How to make snacking healthy
Snacking used to have a bad
reputation, often leaving those
who succumbed to hunger
and temptation feeling guilty.
But then scientists redeemed
snacking’s status. Having a little nosh
in between meals seemed to offer a
host of health perks for everyone. The
secret to successful snacking, though,
depends on the menu.
- For kids with small appetites,
meeting their nutrient needs in three
meals a day can be a tough task. Snacks
can help fill in nutrient gaps.
- For kids with large appetites, snacks
can reduce overeating at meal time.
- Planned snacks can help people
whose hectic schedules lead to later
meal times. Delaying meals – for kids
and adults – can trigger low blood
sugar, low energy, and high irritability.
There are still plenty of snack offerings
with little nutritional value that are
being presented as smart snacking
selections. Just take a look at some
product claims and you’ll get the gist.
Frozen pizza snacks, for example, that
tout being baked and with reduced
fat still may supply almost 500 mg of
sodium in just one serving.
Consider that sodium should be
limited to 1,000 mg for children three
and under, 1,200 mg for four- to eightyear-
olds and 1,500 mg for older kids.
Baked or not, getting more than one
third of the recommended sodium
intake in only one food isn’t wise.
It does appear, though, that kids’
eats are laden with sodium. A recently
published study in the journal Pediatrics
found that American children between
the ages of eight and 18, on average
were consuming almost 3,400 mg of
sodium a day – more than double the
recommendations. As sodium levels
climbed, the risk of high blood pressure
also rose – even more so in kids who
You can bet that here, north of the
border, the sodium counts don’t differ
all that much, especially when you
consider that research has shown that
when packaged foods from all over the
world are assessed, Canada’s offerings
are amongst the highest in sodium.
Check for sodium counts in the
Nutrition facts box on prepared snack
options such as popcorn, crackers and
frozen foods. Try to limit choices to
under 250 mg per serving. Popping
your own popcorn or having fresh
fruit and vegetables as part of a snack
makes it easier to keep sodium totals
No more sugar-coating
The same goes for sugary items. In
many cases, selections that are packed
with sugar are also fat-laden. Muffins
may seem like a healthy choice, for
example, but they’re so gargantuan that
they might as well be a cupcake. Try
baking some muffins with your kids and
make sure the ingredients are healthy
and the muffin size is reasonble. It’s a
great way to spend some quality time
Too much snacking?
If it seems as though your youngster has
a bottomless pit for a stomach and can
continue to snack endlessly, there are a
couple of possible reasons:
- Skipping meals earlier in the day or
eating unbalanced meals that have no
or not enough protein-rich options or
too few calories.
- Snacking too late. For example,
yogurt and fruit might be enough to
satisfy after school, but if it’s being
eaten at 6 pm ahead of a late dinner,
chances are it won’t do the trick.
When tummies rumble,
the right snack can take
the edge off. Try these
quick and healthy ideas:
- Homemade lower sodium
snack mixes containing nuts,
whole grain pretzels and cereal
- Homemade smoothies
- Lower-fat yogurt with fruit
and a spoonful of cereal as a
- Vegetable sticks and
hummus, a yogurt or a
light Ranch dip
- Vegetable soups – a
homemade one or look for a
lower-sodium broth with
added frozen vegetables
- Bananas spread with nut-butter
or no-nut spread,
rolled in granola
Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting
dietitian in private practice and is author of
The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide
(Viking Canada). Join Rosie on her website at
rosieschwartz.com for her take on healthy eating.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2012.