OXFORD, Miss. – Combating the state’s obesity epidemic starts with teaching our children the principles of healthy eating, which is the focus of Laurel Lambert, associate professor of nutrition and hospitality management at the University of Mississippi.
While Lambert’s past experiences as a registered dietitian include medical nutrition therapy and institutional food services, her research focus is child nutrition.
“To get children excited about nutrition and meals is very rewarding,” Lambert said. “For example, a director of child nutrition in schools has an impact on students’ health from the time they enter the school until they leave.”
Along with school meals, schools also often prepare afternoon snacks. Healthy snacks can be prepared and consumed both in and out of school with a little nutrition know-how.
“Snacks are a great choice because children have little stomachs,” Lambert said. “We don’t want them to eat until they’re stuffed. In the past, I’ve worked with child nutrition development researchers, and they found that by age 5, children can lose the skill to identify when they’ve eaten too much, so snacks can teach basic feeding principles.
“You want to develop healthy snacks based on good nutrition principles. The goal is to learn the principles of nutrition and apply them to snacks. These are good starters, not a definitive list, but a list that can guide parents and children to make healthy choices.”
Healthy Homemade Snacks for Children
(Examples taken from the USDA’s Choose My Plate initiative)
- Trail Mix (dried fruit, unsalted nuts and popcorn): “Dried fruit is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. For unsalted nuts, I prefer almonds, but cashews and pistachios are also good sources of nutrients. Popcorn is important because it can be prepared as a low-fat food, which decreases the overall calories of the snack. Plus, popcorn provides bulk and makes it more filling.”
- Veggie Sticks with Hummus: “Made from chick peas, hummus has become popular as a spread for different vegetables. It goes well with celery or carrots. It can even be placed on whole-grain crackers and pita bread.”
- Fruit Kabobs: “Fruit kabobs are prepared using a variety of fruit – bananas, apples, watermelon, cantaloupe or grapes, to name a few. I suggest having your child help with preparation. Your child can begin to learn knife skills, decide on the types of fruit to use and the order the fruit appears on the stick, therefore becoming involved with the food he or she eats.”
- Apple Wedge with Turkey: “Child nutrition programs often make snacks interesting by combining foods. You’re not just giving a child an apple; you’re giving him or her an apple wedge with a good source of protein, such as turkey. Luckily, fresh turkey is low-sodium by nature. It’s also important to notice that this is an apple wedge. We’re serving children, and it may be difficult to bite and chew on a whole apple. They need something easy to handle for their snack.”
- Peanut Butter Fruit-wich (whole-grain bread, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, thinly sliced apple or banana): “If you have the chance to choose whole-grain over wheat, go for it. Whole-grain means the child is getting the complete grain, including the germ and the bran for extra fiber, vitamins and minerals. Only 2 tablespoons of peanut butter because portion control is important.”
- Ants on a Log (thinly spread peanut butter on celery sticks, topped with a row of raisins): “Ants on a log is always popular. Children enjoy it because of its name and the way it looks, and they have a fun time preparing it, too.”
“All of these snacks follow basic nutrition principles,” Lambert said. “They contain vitamins, minerals, high fiber, low sodium and low saturated fat.”
Parents should consider serving healthy beverages to their children, including water and 100-percent juice, she said. “Juice should never replace water because of the calories. However, a 1/2-cup of juice for breakfast or with a snack is a good choice.”
Finally, it is important to follow a snack schedule when feeding your child, Lambert said.
“After children come home from school, they are probably hungry,” she explained. “Having a snack prepared is a good choice. The easier you make it, the more likely the child is going to eat it.”