The Smart Parent's Guide to Healthy Snacking

Supermarket Snack Checklist

Prepackaged snacks are often a necessity for busy moms--and there are tons of just-for-kids products on store shelves these days. So what's nutritious, and what's not? Things like prepacked baby carrots and boxes of raisins are no-brainers. But you may have to do some label sleuthing before you buy other foods. Here's what to check:

  • Serving size: Is the size appropriate for your child, or will she eat more? Many "snack-size" packages actually contain multiple servings. If so, be prepared to divide them up at home.
  • Fat: "There's little evidence that reduced-fat and fat-free products help kids maintain or lose weight," Shield says. Besides, fat is often replaced with more sugar. She advises going low-fat with staples, such as milk and yogurt, but choosing full-fat cookies or treats and keeping portions reasonable.
  • Fiber: Whole grains are your best choice when selecting breads, crackers, cereals, and other high-carb foods. Look for at least 2 to 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Ingredient list: "The longer the list, the more processed that food probably is," says Deanna Rose, R.D., spokesperson for the National Dairy Council.

The Truth About Sugar

You know that sugar is packed into the usual snack suspects: candy, cookies, cupcakes. But it's also added to yogurt, granola bars, and fruit cocktail. After all, manufacturers realize what parents have long known: Kids naturally prefer sweet foods. Though sugar's off the hook for causing hyperactivity and other behavior problems, it's still linked to cavities and has even been blamed in part for the rise in obesity rates. So it makes sense to keep an eye on intake.

In general, experts advise choosing snacks in their purest form--in other words, without candy sprinkles and bubble-gum flavoring. When reading labels, steer clear of foods that list sugar (or one of its aliases, such as corn syrup) among the first few ingredients. Sometimes you can switch to lower-sugar versions without your child noticing a difference--low-sugar peanut butter, for instance. But with other foods, a spoonful of sugar often helps the nutrients go down. In fact, according to a recent University of Vermont study, children who drank flavored milk consumed more milk--and higher levels of calcium. "It's all a balancing game," Shield says. If your child will only eat yogurt with added sugar, be thankful he?s getting a healthy dose of protein and calcium--but pass on other sugary foods that day.

Parents Are Talking

Add a Comment