It's summer time and when children are around, there's always the question "What is there to eat?" Snacks are an important part of a healthy diet for kids --and adults. But high-fat and sugary snack foods are giving those between meal bites a bad rap.
A snack can fill the gap between meals, take the edge off hunger, but still leave room for healthy foods at mealtime. A snack also can help curb the tendency to overeat at mealtime. Timing, the selection of the snack itself and size of the portion are important to consider.
Time snacks with some regularity. If children -- and just about everyone else, for that matter -- know that regular meals will be supplemented by a snack, they will be less likely to overeat at meals. Hold off on snacks an hour before meals, as snacking too close to a meal can spoil the appetite -- just like mother always warned.
Providing a variety of healthful foods is a parental responsibility. Choose snack foods that supplement meals. Try to eat foods from at least two groups at a time. Peanut butter on wheat toast with apple slices, fresh veggie strips with a low-fat dip or fat free dressing, or yogurt and fruit are combinations which go together well. The variety adds to the satisfaction one gets from snacking.
Young children may choke on seemingly healthy snacks such as popcorn or a carrot strip. Risks increase if children are jostling each other, playing, or walking around the house while eating. While sitting at a table is recommended when snacks are served, snacks such as whole grapes, hot dogs and nuts are not recommended for children under three years of age.
Supervising children as snacks are served is a good idea. For the convenience of all family members, consider stocking a specific kitchen shelf and some refrigerator space to serve as snack stations. Store appropriate snack foods in the specific area. Foods not in the snack areas are off limits.
What are some healthy snacks?
* Low-fat string cheese is high in calcium, prepackaged and easily portable. Add fruit or whole grain crackers to complement the cheese.
* Milk or low-fat chocolate milk provides calcium. While unflavored milk is still preferable, low-fat chocolate milk offer calcium and other minerals, and is typically lower in sugar than sports or fruit drinks. Reduced fat milk (such as two percent, one percent or skim) is not recommended for children under the age of two. Young children still need the fat to fuel growth and aid the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
* Unsweetened applesauce is naturally sweet and readily available in cans, jars and single-serving packs. To please children, try serving it with a breadstick.
* Washed and ready-to-eat veggies can expand a child's viewpoint on vegetables, particularly when the easy-to-eat morsels are served with a low-calorie and low-fat dip, yogurt, or fat-free salad dressing. Try green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini or yellow summer squash, carrots and celery.
* Non-fat yogurt with fruit or dry cereal stirred in makes a flavorful and crunch snack.
With a little planning, snack time can be a part of a healthy diet for children and adults.