Packing nutrition into children's snacks

Some foods are better than others at providing quick energy


Joanna Broder

Health roundup - September 2006 Ever wonder what the best snack foods are for kids? Or how much juice they should drink? Pediatric dietician Patty Morse of Loyola University Medical Center sheds some light on children's nutrition.

Q: What types of snack foods provide quick energy for kids?

A: Carbohydrates, such as crackers, bread and fruit, are best for fast energy because the body breaks them down quickly. If it's close to dinnertime, try a light snack such as fruit. If it is going to be a long time before a meal, add protein such as a cheese stick or a hard-boiled egg. Protein breaks down more slowly and carries you a little longer.

For young children, finger foods work well. Spread cream cheese on a piece of bologna or turkey and roll it up. Microwave a sweet potato and cut it into bite-size pieces. Or, defrost frozen vegetables and serve them with dip. Remember-kids have small stomachs and high energy needs, and need to eat every two to three hours.

Q: What types of snacks should parents avoid?

A: Parents should steer away from too much juice. For younger children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends about 4 ounces a day (about one mini juice box). Not only is sipping juice all day bad for kids' teeth, it can also serve as a substitute for more substantial foods.

Q: Is it getting harder for parents to provide kids with healthy foods?

A: Parents may come home from work at 5 p.m. and not know what's for dinner. But even basic cooks can make healthy food. Say a family is good at making three meals: chicken, spaghetti and macaroni and cheese. They can add foods such as milk, carrot sticks and cut-up fruit. By supplementing dinners, parents can improve the nutritional content.

Get some sleep

Middle-aged adults are not getting the sleep they need, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study, done in Chicago, found that the 669 participants got an average of 6.1 hours of sleep a night. Some experts argue that adults need seven to nine hours.

The findings raise questions about how well sleep-deprived adults function as parents.

"Sleepiness … is as stressful and life-changing as excessive hunger and excessive thirst," says Dr. Stephen Sheldon, director of the Sleep Medicine Center at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

"If a parent is not getting enough sleep, it affects everything that they do. Not only their ability to manage the situation, but their mood and their performance and their attention changes."

Dr. Michael Kohrman, associate professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of Chicago, suggests that parents who have trouble sleeping avoid caffeine, establish a regular sleep schedule, avoid exercising after 7 p.m. and get rid of the bedroom television.

"Parents who are not getting the sleep they need are not going to parent as well," agrees Jodi Mindell, associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping through the Night: How Infants, Toddlers, and Their Parents Can Get a Good Night's Sleep. While insomnia in adults is often due to poor sleep habits or tension about sleep, children's insomnia usually results from habits their parents set up.

Mindell acknowledges that no research has been done on the specific link between sleep deprivation among adults sleep and parenting skills, but she points out that exhausted adults are more likely to be irritable and less able to emotionally regulate themselves.

Parents are "not going to want to engage in the fun stuff," she says. Mindell also worries about the potentially dangerous consequence of parents driving vehicles while drowsy.

There are some 80 different sleep disorders, says Mindell. So if adults have set aside time for sleep and still have problems, they should see a doctor.

Sleepy kidzzz

Adults are not the only ones with sleep problems.

The National Sleep Foundation's 2004 Sleep in America poll found that 69 percent of kids ages 10 or younger have one or more sleep-related problems at least a few nights a week.

Kohrman advises parents to establish fixed sleeping and waking times so kids get tired at the same time every night.

Parents should also ban video games and violent TV programs near bedtime, make the bedroom an inviting environment and put nightlights in young children's bedrooms to soothe them if they awake in the night.

Mindell cautions that some bedtime rituals can have unintended consequences.

"If a parent always lies down with their child to fall asleep at bedtime and the child wakes during the night," she says, "they might not be able to fall back asleep without a parent lying back down with them."

Joanna Broder is a writer living in Evanston with her husband.


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