Snacking done right: Healthy options for children

Family Features | 4/27/2015, 4:54 p.m.
What makes a healthy and satisfying snack for children? A well-balanced snack with good nutrition can help children grow and ...

Family Features

What makes a healthy and satisfying snack for children? A well-balanced snack with good nutrition can help children grow and provide them with the proper support and energy needed for school, sports and other daily activities. Parents have the best intentions when looking for nutritious options for their children, but challenges related to lack of access or knowledge of nutritious foods have contributed to an alarming trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have more than doubled in the past 30 years, with over one-third of children currently overweight or obese.

Children and snacking

A number of factors contribute to obesity rates, with snacking as a major culprit. While parents need to consider what they provide their children for three main meals a day, what they eat in between is equally important.

Research by DuPont Nutrition & Health shows that children eat two to three snacks each day. Other studies confirm that American children are consuming more than 700 calories in afternoon and evening snacks alone. Aside from the fact that these calories make up a substantial part of the total daily recommended caloric intake for children, most of the snacks commonly consumed by children are high in saturated fats or simple sugars in the form of salty snacks, candy and beverages – such as fruit drinks – according to a University of North Carolina study.

Parents face many practical challenges in providing healthful snack options to children who are on the go and may not have access to refrigeration or re-heating capabilities. This often leads to snacks, which lack the essential vitamins, minerals and protein a growing body needs. While snacking is essential to give children the energy they need for the day, it’s important to provide snacks that contribute to daily intake goals of nutrients to support healthy growth and development.

“For many parents, the primary reason for giving snacks to children is to stave off hunger until their next meal,” said Megan DeStefano, Global Strategic Marketing at DuPont Nutrition and Health.

“When choosing a snack, parents should avoid those high in carbohydrates, such as simple sugars, since they tend to leave children feeling unsatisfied quickly and often craving additional unhealthy snacks.”

Understanding better snacks

It’s important for parents to know what to look for in a snack. For example, protein helps children feel full longer, which may support weight management. In fact, numerous studies have confirmed that protein is more satisfying than either carbohydrates or fat. And lean proteins, such as soy, can meet needs to support growth and development without contributing to fat or cholesterol intake.

It’s challenging for parents to determine what snacks are best. DeStefano shares some tips on healthful ingredients parents should look for in snack foods.

Protein packs a powerful punch

Vegetable proteins are a great way to consume protein without increasing the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol in your child’s diet. If you are considering vegetable proteins, try soy protein. Soy protein snack options can be found in a variety of tasty products such as ready-to-drink beverages, bars, cereals and dairy alternatives. Soy protein is also the only widely available vegetable protein that provides all the essential amino acids in the proper amounts that are needed to support growth and development of children.