Q: Should children be given snacks?
A: Yes. They should be offered snacks. Children are a little like cars -- they can't run on empty. It's food that fuels their energy and growth. Children have small stomachs and need three meals a day and snacks to fill the gaps. But snacks shouldn't detract from the meals. Providing snacks so they complement meals, rather than compete with them, is the secret.
Snacks have a role to fill in a healthy diet. It's snack foods -- and not snacks themselves -- that have a bad rap. Parents are encouraged to provide snack foods that contribute to health and set a good example. They shouldn't offer high-calorie and high-fat foods as snacks.
Parents have more control than they may realize. They do the shopping and can choose the foods that will be offered at home.
Q: So, what makes a healthy snack?
A: Here are several ideas to try:
- Fresh or dried fruit.
- Graham crackers or whole grain crackers made without hydrogenated fats or oils.
- Peanut butter served on a slice of whole grain toast, in a celery stick or with apple slices.
- Fresh-cut vegetables (such as baby carrots, celery sticks, or cucumber rounds) and low-fat dip.
- Cereal and milk.
- Glass of milk.
- Slice of cheese or string cheese.
- Glass of 100 percent fruit juice.
- Leftovers, such as a slice of pizza or a waffle, which easily can be reheated in a microwave.
In choosing snack foods, parents should read food labels to learn more about nutritional content, and to abide by recommended serving sizes. Over-sized portions may contribute to obesity. Consider investing in reusable, serving-size containers or sandwich bags that hold healthy portions, such as a whole piece of fruit; half cup of canned fruit; half cup of vegetables and a tablespoon or two of dip; and celery with peanut butter. Setting aside a shelf or small cupboard and designating it as a snack station can be helpful. Setting out nonperishable snacks also works. Children will know where to look, and know that the snacks have "mom's approval."
Providing an after-school snack is recommended, but best when served at least one hour before dinner.
For students who stay after school for activities, packing a nonperishable snack in their backpack can give them a boost.
Here are a couple of quick snack recipes to try:
Chewy Oatmeal Bars
2 1/4 cups quick oats or long-cooking oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons margarine, softened
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-by-8-inch pan with cooking spray. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Stir until well blended. Press mixture into pan and bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool 10 minutes, then cut into bars. Let bars cool in pan before serving.
Helpful Hints: If your family does not like raisins, use any combination of dates, cranberries, miniature chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts or butterscotch chips. You can easily double this recipe using a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Doubling a recipe brings school right into the kitchen -- let kids do the math.
Nutritional analysis for one bar: 150 calories, 4.5 grams total fat, .5 grams saturated fat, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 85 milligrams sodium, 26 grams total carbohydrates, 2 grams dietary fiber, 15 grams sugar, 2 grams protein. Makes 16 servings.
1 cup plain or flavored yogurt
1/2 cup low fat milk
3 tablespoons nonfat dry milk
6 to 8 ice cubes
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Choose 2 from list below:
1/2 peach or banana
1/3 cup canned peaches or pears
1/4 cup pineapple chunks
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon frozen juice concentrate
Put all ingredients in blender and blend on high until smooth. Store leftovers in refrigerator.
Safety tip: Young children need supervision when using a blender. The blades are very sharp and could easily cut fingers. Help with assembly and cleanup. Make it a rule with children that the lid is always on the blender while it is running. Turn it off when adding ingredients.
Nutrition facts for one-cup serving: 170 calories, 1.5 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 5 milligrams cholesterol, 95 milligrams sodium, 35 milligrams total carbohydrates, 1 gram dietary fiber, 32 grams sugar, 7 grams protein. Makes 3 servings.