Children need snacks. In their school lunches and when they come home in the afternoon famished, they need healthy, tasty treats. Preschoolers look for snacks at regular intervals and older children often seem to eat nothing but snacks, especially on weekends. Producing enjoyable and nutritious snacks on such a demanding schedule can be difficult for parents. Getting children to eat them can be even more challenging, especially when they have developed a taste for sweet, salty or deep-fried, packaged snack foods.
Healthy snacks don’t have to be bland or boring; they are a good way to introduce both adults and children to new tastes and foods that are both fun and nutritious.
The importance of snacks should not be underestimated. Healthy snacks are important for both adults and children to maintain blood sugar. Eating something nutritious every few hours keeps blood sugar from dropping and this not only helps with weight maintenance and loss, but also helps maintain mental and emotional stability. Children have small stomachs but high energy needs, so snacks are necessary for extra nutrition and energy between meals. The extra work involved in making fun and nutritious snacks available will result not only in healthier snackers, but less grumpy ones too.
Fruits and vegetables are old snack stand-bys. Fruits such as apples, oranges and pears are easy to grab for lunches. Carrot sticks, celery sticks and fresh broccoli florets are some of the best snacks and can be made more appealing by serving them with a variety of tasty dips and spreads.
Peanut butter and cheese are simple and tasty additions, but there are easy recipes for other dips or sauces. Walnut pat?an be made easily by blending walnuts, feta cheese, parsley, garlic and some water in a blender or food processor. The addition of a little olive oil or hemp oil and oregano makes a tasty and nutritious dip. Peanut butter can be spiced up by mixing it with an equal amount of hot water, then adding soy sauce, sugar, garlic, cider vinegar, cilantro and cayenne. Yogurt can be made thicker for dips by pressing it in about six layers of cheesecloth in a colander, then adding a little olive oil or hemp oil and fresh minced herbs such as marjoram, dill or chives. These dips are generally quick to make and keep for a week or so in the refrigerator.
The selection of fresh fruit is often poor in winter and frequently expensive because it has to be trucked in from somewhere less frigid than Canada. Winter carrots and celery can taste like eating cardboard, even with a tasty dip.
For winter variety, dried fruits, nuts and seeds can be good snacking food for children old enough not to choke on them. For example, dates stuffed with almonds are an old Middle Eastern delicacy. Graham or whole grain crackers can be topped with sliced hard-boiled egg, cottage cheese mixed with fruit, applesauce or peanut butter. Commercial or homemade granola is also a good snack as finger food or in a bowl with milk. Popcorn, home popped with only a little butter is good too, rather than the microwave sort that has a great deal of salt and hydrogenated oil. The type of fat (unrefined and unhydrogenated) is much more important in children’s snacks than the total amount.
Children eat smaller amounts of food compared to their energy needs than adults, so fat can be a good source of energy, as long as it’s from high quality fats like those in nuts and seeds rather than margarine or deep fried foods.
Sandwiches and their infinite variations are good for snacks as well as lunches. Try small pita breads cut in half and filled with hummus. To make hummus, add tahini (ground sesame seeds), lemon, garlic and parsley to chickpeas and mash into a paste. You can add yogurt mixed with fruit also to the pita bread or use any of the vegetable dips as filling.
For the occasional bagged snack, go for soy nuts or organic chips made with unhydrogenated oil such as can be found in most health food stores. These snacks have high quality oils and many beneficial plant biochemicals. They usually do not have the hydrogenated oil, preservatives and chemical flavour enhancers that regular nuts or chips do.
To encourage healthy snacking for the family, have a variety always available. Eat every two to three hours. It boosts the metabolism, helps maintain blood sugar and allows for efficient absorption of nutrients. Educate children and allow them to get nutritious snacks for themselves when they are hungry. It’s a good way to promote healthy long-term eating patterns. Timing and portion should be regulated so that they are not too full for meals.
Research your own sources. Experimenting with different foods, flavours and textures can be a fun way to find more variety in taste and nutrition in your diet.