I run a health and educational program for kids that is used in almost 40 percent of elementary schools in the U.S. One could expect a fairly healthy lifestyle at home, right? Wrong! My wife and I both work fulltime and we have two sons. It's as challenging for us as it is for most families.
During the week, I would much rather play with our two young boys when I get home, and read stories to them before bedtime, then spend time making homemade granola bars. (Making dinner, let alone a nutritious one, is hard enough!). On the weekends, it isn't much different. Although we have more time to make fun, new healthy snack recipes together, we prefer to hit the playground or try a science experiment with our oldest.
So, over the years I've developed a pretty simple answer to the better snacking dilemma: keep basic health in mind and focus on healthier alternatives for snacks between meals. With this in mind, here are six healthy snacking guidelines, and a healthy snack cheat sheet below.
- Sweets in Moderation — Most food is not inherently bad but simply needs to be eaten in moderation. Kids can have a piece of cake, just make it a small piece. In fact, research shows that restricting sweets completely can lead to much higher consumption when kids get the chance to eat them.
- Keep Healthy Food Kid-Handy — Keep fruits and other healthy snacks on the counter or anywhere within easy access for your kids. (If we had chocolate kisses on the counter, both boys would polish them off long before my wife or me even started our commutes home.) Instead, we have a fruit basket and water dispenser that they can reach (with or without the grandparents’ help during the day). To the surprise of many of friends, our boys regularly choose both.
Be a Snack Role Model — We know kids imitate everything. Use this to your advantage with food, eating healthy food yourself, and providing the same to them. From an early age, the boys would watch us eat grapes or oranges and clamor for the same. Both of them would get mad if we withheld these "treats" so we’d eventually relent, which meant that they both regularly eat fruit now. (Side note — I’m convinced that my wife, a chocoholic, keeps a huge stash in a drawer at work to compensate!)
- Use Non-Sweets Rewards — This applies to general rewards, like your kids finishing their homework or food-related ones, like having them eat their veggies. The reason to avoid using sweets as a reward is that it implies sweets are valued over other foods. Instead, try rewarding your kids with a trip to the playground or their favorite book before bed!
- Trust Your Kids to Know When They’re Full — Turns out the old "finish everything that’s on your plate" motto isn’t a good habit — for kids or adults. In fact, research shows that kids tend to eat until they’re full or satiated. So we shouldn't encourage (or force) them to eat past the point of fullness, otherwise they may not develop this skill properly for adulthood.
- Beware of Imposter Healthy Snacks — Most parents are better at preparing real healthy meals, but snacks often prove to be the challenge. Confusion often arises with snacks that we think are healthy, but actually aren’t. One example is juice, which can actually be loaded with sugar and may not even contain real fruit or vitamins.
The last concept can be really difficult for all of us parents, especially when we’re in a hurry! To help, here’s a handy snack cheat sheet:
Remember, you don't need a total overhaul of your family's snacking habits to be healthier. Making just a few changes makes a big difference. For instance, using a few of the substitutions on the cheat sheet, or following 1-2 of the guidelines is a great start. Before you know it, a healthier snacking lifestyle will feel habitual for your entire family.
Have any healthy snack substitutes or strategies you use? Share them with us on the Scholastic Parents Facebook Page.
Feature Photo Credit: Azurita/Thinkstock