According to a new Nielsen survey, most Americans have made healthy changes in their eating habits over the past five years, and they expect to do better in the future as well. As many as 70% of survey respondents plan to eat more fresh food, less fast food, and healthier snacks. Most parents want healthy snacks for their kids, too.
But how can we tell what’s really a healthy choice for snacks? Check out the nutrition information for some popular choices.
Fruit makes great snacks. A typical serving provides up to 4 grams of fiber and an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, from vitamin C to manganese. Dried fruits can be good sources of iron, and most fruits contain phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants. The CDC tells us that 60% of our kids don’t get the 1 to 2 cups of fruit they need each day.
By comparison, a bag of flavored chips will usually have 1 gram of fiber or less, lots of sodium, and no significant vitamins or minerals.
Kids usually enjoy fruit, especially if you serve a variety. Mixing it up also means that you don’t have to try to remember which fruits provide vitamin K and which serve up vitamin A — consume a good variety of fruits and you’ll get a good variety of nutrients.
Vegetables can’t be beat from a nutritional perspective. They are full of healthy fiber, vitamins and minerals, and lots of phytonutrients. Hardly any of us get enough vegetables — the CDC says 90% of children don’t. So offer a variety and dig in alongside your kids.
Fruit is sweeter than most veggies, so vegetables can be a harder sell for kids than fruit. Offer them with a dip — guacamole or hummus, for example, both contain healthy fat, vitamins and minerals, and fiber. Hummus also contains significant protein. Cut veggies into slices or matchsticks and serve them with salsa or other dips.
Kids are also receptive to playful ways of serving vegetables. Ants on a Log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins), baby carrots, or ruffly kale strips may be more fun.
Nuts provide as much fiber as fresh produce, healthy fats, protein, and vitamins and minerals, too. Some nuts naturally contain a few grams of sugar — 2 to 6 grams, typically. For example, almonds contain 6 grams of protein, 4 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of fiber in an ounce, along with hearty servings of vitamins and minerals.
Compare that with a typical granola bar, which brings 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of protein, and 9 grams of sugar. Those with raisins contain some iron, but most don’t offer much in the way of vitamins or minerals.
By and large, crackers and chips don’t make great snacks. If they contain whole grains, they might be a better choice. Look for 3 grams of fiber per serving to be sure. Remember, “made with whole grains” can be on the label of a food with very little whole grain content.
Popcorn is a whole grain that most kids love, and it naturally contains almost no sugar, 3 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fiber in a serving. Microwave or popped and flavored versions can pack a lot of fat, salt, and even sugar, so check the nutrition labels in the grocery store before you choose the more processed versions.
Whole grain crackers can contain 3 grams each of protein and fiber — or 1 gram each. Few have any vitamins or minerals to speak of, and some are made with sugar or corn syrup. Popular fish-shaped crackers have no fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 2.5 grams of fat. Check the label.
Cheese is often low in fiber (0 grams) and high in fat and salt. However, it’s also high in protein and calcium, so it can be a wholesome snack in small quantities.
Think about offering 1-inch cubes of hard cheeses with cut up fruit or vegetables or carefully-chosen crackers.
Cottage cheese or ricotta cheese also go well with fruit and vegetables. Cheeses in general usually have 7 to 10 grams of protein and provide 20 to 30 per cent of a day’s allowance of calcium.
In contrast, cheese puffs typically have less than one gram of fiber, one gram of protein, and 10 grams of fat. They may also contain added sugar. They contain no calcium.
Candy should be a special treat, and the nutritional profile of dark chocolate is much different from that of an apple. However, if you want to keep some sugary treats in the house, dark chocolate is not a bad choice. One ounce contains 2 grams each of protein and fiber, 14 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of fat, some of which is healthy fat. It contains flavonoids, too.
Consider adding dark chocolate chips to trail mix with nuts and dried fruit. Dip fruit slices in melted dark chocolate. Or offer a bite-sized piece for special occasions.
Stock up on healthy snacks
What will your family snack on? Probably whatever is readily available at your house. Plan to keep healthy snacks on hand, and you’ll all get into the habit.