Snacks versus Treats: Encouraging Healthy Habits

toddler enjoying a healthy fruit snack

by Stacey Schifferdecker

Experts estimate that by the year 2010, almost 50 percent of children in North America will be overweight. We know why – kids gain weight for the same reasons adults gain weight: too much food and not enough exercise. And while we are probably all behind the drives to remove junk food and soda vending machines from our schools, are we similarly vigilant about the food in our homes?

Separate Snacks from Treats
A dietician once spoke at my children’s preschool and explained to us the very logical distinction she makes for her children between “snacks” and “treats.” Snacks are everyday tide-your-kids-over-to-the-next meal items. Snacks need to be part of every child’s balanced diet. After all, kids need to eat every few hours. At my kid’s elementary school, lunch begins at 10:45, so by the time school gets out at 2:45, the kids are ravenous. They need a snack so they can concentrate on their homework and have some energy to play outside.

Treats, on the other hand, are for special times. Birthday parties. Report card days. Finally finished the science project. Treats are special precisely because they are rare. So, what makes a good snack…..

What Makes a Good Snack?
If we think of snacks as a mini-meal, it is easier to move away from junk food as a snack. And by providing a variety of healthy snacks, you are still giving your kids choices about what they eat. Good choices include

  • Fruit – especially if you cut it up and provide some dip. Apple pieces dipped in melted peanut butter are a favorite snack at my house that also provides some protein. Don’t have any dip? Cut the fruit up anyway and let the kids use toothpicks to eat it.
  • Vegetables and dip. Even kids who don’t like cooked vegetables often enjoy raw mini-carrots, sugar snap peas, bell pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli – especially if dip is available.
  • Yogurt. Try freezing the yogurt-in-a-tube. It’s less messy and gives the kids an almost-ice cream snack
  • Cheese. Cubes, sticks, or slices. Melted on a tortilla to be a quesadilla. Melted on an English muffin or bagel as a min-pizza. Eaten alone or with crackers. Kids usually love cheese. Try the low-fat variety if you think you can get away with it (my kids can always tell).
  • Smoothies. Mix and match yogurt flavors and frozen fruit to see what flavors everyone likes best.
  • Pretzels and baked chips are an easy grab-n-go snack.
  • Mini-sandwiches, whether on whole-grain bread or tortillas. Spread on peanut butter or layer on some meat for a protein-filled snack.

It’s helpful to designate a shelf in your refrigerator or pantry as the snack area. Let your kids know they can get anything from the designated snack area without having to ask permission first.

What to Avoid
Unfortunately, we don’t always have time to cut up fruit and vegetables for our children or to make after-school smoothies. If you need to pick up some quick snacks, read the label and avoid anything with these ingredients:

  • High-fructose corn syrup (just another word for sugar), especially if it is one of the first three ingredients
  • Partially-hydrogenated oils (source of trans fat)
  • Anything with ingredients that have more than three syllables (too processed)

Time for a Treat!
Everyone deserves a treat once in a while! Since your treats are special, make sure everyone gets something they really like. My sister once turned down a packaged sweet roll, saying she didn’t want to waste calories on something she didn’t really even like. I had never thought in that way before (which is why she is skinnier than I am!). When you do decide to give your kids a treat, make sure it is something they love.

We are helping to set our children’s lifelong eating habits, so let’s make sure we are providing healthy grow food for them.

Biography
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.

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