I hate being the food police in my house. Now that my toddler has an opinion about food, the snacking battle had begun. I offer apple slices, he wants potato chips. I suggest water, he wants juice. I make a yummy mix of almonds, raisins and cranberries and he wants to eat Chex mix. It is exhausting!
According to registered dietitian Jennifer Haas, M.S., R.D. of Nova Medical &Urgent Care Center, Inc. — the largest primary care practice in Loudoun County, Virginia — snacking is essential to keep your child's metabolism going throughout the day. This will make sure your child's body is continually burning calories, which is an important component of weight management.
"If your child gets hungry, let him or her eat! Teach them to listen to their bodies. In doing so, you should also be teaching them portion control. As a parent, you are one of the biggest influences on your child's eating behaviors," says Ms. Haas, who notes that what kids learn in childhood and what they see their parents do will ultimately carry over into their adult lives. "By teaching them healthy snacking now, you can give them the tools to make smart decisions when it comes to their nutrition later in life."
Ms. Hass offers these suggestions for healthy snacks:
- Instead of kiddie crackers try giving them cheese cubes and whole wheat crackers.
- Instead of chips give them microwave popcorn (without the butter) or tortilla chips with salsa or bean dip.
- Instead of fruit snacks try a frozen fruit bar.
- Instead of sugary fruit drinks give them a nutritious fruit smoothie.
- Instead of sugary cereals try whole wheat cinnamon toast or a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter.
- Instead of snack bars give the kids a small bowl of trail mix (watch the portion).
- Instead of ice cream try low-fat vanilla yogurt with honey, fruit and/or granola.
Other great, healthy kids' snacks include:
- Apple slices with cinnamon or peanut butter
- Fresh veggies, like carrots or cherry tomatoes, with low-fat ranch dressing
- String cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Mini pizzas
- Mini sandwiches, like ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly
Ms. Haas also notes to always ask the child what she wants. If it's an item that's not completely healthy, teach your child portion control and pair the unhealthy item with a healthy one. For example, if your child wants ice cream, give her a smaller portion and pair it with fresh fruit. In addition, including the child in food preparation will make her interested in what she is eating — ultimately teaching her to choose healthier foods. Also be sure to pack snacks if you are going to be out all day. This way, you or your child won't be tempted to stop and get something high-calorie and high in fat.