A persistent dilemma for parents is how to make snack time interesting and healthy for their kids. Children, unlike adults, do not eat foods just because they are healthy. Certainly, that should not mean compromising health for taste.
A healthy snack for children should:
- Contain whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds (unless your child is allergic to them).
- Not be full of processed foods and sugars.
- Be palatable.
- Not bear the risk of choking (this is especially a concern for infants and young children).
- Not be too oily, fatty or spicy.
- Not contain food items they are allergic to.
Below is a chart of healthy snacks and portions that your children may enjoy:
|Food group||Healthy foods & portions|
|Whole grains||1/2 slice bread or bagel, 1/2 cup cereal, 1/4 cup cooked oatmeal, 1 mini muffin, 2 squares graham crackers, 1/4 cup cooked pasta, 1/4 cooked brown rice|
|Vegetables||1/2 corn-on-the-cob, 1/2 cup cooked black-eyed peas, small broccoli, 1/2 cup cooked green peas, small potato (baked or mashed)|
|Fruits||3/4 cup 100% orange juice, sliced apple, canned peaches in juice, diced cantaloupe, red grapes, canned diced pineapple|
|Dairy||3/4 cup 1% or skim milk, 1-oz cubed cheddar cheese, 1-oz string cheese, 1.5-oz American cheese, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, 3/4 cup slim fat yogurt, 3/4 cup pudding|
|Protein||1.5-oz shredded chicken, 2 deli slices, 3/4 cup cooked pinto beans, hard-boiled egg, 1 small ground turkey patty, 1.5-oz tuna, 1 tablespoon soy butter|
How often should your child eat snacks?
Children need small and frequent meals because they have a small abdomen that cannot hold a lot of food. It may be difficult to decide how often and how much you should feed your child, which may differ depending on their age.
For infants 6 to 12 months of age, you may follow the tips given below:
- Give about three meals and two to three snacks each day.
- Give small quantities of snacks, about one to two tablespoons.
- Do not force-feed your child if they show signs that they are full, such as turning their head away from food, closing their mouth when offered food or pushing the food away.
For toddlers (one to three years of age), three meals with two to three snacks are generally enough. For older children, three meals with one to two snacks are usually recommended.
The frequency of snacks depends on the child’s daily activities and any health conditions they may have. Children who eat very small meals may need more frequent snacking.
Which foods and drinks must be avoided in children?
To boost your child’s growth, immunity and health, you may avoid giving them:
- Foods and drinks with added sugar such as soft drinks, sports drinks, sweetened lemonades, muffins, cookies and cakes
- Foods and drinks with artificial or low-calorie sweeteners
- High-salt foods such as packaged snacks and savories, ham, hot dogs and sausages
- Honey (for children younger than 12 months of age)
- Unpasteurized or raw milk and food including yogurt and cheese
- Juice (for children younger than 12 months of age)
- Prefer fruits over juices.
- In children older than 12 months of age, juices are not essential.
- If you need to give juice to your child, you may give them up to four ounces of 100 percent fruit juice.
- Caffeinated drinks (including coffee, tea, sports drinks and soft drinks) particularly in children younger than two years of age
Inculcating healthy eating habits in young children may seem like an uphill battle. Nonetheless, healthy habits are worth the effort for your child’s physical and mental health.
Avoid using sweets, candies or junk foods as rewards for your child. Additionally, associating unhealthy foods with celebrations must be avoided because no celebration is worth compromising your child’s health.
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