How to get kids to eat healthy snacks

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Kids are gonna snack--but snacks don't have to be junk food. Author and dietician Elizabeth Somer has great ideas to help you get your kids to eat healthy snacks.

How to get kids to eat healthy snacks
  • 25% of your children’s calories come from the food they snack on -- that’s a quarter of their daily intake that could be really healthy.
  • Remember that until your children start driving, you are the gatekeeper for everything that comes into your home. Don’t bring in chips, cookies and soda.
  • Stock your kitchen with kid-friendly, healthy food to snack on. If all your children have to snack on is milk, fruit and fresh grains, then they will make better choices.
  • For snacks on the go, apple slices, baby carrots, yogurt and string cheese are good choices. Stay away from vending machines as much as possible.
  • If you have forgotten to pack healthy snacks and have to resort to a vending machine, try to pick something that resembles one of the four food groups.
  • Set an example for your children during your own snacks and meals. If you want your children to eat fruits and vegetables for snacks then you should eat them yourself.
  • Start serving healthy food on a regular basis. It may take 10 times before your kids will try their spinach or carrots!
  • You can work in healthier foods to your kids’ diet by adding them to their favorite foods.
  • Try to get at least two food groups into each snack. For example, a slice of apple (fruit) with peanut butter (protein) is a good choice.
  • Stay away from pear and apple juices as they are essentially concentrated sugar water. Orange juice or even chocolate milk with Vitamin D is a better choice.
Transcript

JENNIFER: Hi I'm Jennifer Morris for howdini. Now if your kids think 'snack food' means junk food, then maybe it's time for a new translation. And so we're here with Elizabeth Somer, a registered dietician and author of nine popular nutrition books. Hi Elizabeth, how are you?

ELIZABETH: Hi Jennifer, I'm good thanks. 

JENNIFER:  So how important is snacking to a kid's diet?

ELIZABETH: Oh, really important. When you think that twenty five percent of a kid's calories comes from what they snack on, that's an opportunity to get twenty five percent of their vitamins and minerals and all their healthy stuff too. 

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm. Now what do you do about vending machines at school. There's like chocolate chip cookies. How do we control that?

ELIZABETH: Oh you just stay away from them if you can. You know, with the childhood obesity thing becoming an epidemic we've really got to put a lid on some of the things our kids are snacking on, and it's so easy to do. Until your kids are driving, you are the gatekeeper. The parent is the gatekeeper for the food that comes into the house, and a lot of the food the child eats almost anywhere. So, the first place you start is at home. You just don't bring the chips into the house. 

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: You don't bring the cookies, you don't bring the soda pop. If all your child has to choose from is milk and fresh fruit and whole grains, they automatically will make better choices. 

JENNIFER:  So of the pre-packaged, sort of vending machine snacks which are the lesser of evils? Are there any of those?

ELIZABETH: Oh, I know you want me to say, 'Oh just go whole-hog, it's fine.' 

JENNIFER:  [Laughs] I do.

ELIZABETH: But, actually if you can steer clear of the vending machine altogether you're better off. But, let's say you've forgotten to bring the snacks with you; you don't have the baby carrots or the apple slices. Then look for something in the vending machine that resembles one of the four food groups. 

JENNIFER:  Okay.

ELIZABETH: Whether, again, it's apple slices or baby carrots. Maybe it's a little yogurt or some string cheese. 

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: Those are far better choices than the chips and the candy bars and the other stuff. 

JENNIFER:  What are some steps we can do to sort of veer away--our kids away from making bad choices with snacks and foods?

ELIZABETH: Well, there's two things. One is, what we mentioned before, is stock the kitchen with, with kid-friendly healthy stuff. If all your kid has to choose from is healthy stuff they'll make better choices right there. The second thing is you've got to model the behavior. 

JENNIFER:  Right.

ELIZABETH: If you want your kids to eat fruits and vegetables you've got to be loving them yourself and serving them every night. And then just don't take no for an answer, just keep serving things because sometimes it takes kids eight, nine, ten times before they'll actually try a carrot. 

JENNIFER:  Right they won't take that spinach, but eventually they will.

ELIZABETH: Right or they might, um, try it in different ways. So, for instance, carrots. They try baby carrots, they don't like that. Try grating carrots into tacos.

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: Try cooked carrots. Love the carrots and serve them over and over again. 

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: You'll find--oh and you can also add them to their favorite foods. So, for instance, my kids didn't know until they were about ten years old that Campbell's chicken noodle soup didn't come without peas.

JENNIFER:  [Laughs]

ELIZABETH: They never had it without peas. 

JENNIFER:  So you can add things to--

ELIZABETH: Add things to their favorite foods. You can sneak a lot of stuff into the diet. 

JENNIFER:  And what are some other goods snack choices out there?

ELIZABETH: Well look for, what you want to do is focus again on those four food groups and try to get at least two of them in a snack. So maybe, you know, it's a slice a bread like we mentioned with peanut butter, or a little bit of yogurt. Or maybe it's, uh, a boxed juice of some kind.

JENNIFER: Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: Make sure it's orange juice. Don't go for the apple juices. Don't go for the pear juices. They're just pretty much concentrated sugar water.

JENNIFER:  Okay.

ELIZABETH: But, uh, a little box of orange juice is fine, or a little box of milk is fine. It can even be chocolate milk. At least you're getting the calcium and the vitamin D into your child. 

JENNIFER:  These are actually great tips for us as well as the kids.

ELIZABETH: Well kids are little adults. 

JENNIFER:  They are.

ELIZABETH: Their nutrient needs are exactly the same as the adults, it's just that they have tinier tummies.

JENNIFER:  Mm-hmm.

ELIZABETH: So it's harder to pack in the food that they need to have.

JENNIFER:  Excellent. Thank you so much Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH: Thank you for having me. 

JENNIFER:  Elizabeth Somer. I'm Jennifer Morris for howdini.

meet theexpert
  • Elizabeth Somer

    Elizabeth Somer Registered Dietician and Author Elizabeth Somer is a Registered Dietician and author of several books, including Age-Proof Your Body and Food & Mood. She is Editor-in-Chief of Nutrition Alert, a newsletter summarizing the current research from more than 6,000 journals. more about this expert »

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