This Quarter’s Theme: Well-being
Tooth Talk Expert Helps You Share Healthy Snacks Ideas with Parents
Question: The parents in my program are asking me about healthy snacks for their children. What are your recommendations?
Healthy snacks benefit not only children’s teeth but also their overall health, building strong bones and muscles and boosting brain development, according to Alice S. Ammerman, DrPH, RD, Director for the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and Professor, Department of Nutrition at the UNC-Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health and School of Medicine.
“Snacks are really important for small children because they are a fairly substantial part of a toddler’s diet simply because most kids don’t just sit down to three regular meals a day. They eat more often, usually snacking throughout the day, so that makes it even more important to make sure snacks are healthy. Small children are natural neophobes–they are afraid to try new things. Broadening the snack menu trains toddlers to be open-minded about trying new things, which helps them in every way.
Dr. Ammerman lists the healthy snacks toddlers should be eating: cheese, raw fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, crackers and chips, yogurt and eggs. But she knows it can be hard to get kids to eat these foods. Here are some creative tips:
- Get Dipping: Kids love to manipulate things with their fingers. Give them thinly sliced carrots, turnips and celery to dip in yogurt or salad dressing. Remember, think raw foods–little ones prefer raw veggies over cooked ones. Crackers and whole grain breads are fun to dip in a bean spread or cottage cheese. Dip banana slices in yogurt, then in crushed cereal and freeze.
- Get Creative: Kids are more likely to eat food if it’s in a fun animal or face shape. Use a cute cookie cutter to cut shapes out of fruit slices and bread. Create a face with a round thin slice of turnip smeared with peanut butter with raisins for eyes and a matchstick carrot strip for the mouth.
- Get Kids Involved: Research has found that children who help grow or prepare food are more likely to try new tastes. Plant a veggie garden or visit a farmers’ market. Invite kids to help prepare their own snacks, counting out cheese cubes or grape pieces.
Dr. Ammerman shares additional tips about nutritious food choices:
- Avoid sticky candies and, of course, soft drinks.
- If a child says she’s hungry, try very cold water first. Oftentimes, a perpetual grazer can be satisfied with a nice cold drink of water.
- Busy parents can make snacking easy by keeping in the fridge little bags or containers of healthy foods, prepped and ready to grab and go: small, thinly cut carrots (which stay fresher sitting in cold water), cubes of cheese and chopped up fruit. This excellent strategy helps avoid the costly temptations (in dollars, calories and tooth health) of fast food, junk food and candy.
- Avoid extra sugars and chemicals by buying full-fat dressings and yogurt instead of low-fat or fat-free versions.
- Remember, cut up all foods into small bites to prevent choking. Of course, the best plan is not to leave very small children alone when they’re eating.
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