Jeremy Heffernan knows what his kids like to snack on. “Gogurt, fruit roll-ups and granola bars,” said the 36-year old father of three, aged 10 to 15. “My daughter loves hot dogs.”
But with almost 200 calories, and more than half of those coming from fat, hot dogs won’t top any pediatrician’s list of healthy snacks.
“The growing bodies that kids have really need the maximum nutrition,” said Sarah Krieger, registered dietician for the Chicago-based American Dietetic Association.
So what to do when kids’ tastes and kids’ nutrition needs are at odds? Kriegeroffered these tips to help parents make the right turns on the road between meals.
Plan and prepare. Knowing when your children snack and having the items on hand can be half the battle when eliminating unhealthy snacking.
“Plan before you go to the grocery store so you can have them ready and accessible,” Krieger said. Preparing ahead eliminates “grazing” or eating without portioning, making it easier to over eat.
“People will go for chips or cookies, grab a handful and go back and grab more,” Krieger said.
Add missing food groups. Samantha Galindo’s 4-year-old daughter, Azra, is an example of kids who go crazy for fruit, but push around peas.
“Mostly fruit or cheese, not too much on the vegetables,” said Galindo, 29, a Portage Park resident. “Usually she’ll eat a potato or try a little bit of broccoli.”
Krieger said children who miss food groups in meals should snack on items that make up for them. Try mixing fruits and vegetables together: grapes and carrot sticks or sliced apples and celery with peanut butter. “They can have a little bit of each,” she said.
The five food groups are: grains, vegetables, fruit, milk, and proteins, including meat and beans.
Simple snacks have single ingredients. Krieger said sticking with single ingredient foods is key in choosing snacks for your children. “The more ingredients there are, the more additives, which means more salt, more sugar and more fat,” she said.
Instead of reaching for cheese crackers, grab an apple, or carrot sticks.
Follow the 200 calories rule. “Snacks should be between 100 and 200 calories so they don’t turn into a meal,” Krieger said. Having dinner available shortly after children come home from school is one way to keep snacking calories to a minimum.
Always read the label. There’s truth in the saying “You are what you eat” and reading nutritional facts will put healthy snacking in perspective.Krieger said the following dietary values should be considered before giving children snacks.
Serving size: Manufacturers determine serving sizes for their products. “What may be one serving in one bottle of juice may be two servings for another,” she said. Remember larger portions mean more calories.
Sugar: Products that list sugar as their first ingredient should be minimized. Fruit snacks are a prime example. “It’s really glorified candy,” she said.
Trans fat and saturated fats: These fats should be minimized in a diet, according to the American Heart Association. Both fats increase chances of developing heart disease.
Krieger said with trans fat, products with less than half a gram per serving can be labeled zero trans fat. When reading the nutritional ingredients, look for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil as an indicator of whether trans fat is included.