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.

Health benefits

  • 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. 

Salty language

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
were overweight.

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
in check.

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
together, too.

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. 

Hunger games

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
    crunchy topping 
  • 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 for her take on healthy eating.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2012.

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