Healthy Snacks for Growing Children
Many young children are unable to eat at a single sitting to keep them going until the next meal. Some young children may get a large part of their daily foods from snacks. It is especially true of young children and those experiencing a growth spurt.
In fact, snacks may become an important part of your child's nutrition and enhance their nutritional intake. Snacks may keep the young child's brain fuelled, blood levels of glucose stable (which may affect performance and behavior when meals are skipped) as well as better nutritional intake (when given appropriately).
Kids enjoy snacks for various reasons such as the following:
• The taste of snacks is enjoyable.
• Snacks come in different shapes and sizes which children enjoy.
• Children enjoy the fact that they can eat snacks while they are doing something else.
• Snacks help your child learn how to pick up food with their fingers and put it in their mouth.
HOW TO USE SNACKS
- Snacks are good if they are eaten in moderation and not to the point where they affect the three main meals of the day and/or the child's eating behavior at mealtime (your job is to provide guidance).
- Snacks should be evenly spaced between meals to ensure that the child has sufficient appetite for the next meal.
- For a toddler and preschooler, 3 small meals and 3 snacks a day are appropriate. Older children will need 3 meals plus one to three additional snacks. As children approach the middle school and teenage years, they begin to prepare their own snacks. Ensure that healthy choices are available.
- Use snacks as an opportunity to fill nutritional gaps.
- Do not eliminate all goodies as it may encourage children to overindulge when opportunity arises. Your child needs to learn how to make healthy, nutritional choices.
- Choose nutritious snacks that are not typically eaten during meals.
- Do not offer the same food snacks all the time.
- Offer a wide variety of grains, fruits, vegetables, etc., so that your child may receive all the necessary nutrients he requires.
- Ensure that snacks are not too high in sugar; fruits and vegetables are the most obvious nutritious snack foods and comprise most of the finger foods (see the chapter of finger foods for babies and toddlers in my books).
- Snacks enriched with protein, minerals, and vitamins are a great way of increasing nutritional value in your child's diet.
- Kids snack on whatever is handy so having wholesome snacks available, whether store bought or homemade, is part of a parent's job. Junky snacks push the nutritious foods out of children's diets and contribute to tooth decay and obesity.
- Choose baked snacks rather than fried.
- Home baking is a good way to eliminate transfat and other commercial additives found in commercially prepared food. Also you are more likely to control the portion size (smaller than store bought snacks).
TYPES OF SNACKS AND SNACKS OPTIONS
- To contribute to your child's oral health, offer pieces of cheese (e.g. Swiss, cheddar) rather than sweets or snacks high in carbohydrates in-between meals since bacteria thrives in an environment rich in carbohydrates (sugars). Use aged, natural cheeses (contains protein, calcium, phosphorus and fatty acids), which affect the growth of streptococci bacteria and decrease the risk of dental caries.
- Do not give your child snacks with high sodium or salt content (salty cheese, hot dogs, sausage, tuna with oil etc).
- Serve raw vegetables (when age appropriate to prevent choking), such as broccoli, cauliflowers carrots, celery sticks, green pepper slices, red pepper sticks, tomato wedges, and zucchini.
- Serve veggies with dip. Keep prepared vegetables sticks in cold water, ready to go.
- Stuff celery sticks with cream cheese or peanut butter. Raisins may be added on top of the spread (remove the strands from the celery).
- Offer various fruits (have a bowl of prewashed fruits on the counter) such as berries, grapefruit slices, oranges slices, grapes(cut in half ), pineapples pieces, sliced kiwi, mango slices, peach slices, apple sauce, etc,. Raisins and other dried fruits have fallen from the list of favorable snacks, because they consist of sugars (albeit natural) that stick between children teeth and promote tooth decay. Consider moving dried fruits from snack time to the main mealtime.
- Spread mashed banana (or other spreads) on mini rice cakes or small pita bread.
- Make milkshake or smoothies by blending various fruits into blender until they reach the desired consistency.
- Grain product snacks include muffins, whole wheat bread, whole grains crackers, whole wheat bread wraps, bagels, whole grain cereals packed in reusable container.
- For meat and alternatives, you can use hardboiled egg, hummus, nuts and seed etc.
- For dairy, you can offer yogurt, cheese slices served with veggies or whole grain crackers. Use low fat cheese.
About the Author: Dr. Maurice Levy, an eminent pediatrician, has 30 years of day-to-day medical experience in hospitals and in his active pediatric primary care and consultation clinic. Former Chief of Pediatrics and currently Head of Pediatric Research at North York General Hospital, Dr. Levy has trained and worked in various hospitals across the globe. Along with his medical degree and specialty in General Pediatrics, Dr. Levy has received various specialized diplomas and received numerous awards and publications. For more information, visit: www.babyandtoddlerhealth.com.