Snacks get a bad rap. They’re often prepackaged and loaded with salt and sugar. But where they lose points for nutrition, they win for convenience.
So how does one make snacking both easy and healthy? According to Bridget Shea, MS, RD, CD, a clinical dietitian at the University of Vermont Medical Center, snacking can be an important part of our daily nutrition – especially for kids’ growing minds and bodies that need frequent refueling.
Why Are Snacks Important?
Snacks helps us maintain stable blood sugar which prevents those “hangry” energy crashes and allows us to stay more focused and engaged at school and work. Just like meals, snacks should be made of healthy ingredients to help kids grow and develop. What many parents don’t realize is that by providing healthy snacks, they can help establish good eating habits by introducing new and nutritious ingredients in small doses. Here’s some tips Shea recommends for getting the healthy snacking started.
1. Show Off
Children learn how to eat primarily by watching others. Model healthy eating habits to encourage your child to try new ingredients and recipes. Teach your kids that healthy snacks will help them feel good and have energy to do the fun things they want to do.
2. Avoid the Prepackaged Pitfalls
“Most pre-packed snack foods are high in sugar because kids like sweet things, and will request those snack items,” says Shea. She suggests reviewing the nutrition label for “added sugars” – which means sugar has been added to the food during processing; it happens often in foods like yogurt, yogurt drinks, granola, fruit and protein bars, crackers and cookies, and spreads like Nutella, nut butters and jellies or jams. “Ideally, we want to choose foods with fewer added sugars and more fiber,” Shea says. She also suggests avoiding food products with more than six grams of added sugar per serving; those sorts of snacks should fall into the “treat” category. For fiber, Shea recommends kids eat at least 20 grams per day or around four to five grams per meal or snack (depending on how often they eat).
3. Find Your Balance
“It’s best to have a balanced snack that pairs healthy, complex carbohydrates for energy with a protein and/or healthy fats to helps kids stay full and fueled longer,” says Shea. “The less processed the carbohydrate the better because intact fibers from whole, unprocessed foods take longer to break down and are better for gut health.” Here are some ingredients she recommends adding to your shopping list:
• Oatmeal or other whole grains
• Beans or chickpeas
Proteins and Fats
• Nut and nut butters
• Seeds like hemp, flax, chia and sunflower
• Greek yogurt
• Cottage cheese
Ideas for Balanced Snacks
• Whole grain bread or crackers and fruit with nut butter
• Apple with cheese stick
• Greek yogurt with berries and nuts
• Roasted edamame with fruit
• Chopped tomatoes, cucumber or peppers in cottage cheese with whole grain crackers
- Hummus with whole grain crackers and veggies
4. Start Small
Keep snacking simple, says Shea. Pick one or two snacks or recipes to try per week, then change it up the next week. Kids don’t need something new every day, but involving them in the snack planning or prep process may increase the likelihood that they will try something new or eat something they rejected in the past. “Try giving your kids a few options to choose from so they can help plan their own snacks,” says Shea. To increase the likelihood of food acceptance, always pack at least one ‘safe’ food that you know your kid likes and will eat, especially if you are trying out new things. Happy snacking!
Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
1 medium frozen banana
½ cup unsweetened almond milk or other nut milk
⅓ cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
⅓ cup canned pumpkin puree
⅛ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 to 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
1. Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.
Yield: 2 servings
Chocolate Hummus Dip
1 (15 ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
⅓ cup tahini or nut butter (peanut, almond)
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup of water
2 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
1. Place chickpeas, tahini, oil, water, honey, vanilla, and salt in food processor. Process, scraping down the sides as needed, until smooth.
2. With the motor running, add melted chocolate and process until combined.
3. Serve with fresh fruit and enjoy!
Yield: 4 servings