Moms want what's best for their kids so they often try to cook healthy meals and avoid fast food as best they can. But what about those in-between times when the kids are begging for just a little snack to hold them over until dinner, or in the evening before bed? Some parents are hesitant about allowing snack foods because snacking has gotten a bad rap, but snacking can be healthy and nutritious. With so many health concerns over junk food, parents might be wondering, just what is a healthy snack?
What Is a Healthy Snack?
When it comes to snack foods, many of the pre-packaged things that are sold today are high in fat and sugar. Neither of those ingredients is healthy for adults or kids and it's best to avoid them. The easiest way to do that is to read the labels on everything. As a basic rule, if you can't pronounce the word, it's not natural and likely not healthy. Skip anything with high levels of sodium, sugars, and fats and focus instead on minimally processed, natural foods.
The human body needs fuel to run properly, just like a car does, and it's important to be picky about what goes in it. Healthy eating is about making choices that nurture the body so it can reach its peak performance. After all, moms have a busy life and kids to chase around, and they can't afford a mid-day sugar crash. And they sure don't want the kids to suffer from hunger pangs or miss out on important nutrition. Here are a few tips on what to look for when shopping for snacks, and really any food items at the grocery store.
- Avoid foods that have the most common types of added sugar. These include sucrose, which is basic table sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup. These ingredients add empty calories, and they have also been linked to obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
- Stay away from anything that has trans fats as an ingredient. Labels won't list it as such, so look for "partially hydrogenated oils." These are also linked to high cholesterol, obesity, inflammatory problems and heart disease.
- Humans need some sugars in their diet. Carbohydrates are one way to get them. Unrefined carbs like whole-grain cereals, beans, vegetables and fruits are the best. They're more satisfying than the refined carbs from sugar and refined flour. They're also a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Focus on fruits and vegetables. Not only are they rich in minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, they're also proven to improve health and lower the risk of diseases.
- Look for snacks that are high in protein or fiber, or both when possible. Not only will they make a belly feel full, but they'll also provide lots of long-lasting energy without the excess calories. Again, read the label on anything that claims to be high in protein or fiber and make sure it's not loaded with sugar and trans fats.
Keep Energy Levels Steady
The quick energy you get from sugary snacks doesn't last. Grabbing a candy bar and a soda delivers a jolt of energy in a few minutes, but just as quickly it will fade away and you'll end up with less energy than before you snacked. Kids are the same way. They'll get hyped up and then melt down as their energy reserves plunge. Avoiding these issues is a simple matter of snacking the right way.
The best way to fend off hunger and keep everyone's energy levels up is to snack multiple times a day. In fact, eating every three to four hours is optimal for adults and kids. A healthy snack between breakfast and lunch and another between lunch and dinner and one more a few hours after dinner is a good schedule to follow. Also, meals won't be affected if the snacks are high-quality and accurately portioned.
Common Snacking Misconceptions:
- Snacking will ruin a diet. A satisfying, protein and fiber filled snack a couple hours before a meal will keep help curb overeating. Since they're more satisfying, it won't be as tempting to over-indulge with this kind of snack either.
- Snacking ruins the appetite. Eating an entire bag of chips or loading up on fatty, sugary cookies will surely ruin an appetite. But a snack of somewhere between 150 and 200 calories won't ruin your kid's appetite at all. It's all about choosing the right snack, moderating how much is eaten, and timing the snack properly.
- Snack foods are unhealthy. This is actually true when looking at a lot of pre-packaged junk food. Reaching for snacks with natural, low sugar and wholesome ingredients can be a great alternative.
Healthy On-The-Go Snack Ideas
Busy moms are always on the move and don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen. In just a few minutes, however, it's easy to put together a nutrition-packed snack for the entire family that'll keep them fueled up throughout the day.
- Ants on a Log - Wash, cut, and clean fresh celery and spread natural, unsweetened peanut butter in the c-shaped groove. Sprinkle some raisin "ants" on top.
- Dried Trail Mix - Ingredients matter here just as much as with packaged snack foods. Look for products that are unsalted and without any added sugar.
- PB&J with Fruit - The classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the perfect energy boost. Substitute sugar-laden jam or jelly for fresh raspberries, banana, or strawberry slices.
- Apples & Cheese - Apples are a great energy boost and are full of natural sugars, fiber, and water. Combine with protein-rich, real cheese, for an extremely satisfying, nutritious snack.
- Yogurt and Granola - Creamy low-fat yogurt and a handful of low-sugar granola is an awesome snack any time of the day. It'll stop the hunger pangs and fuel a few more hours.
Get creative when it comes to snacking and experiment with unique combinations of fruits, vegetables, unrefined carbs and plenty of fresh water to drink. This is also true for brown bag lunches. Eliminating the harmful trans fats, excess sugars and salts from your family's diet will go a long way toward improving everyone's health and happiness. It's not hard to do, and the options are not only fresh, delicious and nutritious, but they also come in a huge variety so there's no chance of getting bored.