by Ingrid Ougland ***
Every morning I send my son off to school with a lunch box filled with nutritious and tasty foods. Between the time he gets on the bus in the morning and the time he gets home, I have no idea what happens to this carefully constructed meal. Does he trade it for whipped cream filled and preservative laden treats? Is it stuffed in his desk in favor of the endless classroom supply of goldfish crackers? Most likely the contents sit idle during the 20 minute lunch period in favor of a heated Minecraft debate, then tossed in the garbage on the way to recess.
One thing is certain, my son comes home “starving” and if I don’t have a healthy snack immediately ready for consumption, my kitchen will be hit by a 10-year-old tornado in search of potato chips. For this reason, I am very careful to choose an after school snack that can help make up for his lack of lunchtime nutrition.
Beth Olenchek, with Virginia Mason’s Nutrition and Fitness for Life and Community Benefit programs, told me that one of the most helpful things parents can do to create healthy eating patterns is to structure meals and snacks — this means teaching kids to eat healthy meals with a variety of nutritious foods, healthy snacks at snack time, and limiting high-fat, high-sugar treat foods.
“Without this structure, it’s easy for kids to make unhealthy choices,” says Beth. “When kids skip meals or don’t eat enough of what’s served, they overdo it at snack time and aren’t hungry for the next meal. This often leads to kids eating too little of the right foods and too much of the wrong ones.”
Beth also suggests getting your kids involved as you plan the week’s meals and snacks, go grocery shopping and cook meals. “Let them choose some healthy foods and get those foods on the grocery list. Talk about what will be served at snack time and stick to that plan,” she says.
Below is a list of snack you can try with your kid:
- Dried fruit, served with nuts or sunflower or pumpkin seeds
- Frozen desserts, such as nonfat or low-fat ice cream, frozen yogurt, fruit sorbet, popsicles and fruit juice bars
- Air-popped popcorn with parmesan cheese
- Pre-chopped veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, carrots or celery) with light ranch dressing or hummus
- Whole-grain breads and crackers (compare labels and look for products with the highest fiber content) served with 100 percent fruit spread, low-fat cheese or natural nut butter such as peanut, almond, cashew or sesame seed (known as tahini).
- Quick smoothie: Blend together low-fat milk, sliced or frozen bananas, peanut butter and one-half teaspoon vanilla extract.
One more thing to note: Children of preschool age can easily choke on foods that are hard to chew, small and round, or sticky, such as hard vegetables, whole grapes, hard chunks of cheese, raisins, nuts, seeds and popcorn. It’s important to carefully select snacks for children in this age group.
Ingrid Ougland is Virginia Mason’s community benefit manager.