The Smart Parent’s Guide to Healthy Snacking

Want to feed your child the right nutrients but find it hard to cut out the cake and crisps? Find out how helping him snack right is actually a piece of cake. 

 

WORDS RACHEL KWEK

Snacking can improve your child’s energy levels and help him concentrate better. It is also a chance for him to meet his nutrient requirements for the day. Thus, children are encouraged to snack. Problems arise when children don’t snack right. Snacking too much can cause a child to put on excess weight and become overweight. Also, children may end up malnourished if they fill up on empty calories at snack times and become too full to load up on nutrients at meal times. Guiding your child to snack smart becomes more important as his energy requirements increase and he gains more control over what to eat.

What Does Your Child Need in His Diet?

Snacking smart is no different from eating smart at meal times. It’s all about nailing what to eat and how much to eat. For healthy physical and mental development, it is essential for a child to consume food from all the food groups. Fruits and vegetables provide fibre to aid digestion and prevent constipation. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which not only support bodily functions but also help to prevent diseases. The mineral calcium is particularly important for children as it contributes to the growth of strong bones. Grains not only provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, they are also rich in B vitamins, fibre and minerals. Protein is crucial because it is an important component of our cells and tissues including skin, blood, muscles and hair.

How much to eat depends on many factors such as weight, height, activity levels and gender. For children aged between three and six, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says boys require about 1200 to 1800 calories whereas girls require about 1000 to 1600 calories depending on their activity level.

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends the following portions for children aged between three to six:

•             3 to 4 servings of brown rice and wholemeal bread

•             1 serving of fruits and vegetables

•             2 servings of meat, fish, tofu, nuts and seeds

•             1 serving of calcium-containing food

 

The British Nutrition Foundation recommends 15g and 20g of dietary fibre for children aged between two to five and five and 11 respectively.

 

Common Obstacles to Healthy Snacking

The challenge many parents face when trying to get their children to eat healthily is one of lifestyle. Children tend to follow what their parents do. When parents buy and eat unhealthy snacks and eat at irregular hours, children pick up these habits. Another problem is the lack of awareness of healthy snack options. Pressed for time or out of habit, many parents may find themselves turning to convenient snack options which are often highly processed and have little nutritional value. As a result, children incorporate unhealthy snacks into their everyday diets as they often eat what their parents buy. This lack of family support can be further compounded by a lack of respect for food and meal times. Vanessa McNamara, founder of The Travelling Dietitian, says eating in front of the television or when engaging in other activities encourage children not to pay attention to what and how they are eating.

Healthy Snacks

McNamara recommends the following for snack time.

•             Fresh fruit

•             Cheese and crackers

•             Yoghurt

•             Vegetable sticks and hummus

•             Homemade popcorn

•             Sandwich using multigrain bread

•             Homemade muffins or muesli bars

•             Nuts and dried fruit

•             Fruit smoothies made with milk, yoghurt and fresh or frozen fruit

•             Wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk and fruit

Did You Know?

In recognising the impact food provided in school has on children’s nutrient intake, the Nutritional Standards and Requirements for School Food Regulations have been enforced in England since 2007. The standards include providing not less than two portions of fruit and vegetables daily, banning all confectionery (such as chocolate bars, sweets and crisps) and limiting available drinks to water, skimmed and semi-skimmed milk, pure fruit juices, yoghurt and milk drinks (with less than 5 per cent added sugar), tea and coffee.

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