It is 3 p.m., your children just got off the school bus, and they are "starving."
In some ways, this is the perfect time for a snack, since a hungry kid is not generally as picky. However, it's almost dinner time, and you would like your child to eat the nutritious meal you have prepared. If the snack you're providing is just as healthy as the meal you're serving, it is not as big a deal if your child eats less at dinner.
When choosing snacks for children, think about food groups: vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains, meat and beans. Snacks that do not fit into a food group should be limited. A potato chip, for example, is a long, lost relative of the vegetable group; with the amount of processing it has undergone, a chip should not be counted as a vegetable. Any foods that have a lot of added fat, sugar and salt should not be everyday snacks.
Enough of what not to eat; most things are OK in moderation. When choosing snacks, consider the items your children like and the food groups you think they may be lacking. Often children — and many Americans — do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, so a snack that includes them is often a good start.
VEGGIES ON THE GO
Serving cut-up vegetables with dip can be easy and appealing for children.
For a quick, healthy snack, rinse and cut up your child's favorite vegetables and keep them readily available. I know that if I cut up carrot sticks for the week, we eat many more carrots than if I have to rinse, peel and chop at every snacking opportunity.
Try some healthy dips, such as hummus, refried beans mixed with a little salsa (great on bell peppers) or fat-free plain yogurt mixed with your child's favorite dressing.
When fresh fruit is rinsed and ready, the natural sweetness makes it an appealing snack for all ages. To make it even more inviting, try making fruit kabobs. For younger children, you can use a Popsicle stick or plastic coffee stirrers instead of a skewer. To add dairy to the kabobs, try adding cheese or serving them with yogurt as a dip.
Parfaits - layering low-fat yogurt with fruit and adding a little whole-grain cereal to the top - can be another fun way to serve fruit.
Make your own Popsicles with fruit and yogurt in paper cups; add a plastic spoon after the mixture begins to freeze.
My current favorite fruit snack is mashing overripe bananas with a little peanut butter, spreading the mixture between two graham-cracker halves and freezing them for banana "ice cream" sandwiches.
Try to keep snacks healthy most days. Children should eat fewer calories than most adults but really need a lot of nutrients. Snacks are an important part of a child's diet and, especially for young children, account for a significant portion of the food they eat in a day.
Try to serve meals and snacks at regular times to ensure that your child is hungry (but not too hungry) at eating times. Even if a snack is healthy, 15 minutes before dinner is a bad time to eat. Ask your children to help you get dinner ready or set the table to distract them until dinner is served.
For more snack ideas or if you are concerned about your child's diet, contact your local Cooperative Extension.
Jordy Kivett is a nutrition educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. For more information, contact her at 561-7450.