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It's the goal of every parent to make sure their child is getting all the nutrition they need everyday. But with all the options piled up on the supermarket shelves, it can be difficult to figure out which foods are truly healthy. Some of the hardest foods to monitor are snack foods, where major corporations focus their most intense marketing efforts. It's no coincidence that Hostess, Rice Crispy Treats and Doritoes are household names.
But, snack foods can and should be a healthy part of your child's diet, says Dina Khader, a dietician and nutritionist. “Snacks are critical for children as they need to eat often while they are still growing,” asserts Khader. “It is impossible for kids to get adequate nutrition if healthy snacks are not available.”
But what constitutes a healthy snack? Well, often it is more important to be on the lookout for ingredients and additives you don’t want in your food than searching for any one specific type of meal or snack. According to Khader, two of the biggest snack time no-nos are high fructose corn syrup and trans fat (high fructose corn syrup is listed in the ingredients; trans fat is listed in the nutrition facts). “High fructose corn syrup is a high glycemic sugar that increases blood sugar and can make children irritable, moody, etc., and trans fats are one of the most unhealthy fats as they can significantly increase the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol,” states Khader. This is an especially urgent concern as, according to Khader, children as young as five are developing high cholesterol levels.
The easiest way to avoid the potential pitfalls of snack selection is to focus on whole foods, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains (this does not include packaged foods that claim to be made with whole grains – Lucky Charms are not truly whole grains, regardless what the package advertises). “Whole foods are critical for kids as there is more fiber, B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc and selenium which play a significant role in blood sugar stability, immunity, and growth,” says Khader.
But in the real world of parenting, sometimes fresh fruits and veggies aren’t a realistic snack option. And while it isn’t always possible to make perfect choices, it;s certainly always possible to make better choices. Below is a guide for quick and easy snack time choices that will keep both you and your little ones smiling.
- Baked pita chips
- Veggie chips or sticks (make sure they are fried in canola oil)
- Whole-wheat pretzel sticks
- Baked corn tortilla chips
- Air-popped popcorn (no salt or butter)
- Baked goods sweetened with fruit juice and/or honey
- Fruit juice sweetened popsicles or sorbet
- Organic plain yogurt sweetened with fresh fruit and honey
- Protein bars (low dairy and low soy; no hydrogenated oils)
Remember, a good rule of thumb is: the less ingredients and additives a food has, the better it probably is for you. If you can’t easily obtain all the ingredients labeled on any given package (where do you find guar gum or hydrogenated soybean oil?), it’s probably better left on the shelf – no matter how “satisfying” it might seem.
So, next time you're in the supermarket, think outside the box (literally!) and try some healthier, if less marketed, options.