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Healthy ideas for school-year snacking

Emily Schmidt

Emily Schmidt

Dietician’s Digest by Emily Schmidt

When it comes to children and snacking during the school year, achieving a balance between health and convenience can be difficult.

Between work, school, extracurricular activities and other obligations that keep us busy, snack preparation does not tend to be at the top of our priority list. For after-school or on-the-go snacks, it’s easy to attempt to save time with processed convenience foods loaded with sodium, sugar and calories. These foods are easy to keep on hand, and usually require no preparation.

Unfortunately, many of these snacks are better reserved for occasional treats rather than everyday habits. There is nothing wrong with snacking — in fact, snacking is an important part of a healthy life if you are truly experiencing hunger in between meals. By eating when you genuinely begin to feel hungry, overeating at mealtimes can be prevented.

This is because you are not arriving at the meal feeling starved and are able to better control portions. With snacks, the trick is finding the balance between good nutrition and efficiency. By remembering a few nutrition basics and planning ahead, your family can feel their best through tasty and nutritious snacks without sacrificing lots of time.

Which nutrition basics should be kept in mind when planning snacks? Most people do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, a crucial aspect for both weight control and disease prevention, so consider how you can incorporate them as frequently as possible.

Next, think nutrient-dense protein sources (lean meat, seeds and nuts or nut butter, hummus, eggs), dairy and whole grains. If your child needs something to drink with their snack, encourage water or low-fat milk. Keep sugary beverages to a minimum, including juice. Fruit juice — even 100 percent juice — is considered a sugary beverage and contains about as much sugar as soda. Children age 6 and under should have no more than 6 ounces of juice per day, and those 7 and older should have no more than 12 ounces daily.

Encourage only one or two healthy snacks at a time and keep a set snack time to avoid constant grazing and excessive portion sizes. The overall balance of the snack is important, too. Including a protein source will keep your children fuller longer, so try pairing fruits, veggies and whole grains with a lean protein or dairy product (whole grain crackers and cheese, banana and peanut butter, or cauliflower and hummus).

What about simplicity and ease when it comes to snacking? At the beginning of the week, prepare individual baggies or containers of vegetables and fruits — let the kids choose their favorites — dried fruit, nuts and seeds, and popcorn to replace candy, cookies, pastries, chips and other snacks that are more appropriate for an occasional treat. String cheese, yogurt and individual fruit cups packed in 100 percent juice are other convenient snacks. Keep “snack bins” in both the fridge and pantry for easy access.

For example, a plastic bin containing individual portions of popcorn, nuts, whole grain cereal or crackers, granola bars and other dry foods can be kept in the pantry, and one with string cheese, individual portions of fruit and veggies, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and so on can be kept in the fridge. By doing this, snacks are also available to grab quickly when out and about for sports or other activities. To keep things interesting, allow children to dip veggies in hummus or salad dressing, and fruit in peanut butter or yogurt.

School-year snacking does not need to be synonymous with unhealthy. Although occasional treats are perfectly acceptable, the typical snack for your child should be nutritious, tasty and quick!

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She grew up in Rose Creek and enjoys cooking, reading and spending time outdoors with family.