Who doesn’t love to snack? And snacking is good for kids – as long as the foods are healthful. Yummy recipes and fun websites created just for kids will help turn your child's interest from junk foods to nutrition-packed goodies.
by Christina DiMartino
Snacking helps increase variety in children’s diets, allowing them to get the recommended number of servings from important food groups daily. It also keeps them energized between meals and reduces overeating at meal time.
Processed, high-calorie, and low-nutritious foods like candy bars are easy to grab and hand to your child, but they aren’t wise choices. Childhood diabetes, obesity, mental health problems, and many other ailments related to nutrition are at the forefront of national concerns today, and junk foods share the blame.
Buying healthy snacks
Amy Paturel, M.S., M.P.H., has researched and analyzed health behaviors for top governmental agencies including the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health Services. She says some kids do well with a snack between breakfast and lunch, a second snack between lunch and dinner, and a third snack before bedtime.
“You want your child to be hungry at mealtime, and kids shouldn’t eat a snack when they’re not hungry,” says Paturel.
Paturel advises parents to be wary when buying snacks. Marketing is a powerful tool, and most prepared snacks display colorful packages and claim to promote good nutrition.
“Kids will eat anything if it has their favorite character on the box,” she adds. “As a parent, your job is to ignore the front of the box and look to the back. More often than not, snacks sporting such popular images are less than healthy.”
According to the American Association of Obesity, the percentage of clinically obese children and adolescents has more than doubled since 1980. Portion sizes, mystery ingredients, and cleverly targeted marketing of less than stellar food choices are all contributing to the problem. But, Paturel says, so are parents.
“What parents shop for, buy and have in the house all influences how healthy or not their kids will snack,” she says. To encourage healthful snacking for your child, parenting means making those good choices for yourself.
Fun websites promote good nutrition
Many food producers and organizations are making great strides at promoting fresh, healthy foods to children. Help your kids get involved in learning about fresh produce by logging in with him to the Disney Garden child-geared website. There are lots of games, contests and other fun projects they can enjoy. At the same time they will learn about fresh fruits and vegetables, and will likely be more attracted to them at snack time.
The National Dairy Council, the nutrition research, education and communications arm of Dairy Management Inc., provides science-based dairy nutrition information to government agencies, educators, and other stakeholders. Its Nutritions Explorations website has a lively interactive section for kids, which teaches children in fun ways about the importance of dairy foods in their diets.
The interactive website, MyPyramid Blast Off Game, is a fun game that children can play. They will learn about food choices and exercising as they strive to reach Planet Power by fueling their rockets with food and physical activity. “Fuel” tanks for each food group help children keep track of how their choices will help them travel further.
Making healthy snacks
Preparing your children’s snacks may take a couple of minutes, but doing so will help to enforce healthy eating habits early in life.
The American Dietetic Association is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. It offers food, nutrition and health tips. It also offers 25 healthy snack ideas for kids, including these:
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.