Choosing Healthy Snacks

Many children arrive home from school and head straight to the refrigerator for a snack. There is nothing wrong with moderate snacking, since youngsters have high levels of activity and may need more calories than three meals a day provide to meet their energy needs. For many children - particularly those who are quite physically active - snacks can help round out their nutritional requirements and provide as much as one fourth of their calories. In general, occasional snacks will not ruin their appetites for regular meals, as long as the snack is not eaten shortly before they sit down to lunch or dinner. Snacks are another opportunity for parents to provide healthy food choices to their children while reinforcing good eating habits - learning to get hungry, rather than eating to feel full all the time.

When snacking, children often reach for the closest food at hand. If your cupboard has cookies in it, that is probably what your child will eat. However, if there are healthier items in the refrigerator or on the kitchen table, your youngster will become accustomed to snacking on these foods. The healthiest and simplest choices are fruits and raw vegetables, which require little if any preparation. Encourage your child to make healthy snacks a habit by keeping fruit and cut vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, celery, peppers, broccoli) handy.

Children in the older range of the middle years also can learn some simple cooking techniques. As they prepare snacks for themselves, you can teach them to differentiate between healthy and less healthy choices. However, be sure they learn appropriate safety precautions for the use of a stove, oven, microwave or other cooking appliance.

Healthy Snacks for Any Mood
Your child's snacking moods may vary, but he can still consistently maintain healthy snacking habits. For instance, if his snacking mood is:

Thirsty! Cold skim or low-fat milk, mineral water with lime, chilled vegetable juice, fruit juice (apple, grape, grapefruit, orange, pineapple, raspberry).

Smooth! Yogurt, banana, papaya, mango, custard, cottage cheese, "fruit smoothie." ("Fruit smoothie" recipe: Blend one cup of skim milk, three ice cubes, your favorite fresh fruit, and a dash of vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a blender.)

Crunchy! Raw vegetables (asparagus, bell pepper, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, zucchini), apples, corn on the cob, unbuttered popcorn, puffed-rice cakes, wheat crackers.

Juicy! Fresh fruit (berries, cantaloupe, grapes, grapefruit, kiwi, nectarine, orange, peach, plum, watermelon, frozen juice pops, tomato, pear).

Fun! Fruit, frozen grapes, frozen bananas.

Really hungry! Hard-boiled eggs, granola, sandwich, cereal with milk, bran muffin, peanut butter (on crackers or bread), nuts, cheese.

How to Reduce Dietary Fat and Cholesterol
Family eating habits determine what your child will learn to eat and enjoy. Here are some ways you and your family can limit fat and cholesterol in your diets:

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics