These days American children are constantly on the run from school to work to sport practices to dance recitals. Since they may not be able to sit down to enjoy a proper breakfast or lunch, snacks are a predominant staple in many daily routines. Below are a list of smart snacking tips to help ensure their snacks are providing the right nutrients to fuel them in between meals.
Snacks should be convenient and nutritious
We often don’t think foods that are convenient can also be healthy. However with the right preparation, snacking can be easy and nutritious. Just like the main three meals, snacks should incorporate carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats and provide essential vitamins and minerals. Carbohydrate heavy snacks like crackers, pretzels and fruit are the most common and popular snacks among all ages due to their convenience, however they are only providing one source fuel. While carbohydrates breakdown into glucose, which is the essential and preferred source of energy for our brains, constant snacking on “carbohydrate-heavy” snacks can leave us still feeling hungry and can slowly wear-away at our teeth. Pairing crackers with low fat cheese, apples with peanut butter, or pretzels with hummus provides a more well-balanced source of nutrients. Proteins and healthy fats also can help balance out the acidic environment that carbohydrate snacks can create in our mouths and reduce the risk of cavities.
2. Be attuned to your hunger cues
Constant snacking can disrupt our ability to understand when we are hungry and when we are full. If we turn to snacks as a form of distraction for our kids while we try to run errands or as a way to combat boredom, they are not eating for the right reasons. When they consistently eat for reasons other than hunger, we are untraining their brains to understand when they are actually hungry. While snacks may be eaten on the run or away from a conventional eating environment, it is important to treat snack time with the same focus as meal time. If snacks are consumed at home, make sure they are consumed free of distraction from technology or school work. It is recommended that young kids have 2 snacks per day, whereas older kids 1 snack per day in addition to the three main meals. However, older kids who are more active or going through a growth spurt may need an additional snacks per day.
3. Timing is key
Just as important as it is to be attuned to our hunger cues at snack time, the timing of our snacks are an important factor in determining our hunger at meal times. If snacks are giving too close to mealtimes, kids may have no appetite for meals. The largest amount of nutrients are provided at meal time and are essential for growth and development. Spacing snacks 2-3 hours before mealtime will give time for kids to digest and regain an appetite for breakfast/lunch/dinner. Also constant snacking decreases the time our mouths are free of food. The higher the frequency and length of snacks the higher the risk of cavities. In addition to decreasing the number of snacks and the length of snack time, rinsing with water following snack time (especially carbohydrate-heavy, sweet and sticky snacks) can rid the teeth of potential cavity forming particles.
Smart Snacks Ideas:
½ cup of plain Greek yogurt + ½ cup of fresh/frozen fruit + ¼ cup of granola
¼ cup of packaged trail mix or a homemade mixture of dried fruit and nuts
Cheese, Cracker and Fruit Plate
1 oz of cheese, ½ cup of cut fruit and 15 whole wheat crackers
Fruit and Vegetable Smoothie
1 cup of fresh/frozen spinach, 1 cup of fresh/frozen fruit, ½ plain Greek yogurt + water to reach desired consistency and blend!