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Picking Snacks for Picky Eaters

Snacking isn't bad for kids. Nutrition experts agree that a wide assortment of healthy snacks, served in moderation, can be an essential part of a child's diet.

Children need calories from food for energy, and vitamins and minerals to foster healthy growth and development. Snacks can provide kids with up to 20 percent of their daily energy and nutrient needs.

It's all in the balance

Is your child a picky eater? As you may know, kids are notoriously finicky. One minute they may love certain foods and the next they may refuse them. Snacks offer picky eaters a variety of choices, and they can also help children meet their daily nutritional needs.

Restricting snack choices just because of the calorie, fat or sugar content of any one food is unnecessary. Toddlers and preschoolers have high energy needs and require a moderate amount of fat, a concentrated source of calories, to support growth and activity. Foods containing sugar can be an acceptable part of the wide range of food choices you offer your child. In fact, all foods in moderation can fit into a child's diet.

Encouraging snack attacks

A variety of nutritious foods, combined with regular physical activity, is key to healthy growth and development in all children. Because kids have smaller stomachs than adults, they need to eat more frequently. Toddlers may need as many as three to four snacks a day along with their regular meals to sustain their energy level. Encouraging children to eat small snacks, spaced between meals throughout the day, may help establish sound eating habits for a lifetime.

Snack selections

Nutrition experts agree that no food is "good" or "bad." Use the food groups in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans as a practical tool to help you plan meals and snacks for children: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts.

For example, a bowl of fortified unsweetened cereal and milk sweetened with sliced fruit such as bananas, peaches, or strawberries, is a great-tasting snack that provides key nutrients like iron, vitamin A, and calcium. One ounce of cereal is a serving from the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group, and one cup of milk is a serving from the milk group. Sliced fruit topped with yogurt is also a refreshing and nutritious treat.

For kids who enjoy munching, offer a cup of their favorite raw vegetables, such as baby carrots, cauliflowerettes, or sugar snap peas with a low-fat ranch dressing for dipping. You may wish to offer tasty exotic vegetables like jicama strips or sliced red bell peppers--both are crunchy and sweet, and a source of vitamin C.

Sandwich lovers will dig into a waffle sandwich. Just toast a breakfast waffle, cut it in half, spread a thin layer of jam and sliced fruit on one half, and top with the other half.

Acquiring a knack for snacks

When you're shopping for snacks, develop a habit of reading the Nutrition Facts information on most packaged foods to learn the calorie, fat, cholesterol, vitamin, mineral, and fiber content of foods. In addition to the Nutrition Facts panel, food manufacturers are required to list on the label in descending order the weight of all ingredients in a food product. The ingredient list can be tricky to understand, however. For example, in a sweetened, ready-to-eat cereal that contains several grains, such as corn, oats, rice, and wheat, the grains will be listed individually. Even though the total weight of all the grains will be more than the weight of sugar, sugar may be listed first on the ingredient list.

When you're serving snacks, make sure the kids sit at the table, just as they do for meals. This way you are promoting snacking as a healthy, acceptable part of their daily eating routine.