Young children often need to snack frequently as they go through the day. They have small tummies and high energy needs. Big kids need lots of healthy food to keep up with their incredibly rapid growth through the teen years (you should see my 15 y/o athlete eat). It may at times seem hard to get all the nutrients that are needed into your child! Many parents feel that it is a challenge to get their child to eat all of the recommended servings of fruits, veggies and whole grains. You can use your child’s need to snack to help you meet his nutritional goals. In other words, make snacks count!
Ways to do this are to provide snacks that are healthy and fun. Make sure that snacks you offer are not junk or processed food but, good, simple, real food. Some examples include:
- Celery sticks with a side of cream cheese and raisins – young kids can create “ants on a log” and eat them!
- Apples and peanut butter-tofu dip (1/2 cup tofu, 1/2 cottage cheese, 3 TBS peanut butter, 1TBS honey, 1TSP vanilla – processed till smooth)
- Tortilla chips and salsa
- Dried fruit
- Pretzels and small chunks of cheese – they can form building units by sticking the pretzels into the cheese before popping them in his mouth
- Popcorn (preferably what you pop yourself in canola or other healthy oil or low-fat microwave popcorn).
- Cut up fresh seasonal fruit
- Carrots, snap peas, cucumbers and a little low-fat ranch dressing for dipping
- Applesauce or yogurt (look for lower sugar versions, try greek yogurt for extra protein)
- Smoothies made of yogurt, frozen bananas, a little orange juice and berries.
- banana bread, zucchini bread or pumpkin muffins
Children love to help you in the kitchen – they also think it is fun to eat what they cook! So, you can use this willingness as a tool to help them get some healthy snacks in. For example, bake some pumpkin mini-muffins or zucchini bread (use 1/2 whole wheat flour, use canola oil and add some flax meal to up the nutritional worth) together and enjoy some together with a glass of skim milk. Try adding pureed white beans to your favorite cookie recipe to add protein and fiber. Then if you have made a double batch, you can freeze some and stick them in his school lunches.
Using these baked treats as snack can help address the issue of forbidden foods. I discussed this in my post “Sugary Cereal, Cornchips and S’Mores or, Moderation in All Things” – if we occasionally allow our kids to eat foods we view as nutritionally unsound for regular intake then they crave them less. Research has shown that they in the end, eat less of these forbidden foods. So, if you occasionally greet them after school with a plate of chocolate chip cookies they will be better off for it. And who’s to know that the cookies are high fiber?
When you do let them watch TV use that as a good snacking opportunity. Hand your child a bowl filled with an assortment of fresh fruits and veggies. Try carrot pieces, strawberries, black olives, bell peppers and cucumbers. It is amazing how much they will devour without even noticing!
One last word, while young kids do often need a snack, some days they don’t. Children do not grow as much some days as they do on other days – therefore their appetite changes. Your job is to offer the healthy snacks and his job is to decide if he is hungry enough to eat it. If not – it is okay, he will want some another day. Which perfectly introduces my nutritional soundbite #2 …