Filed under: Snacks
Almost 1 in 3 children starts school either overweight or obese—but giving healthy snacks to your preschoolers can get them off to a good start. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends healthy snacks as part of early childhood nutrition, especially since younger kids have small stomachs and might not be able to get all their nutrients at mealtime.
Over half of children ages 2–6 eat 3–5 snacks daily. Sweet and salty snacks (including sugary drinks) make up nearly 30% of their daily calories. These energy-dense foods also are linked to excess weight gain.
But there are ways to get the proper nutrients into their little bodies without going over their daily calorie needs. 2–3 healthful snacks can be just the ticket. Here are some helpful hints for “smart snacking.”
- Think food groups. Many traditional snacks are carb-based with little nutrition and empty calories. Include 2 food groups per snack, such as whole-grain cereal with dried fruit, peanut butter on apple slices, plain yogurt with chopped fruit, or nut butter on whole-wheat bread or cracker.
- Fill in the gaps. Young children can be picky eaters, especially at mealtime. Eating a snack in-between—such as fruit, vegetable, or protein (for example, chicken, egg, or nut butter)—can make up for what they’ve missed.
- Timing is important. Limit snack time to 10–15 minutes to prevent overeating. And avoid eating too close to mealtime.
- Portion size matters. Kids are small so their portions should be too. Limit portion sizes to half of adult ones, except they’ll still need about 2–2½ cups of dairy daily.
- Think easy access. Store healthy-snack portions in baggies or containers at home. Take them on the go too!
Visit HPRC’s Family Nutrition page for helpful resources on nutrition, healthy recipes, and more.
It’s time to get off the SoFAS! No, we don’t mean your couch (but that’s a good idea too). We’re talking about solid fats and added sugars (SoFAS).
Solid fats are solid at room temperature and are found in foods such as butter, cheese, meats, and foods made with these products, such as cookies, pizza, burgers, and fried foods. Solid fats include both saturated and trans fats, which raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, increasing your risk for heart disease.
Added sugars can contribute to weight gain and tooth decay. Although some foods such as fruit and milk contain naturally occurring sugars, added sugars are usually found in processed foods such as sodas, sports or energy drinks, candy, and most dessert items. It can be hard to identify added sugars on food labels, but you can learn how to recognize hidden sources of sugar.
Foods containing SoFAS are often high in calories but don’t provide important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, or fiber. Start cutting back on SoFAS by following a few simple tips:
- Prepare more meals at home and cook with olive oil instead of butter. Olive oil provides healthy fats that can improve your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk for heart disease.
- Switch from soda to sparkling water. Sparkling water is free of added sugars, but comes in a variety of flavors, so you’re bound to find one that you like!
- Trade in chips, dip, and cookies for fruits, veggies, nuts, and hummus or guacamole. Nutrient-packed snacks are generally lower in calories but will keep you going throughout the day.
Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t eat any foods with SoFAS. Just be aware of what foods contain them, eat them less often, and watch your portion sizes for better health and performance.
You missed a meal and plan to exercise soon or your next meal is hours away, but your stomach is rumbling – what can you do? One way to fill your nutritional gaps is with nutrient-packed snacks.
Nutrient-packed snacks should consist of both “plants” and protein. Plants—such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains—contribute carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Protein—including low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts, and seeds—contribute to muscle building and repair. Here are some simple snack ideas to have on hand during your workday, at the gym, and during missions to keep you at the top of your game, both mentally and physically:
- Apple or pear with 2 tbsp of natural peanut butter or almond butter
- Homemade trail mix –2 tbsp of dried fruit (any kind) mixed with a handful of nuts or seeds (any kind)
- Whole-grain crackers with 1 oz of cheese
- Whole-grain English muffin with 2 slices of turkey
- Slice peaches or plums, add to 1 cup of cottage cheese or plain Greek yogurt, sprinkled with cinnamon
- Cut-up veggies like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas; dip in hummus or bean dip
Low glucose (blood sugar) from lack of food can affect memory, learning, and attention. In addition, inadequate fuel can slow down your physical performance and your ability to recover from injuries, strenuous exercise, or difficult missions. Snacking can be a great way to fuel your body between meals and provide extra nutrition if you’re highly active.
But don’t forget to look at your portion sizes! Remember, this is a snack, not a meal. Snacking when you’re not truly hungry or large portion sizes can result in weight gain. Learn more about stocking your snack drawer.
Granola bars are great for a quick, convenient snack, but some are more like candy bars in disguise. They can be high in sugar, fat, and calories. There are plenty of healthy variations of granola bars, though. You just have to know what to look for. Next time you’re in a store or in the commissary, compare Nutrition Facts labels and follow these tips:
- Look for a granola bar that has at least 4 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and less than 200 calories. This will help you stay full longer while keeping your nutrition in check.
- Find a granola bar with less than 10 grams of sugar. Most of it is added sugar. And watch out for hidden sources of sugar such as brown rice syrup and honey.
- When it comes to ingredients, look for ones you recognize or can pronounce. Remember, a granola bar with fewer ingredients is often better.
For information on how to read Nutrition Facts labels, check out this guide from the Food and Drug Administration.