This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by Janis G. Hunter, HGIC Nutrition Specialist, and Katherine L. Cason, Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Clemson University. (New 12/09.)
“I’m hungry! What can I eat?” This is often the first words that a child says when they get home from school.
If your child or teen’s next mealtime is more than an hour away, offer them some healthy ready-to-eat foods when they have a snack attack. They need the energy and nutrients provided by snacks. Very young children have small stomachs, so they can’t eat much at one time nor go as long without food as adults can.
A “smart snack” eaten between meals should:
Think of a snack as a mini-meal that helps provide nutrients and food energy that children and teens need to grow, learn and be physically active. Snacks can be single foods (e.g. carrot sticks or an apple) or combination foods (e.g. a peanut butter sandwich or a slice of pizza). According to a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, after-school snacks provide about one-third of children’s calories.
It can be hard for children to get all the nutrients and calories they need in three meals a day, especially if they are physically active. In fact, most young children do best when they eat four to six times a day. Nutritious snacks can provide vitamins and minerals that children do not get from their main meals. Research shows that many kids do not get enough iron, vitamin A or vitamin C.
Offer your child snacks that fulfill part of the daily recommendation for the five basic food groups in MyPyramid, USDA’s food guide pyramid. Choose a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods from every food group for snacks that can be eaten at home or “on the go.” Here are a few examples.
Foods marked with an * may cause choking in children under three years of age.
MyPyramid recommends whole fruit instead of fruit juice for most fruit choices. Whole fruit provides fiber in addition to the vitamins and minerals found in fruit juice. Always serve 100% fruit juice rather than a less expensive, high-sugar fruit drink.
Milk is the most nutritious beverage for all children, because it provides calcium and vitamin D needed for growth of bones and teeth. Low-fat or fat-free (skim) milk has the same nutritional value as whole milk but less fat. It doesn’t matter if it’s white or chocolate milk, although chocolate-flavored milk is likely to have more sugar.
Children under two years of age need the extra fat found in whole milk to grow and develop. Do not give them low-fat or fat-free milk.
Because hard cheeses are high in saturated fat, serve them in small portions along with other foods like fruits, vegetables or whole-grain crackers.
Meat & Beans:
Nuts are a good source of many vitamins and minerals but are high in calories. Serve in small handfuls or along with another food, such as fruit.
Have fun with your young child by making these healthy snacks that use a variety of foods from the different food groups.
*Foods marked with an * may cause choking in children under three years of age.
Milk Shake-ups: Pour milk, juice and ice in a covered container. Shake!
Fruit Juice Pops: Freeze fruit juice in small paper cups or ice cube trays.
Ants on a Log: Fill celery sticks* with peanut butter* and top with raisins.*
Banana Split Salad: Slice bananas lengthwise. Top with a scoop of cottage cheese. Spoon fruit cocktail over the top.
Crunchy Banana: Peel a banana. Roll it in peanut butter* or yogurt and crushed cereal. Freeze!
Frozen Grapes: Freeze whole seedless grapes* for a refreshing treat that is fat-free.
Cinnamon Toast: Toast whole wheat bread. Spread a little butter on top and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Fancy Sandwiches: Cut bread into shapes with a cookie cutter. Spread with favorite toppings. Or, dip small triangles of pita bread into low-fat hummus.
Make-a-Face Sandwich: This snack is intended for children who are three years of age and older. Do not serve to younger children, because they may choke.
Use a saltine, a whole grain cracker, a large graham cracker, one bagel half or a slice of bread cut into a circle. Spread the bread with peanut butter*, refried beans or low-fat cream cheese.
Create a pyramid face with a variety of toppings. For example, make “hair” with a tablespoon of shredded carrots, shredded cheese or coconut. Create “eyes” with two large green peas, raisins*, dried apricots or cranberries.* Use half a grape for the nose, and make a mouth with nuts*, seeds*, three or four raisins*, or a slice of apple or bell pepper.
Try to make the face using at least one food from each food group in MyPyramid, and identify the food group in which each of the foods belongs.
Party Mix: Mix 1 cup dry cereal and ½ cup small pretzel sticks. Place on cookie sheet. Coat with 2 tablespoons melted butter; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 250° F for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Healthy Trail Mix: Combine 1 cup whole grain oat cereal, ¼ cup chopped walnuts or other nuts*, and ¼ cup dried cranberries or other dried fruit.*
Quick Pizza: Any bread can be used for the pizza crust. Top it with shredded low-fat mozzarella cheese and your favorite vegetables. Toast or bake it at a low setting until the cheese melts and the bread is crispy. Salsa and fat-free sour cream are optional toppings.
Roll-up Salad: Spread a leaf of lettuce or cabbage with peanut butter*. Place a celery* or carrot* stick in the middle. Roll up the leaf with the carrot or celery in the center.
Treasure Log: Lay a piece of cheese on a thin slice of meat. Roll into a log shape.
For more snack ideas, refer to:
Here are the primary nutrition issues with teen snacking.
Teens have high energy and nutrient needs, especially during their growth spurt. Encourage them to snack smart on nutritious foods, such as milk, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, regular-size burgers, fruit, raw vegetables, yogurt or cereal with milk.
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