As kids prepare to head back to the classroom, many parents are already dreading the task of coming up with healthy snacks for kids to pack to school.
Snacks are an important part of any child’s back to school menu. A no-snacking policy – at school and home – can undermine a child’s energy, mood and overall development.
Growing kids need to refuel every two to three hours to keep their blood sugar (glucose) levels stable as sustained blood sugar means kids will have more energy to concentrate in class and participate in after school sports.
The added calories from snacks provide an opportunity to boost your child’s intake of important nutrients like calcium, iron and zinc. Choosing the right snack between meals can help curb overeating by preventing kids from feeling overly hungry at mealtime.
Nutritious snacks for kids should contain carbohydrates for energy and a little protein or healthy fat to slow digestion and keep kids’ appetites in check.
Ideally, snack foods should have a low glycemic index (GI). That means they’re digested slowly and lead to a gradual rise in blood sugar, helping you feel energized longer. Low GI foods include grainy breads, high fibre cereals, apples, oranges, berries, cherries, grapes, pears, nuts, seeds, milk, yogurt and soy beverages.
Many popular kid-friendly snacks – cereal bars, pretzels, Goldfish crackers – have a high glycemic index. Because they’re digested relatively quickly, they can lead to premature hunger and overeating. In fact, previous research found that when overweight teenage boys were given a high GI breakfast and lunch, they ate 81 per cent more calories in the five hour period after lunch, compared to when they were fed low GI meals.
Kids should also be encouraged to eat snacks that provide calcium – milk, yogurt, cheese, soy beverages, homemade smoothies, edamame, almond butter – to support bone growth.
Foods such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, dried apricots, raisins and fortified breakfast cereals (low in sugar, of course) deliver iron, a much-needed mineral for energy and concentration.
The following nutrient-rich snacks will help fuel kids through busy school days. (Of course, nut-containing snacks are for home, not packing to school because they may trigger an allergic reaction in other children. )
Look for bars with at least 2 grams of fibre and no more than 1.5 grams of saturated fat. (Yogurt – and chocolate-coated granola bars won’t make the grade.) To limit refined sugar, ensure the grams of sugar equal half or less of the total carbohydrate grams. For a more filling snack, pair a granola bar with a glass of low fat milk or soy beverage. If packing for school, choose a nut-free granola bar.
Whole food energy bars
Most energy bars tend to have more protein than granola bars. For a portable snack, choose a product made from whole food ingredients such as Larabar and Kind Bar. Most energy bars contain nuts and are not suitable for school.
Fresh fruit and yogurt
If kids don’t like yogurt, pair fruit with a part skim cheese string for calcium and protein. Instead of the usual apple, try grapes, berries, dried cranberries or cherries. If fresh fruit gets boring, pack individual fruit cups (canned in 100 per cent juice or water) or unsweetened applesauce.
Mini pita pockets with hummus
Hummus, made from chickpeas, is a low GI food that supplies carbohydrate, some protein and fat, B vitamins and iron. To boost nutrition, choose whole grain pitas. Or, serve hummus with baby carrots, cucumber slices, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, and red pepper strips.
Most kids love these young green soybeans served still in their pods. They’re a great source of protein, fibre, folate, calcium, iron and potassium. You’ll find edamame in the freezer section of most grocery stores; boil or steam them for a nutritious snack.
Make your own with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, dried cranberries, dried apricots, raisins, shredded unsweetened coconut, and Nabisco Spoon Size Shredded Wheat (this cereal is sugar and sodium free).
Baked tortilla chips and bean dip
Make your own bean dip by mixing 1 cup of low fat refried beans with ½ to 1 cup of salsa.
Whip together banana, frozen berries with yogurt, low-fat milk or unflavoured soy beverage in the blender. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed for omega-3 fatty acids.
Fruit and nut butter
Serve apple slices with almond or peanut butter. The protein and monounsaturated fat in nut butter keeps kids feeling full longer. Almond butter is good source of calcium (110 milligrams per two tablespoons) while peanut butter contains choline, a nutrient needed for healthy brain cells.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the National Director of Nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV NewsChannel’s Direct. bodysciencemedical.com