give your child an apple, a hard-cooked egg and a glass of milk and you've got a decent snack," Ayoob says.

Raleigh suggests making snack mixes such as breakfast cereal tossed with chopped dried fruit. Choose a cereal with at least three grams of dietary fiber as the base for the mix, she says.

Don't feel guilty for buying convenience snack foods. There are plenty of nourishing, items, such as applesauce or yogurt in single-serve containers, in the supermarket. However, read the Nutrition Facts panel to make the best selections.

Food shouldn't just be devoid of excess fat and calories, it should contribute to a child's health.

"Make sure whatever your child eats has at least 10 percent of a nutrient, such as calcium, iron or vitamin C. If the food item provides 10 percent of one nutrient, you're offering your child an appropriate food," says Raleigh.

Ayoob prefers that children drink milk instead of soft drinks and even gives a nod to flavored milk as the beverage of choice.

"If you buy 1 percent milk your child is getting as many calories as in soda, but a whole lot more nutrition. If kids are picky about eating meat [at mealtime], milk gives kids protein and calcium they desperately need," Ayoob says.

Don't serve a snack within an hour of dinner unless you think the item is essential and more likely to be eaten as a nosh than as part of a meal. Don't hand out high-fat snacks just before dinner. Fat satisfies appetites so children aren't hungry for dinner.

And take a look at your own snacking habits when you're trying to influence your child.

"I find that when parents say their children won't snack on fruits and vegetables, the parents don't eat fruits and vegetables either," Raleigh says.

Share a bag of baby carrots or a pint of just-rinsed grape tomatoes with your child as you talk over the day's events. You'll both benefit from it, Raleigh says.

Tropical Fruit Salad 2 cups seedless grapes 2 medium banana, peeled and sliced 1 mango peeled and cubed 1/2 cup low-fat tropical fruit flavored yogurt 1 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot 4 mint sprigs Combine grapes, banana and mango in a bowl; toss to mix. Combine yogurt and ginger root and spoon into fruit. Divide into 4 bowls. Top each serving with a mint sprig. Serves 4. From 365 Days of Healthy Eating from the American Dietetic Association (John Wiley & Sons, 2003).


Bev Bennett is the mother of two and the author of 30 Minute Meals for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003).


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