Nutritious snacks like cheese and vegetables help kids eat less and feel more satisfied

Good-For-You Foods Make Best Snacks for Children

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Family Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can see the post here.

STUDY FINDS KIDS EAT LESS WHEN NUTRITIOUS SNACKS ARE SERVED

I’ve never met a parent or grandparent who didn’t want their little ones to eat more good for you foods. That wish stems from a lesson we all learn from our personal battles with food. Simply put, it’s a whole lot easier to start out life with good eating habits than to try to establish them later.

Amen to that.

Now we can turn to snacks as a way to help our children eat better and prevent obesity says a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. The researchers set out to discover whether different types of snacks for children would make them feel full, yet consume fewer calories. And the winner was cheese with cut-up vegetables!

Some Background on Snacking

Thirty years ago American children ate about one snack a day. Now they eat three. Along with those extra snacks they have put on some extra weight. Nearly one-third of our children are overweight or obese.

Since snacking is part of the culture our children are growing up in, trying to restrict or forbid it is fruitless (pun intended). But changing what kind of snacks we offer them is not. The goal is to select snacks that help meet nutrient requirements without exceeding caloric requirements.

Highlights from the Snack Study

201 children in grades third through sixth were in the study. The participants and their parents were told the children would be asked to watch some cartoons and answer questions about the characters at the end and be given snacks to enjoy while watching. Measurements of body mass index and information about food allergies were obtained.

The children were assigned to one of four “snack food groups” and screened in 24 separate experimental sessions with 5-11 children in each. During the sessions the children were given a bottle of water and identical plates of food. They were told they could eat as much as they wanted of the food provided, and asked how hungry they were in the beginning, middle and end of the 45 minute period.

The snack food options included a plate with either:

  • A tube of plain potato chips and a medium bag of crunchy cheese flavored snacks
  • 6 Laughing Cow cheese wedges and 6 Mini Babybel cheese rounds
  • 2 cups each of raw bite-sized broccoli, baby carrots and bell pepper strips
  • A combination of 6 cheese wedges and 6 cheese rounds and 1 cup of each vegetable

The food on each plate was weighed at the outset and any uneaten food was weighed at the end to determine exactly how much each child ate. No child finished it all. Parents completed a questionnaire designed to measure family mealtime habits and levels of engagement.

Surprising Results About Snacking and Kids

Children who consumed the cheese and vegetable snack ate 72% fewer calories than those eating chips and needed significantly fewer calories to achieve satiety compared to them.

The children eating the combo snack consumed roughly the same number of calories from vegetables as the children who only got vegetables, so they did not replace the vegetables with cheese.

Overweight and obese children and those from low-involvement families had a bigger reduction in calories compared to normal weight children and those from high-involvement families.

Key Conclusions About Snacks to Make for Kids

Offering cheese and vegetables as a snack leads to eating fewer calories than when salty, high-fat chips are served and provide good sources of fiber, calcium and protein.

Eating cheese and vegetables as a snack may encourage healthier eating habits in children, especially in those who are overweight.

A higher level of engagement between children and adults at mealtime is correlated with healthy weight in children.

Don’t you wish someone had given you some mini cheese and baby carrots when you came home from school?

You don’t have to serve diet snacks if you use these healthy snack ideas

Need Healthy Snack Food Ideas for the Super Bowl?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, but you can view it here.

YOU DON’T HAVE TO SERVE DIET SNACKS IF YOU USE THESE HEALTHY SNACK IDEAS

When the Taco Bell advertising team came up with the idea to bash veggie platters at Super Bowl parties, they weren’t just knocking vegetables. The ad implied that all healthy snack food ideas are unwelcomed at the biggest gridiron event of the year. Now that the ads have been pulled, it has left many people wondering whether any diet snacks can be safely served on game day.

Do not despair! There are other ways to curb your party food consumption without trying to sneak broccoli into the chili con carne!

Beware of Halos

One of the biggest mistakes we can make when faced with lots of food choices is to separate the choices into “good” and “bad” foods. No matter what criteria we use to make the distinction, it always leads to the same illogical conclusion that if we eat mostly good food, it’s okay to eat some bad food, too.

This is called the Halo Effect, where we believe the good food – they’re the ones wearing the halo – can somehow magically cancel out the risks of the bad foods.

Mathematically, this just doesn’t work out in our favor. The amount of fat, sodium and calories in 20 potato chips submerged in a half cup of onion dip cannot be cancelled out by a 20 baby carrots dabbed in hummus. Same is true about eating the celery sticks served with the Buffalo wings. The numbers just don’t jibe.

This does not mean we can never eat the chips, dips and wings. We just have to be more realistic about how many we can afford to add to our fat, sodium and calorie tally for the day.

“Watch” What You Eat

As much as we all feel drawn to food by its smell and taste, our vision plays a role in what and how much we eat, too. I’m not talking about attractive plating arrangements, but the color and size of the plates and bowls its served in. Food marketers use this information to get us to eat more of their products, but we turn the tables on them and use it to eat less.

A study done in the Department of Social and Economic Psychology at the University of Basel Switzerland found people ate less snack food from a red plate and drank less soft drink from a red cup than they did when blue or white plates and cups were used. The researchers hypothesize that the color red serves as a subliminal stop sign that helps to reduce how much we eat.

That’s good news for San Francisco 49er’s fans who can use the team’s red and gold colors for their party ware.

Tackle the “Hidden Persuaders”

Even if there won’t be any diet snacks at your Super Bowl spread, there are ways to deal with mindless eating so you don’t overindulge. Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Brain Wansink, a consumer behavior psychologist, we now have proof that how we serve food is as important as what we serve.

Use these Healthy Snack Food Ideas to Eat Less at Your Super Bowl Party

  • Use tall slender glasses for drinks instead of short wide ones
  • Fill a basket with single-serving bags of chips instead of having big bowls filled with chips
  • Offer only 1 or 2 types of chips instead of 3 or more
  • Place some of the snack food just out of reach so guests have to get up to have more
  • Provide small plates for guests to fill with their own snacks and place scoops and tongs on platters so they can serve themselves
  • Offer snacks that require some effort to eat, such as peanuts or pistachios in shells, cheese you must spread, and candies you must unwrap
  • Fill candy dishes with single-colored treats, like M&Ms or Jellybeans, featuring your team’s colors rather than offering mixed colors
  • Provide medium-sized (9 inch) paper plates for the half-time buffet instead of larger dinner plates
  • Put plain names on your buffet dishes, such as “Chili,” versus more appetizing descriptions, such as “Rosie’s Three-Alarm Homemade Chili”