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Snacks need not be "snack food"

A well-chosen snack can boost energy and brainpower and be helpful in managing weight and health.
Many prepackaged foods, marketed as snack foods, may not fill the bill, though, said Procter, who generally favors fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and crackers, dairy foods and even leftovers over a majority of pre-packaged snack foods that often are high in sugar and fat and short on nutritional benefits.

Healthy snacks are typically nutrient dense, meaning that they offer concentrated nutritional benefits in relation to the calorie count, she said.

And, while children need regularly planned snacks because their stomachs are small and they simply are not likely to eat enough at mealtime to carry them through to the next meal, a planned snack also can be helpful for adults, whose energy level may dip at mid-morning or afternoon, Procter said.

When planned to complement meals, rather than replace them, such a snack typically takes the edge off the appetite and reduces the temptation to overeat at the next meal, said Procter, who suggests choosing snack foods from two food groups that complement each other, such as whole grain crackers and milk or fruit and cheese, as a healthy snack.

Combining low-fat cheese with a whole grain tortilla and chopped peppers to make a quesadilla is another example, she said.

"Children typically fall short in comparison to the United States Department of Agriculture's dietary recommendations for calcium-rich dairy foods, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. Since the same also is generally true for adults, choosing these foods as snack foods can boost overall nutrition and health, said Procter, who offered tips for healthy snacks:

  • Make fruits and vegetables easy to eat. Wash and section (or cut up) fruits and vegetables and store them, covered, so flavors won't migrate in the refrigerator. Orange sections, apple slices, a banana, grapes or chunks of melons are examples of easy-to-eat fruits. Celery stalks, carrot sticks, broccoli or cauliflower florets and pepper strips are easy-to-eat vegetables.

  • One hundred percent fruit juice or vegetable juice also can serve as a healthy snack. Fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than juice, offer more fiber, however.

  • Low-fat dairy products, including a string cheese log, low-fat milk or yogurt are calcium-rich and nutrient-dense. Consider combining fruit and milk or juice to make a homemade smoothie, or freeze fruit juice or yogurt for a cooling summer snack.

  • Popcorn is a healthy whole grain food - it's the add-ons, such as butter and salt, that can give it a bad rap. For a healthy snack, hold the extras and, again, watch portion size.

  • Consider whole grain crackers or toast with peanut butter, which, for example, combine complex carbohydrates (which break down slowly to provide lasting energy) and some fat (from the peanut butter) for satiety value.

  • A bowl of whole grain cereal, dry to munch or with milk, also can make a quick, easy - and healthy - snack.

  • Consider leftovers as a snack. A slice of cold pizza may represent up to four food groups - grain, dairy, vegetable, and protein.

    Most children and adults can enjoy age-appropriate portions of the same snack foods, Procter said.

    Small children should, however, be supervised while eating a snack, Procter said.

    Older children, teens and adults also should be seated while eating, rather than walking around the house or doing something else that can increase the risk of choking, she said.

    "We also tend to mindlessly eat more when we aren't paying attention to what we eat," Procter added.

    She cautioned against serving popcorn to children under three and said bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables can cause choking, if not adequately chewed.

    "It's also important to be mindful of any allergies a child may have," Procter said. Food allergies may range from mild to severe, and some, such as a peanut allergy, can be deadly.

    More information about choosing a healthy snack is available at county and district K-State Research and Extension offices and on Extension Web sites: www.oznet.ksu.edu and www.oznet.ksu.edu/humannutrition.

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