STILLWATER – Although some people may think snacking between meals is counterproductive to a healthy diet, research has shown snacks can play an important role in meeting kids’ nutrient needs.
Snacking isn’t a replacement for meals, said Janice Hermann, Oklahoma State University Extension nutrition specialist – it’s a bridge between meals.
Children can burn a lot of energy, and they need healthy options to fill the gap. With March being National Nutrition Month, now is a good time to refine that plan.
“When planning snacks, choose a variety of foods from all the food groups,” she said. “Obviously, children shouldn’t snack all day long, but two or three healthy, nutrient-dense snacks an hour or two before meals will help your child stay energized all day. Keep portion size in mind for snacks. Kids just need a little extra boost.”
To help youngsters set behavior patterns that will serve them well into adulthood, let them participate in planning, shopping and prepare their snacks. Give them age-appropriate tasks in the kitchen.
Young children can measure individual servings of grapes, baby carrots or nuts into snack-size zipper bags; older children can help make mini-muffins or cut up raw broccoli.
Hermann has some easy snack ideas that are sure to appeal to children of all ages:
• Make a mini pizza by toasting a whole wheat English muffin, then drizzle with pizza sauce and top with low-fat mozzarella cheese.
• Top a small, baked potato with salsa and low-fat cheese.
• Make mini-muffins using whole grain flours and pureed fruit.
• Dip slices of fruit in low-fat vanilla pudding or yogurt.
• Mix equal parts of fat-free plain or flavored yogurt with 100% fruit juice. Pour into small paper cups and freeze.
• Sprinkle shredded cheese over a corn or a whole-wheat tortilla. Fold in half and microwave for 20 seconds. Top with salsa.
• Make a parfait using low-fat vanilla yogurt and dried cereal.
• Spread celery sticks with smooth, nut butter or low-fat cream cheese.
Not only are the snacks themselves important, but where the snacks are eaten should be considered. Health experts advise that eating in an area without distractions allows children to focus on the food itself – eating should be intentional. It’s easy to overeat when distracted, so avoid snacks and meals while watching TV or using other electronic devices.
“Sometimes snacking gets a bad rap because it often is associated with foods that are high in fat and added sugars. In reality, snacks can be very healthy and are an important part of a balanced diet,” Hermann said.
National Nutrition MonthÒ was initiated in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a week-long observance. It became a month-long observance in 1980 in response to the growing interest in nutrition.