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By: James Rogers, MD
Itís 3:30. The kids race off the school bus, run into the house and head straight for... the refrigerator. Itís perfectly normal for kids to want an after school snack.† Most children have high levels of activity and need to eat a meal or snack every three to four hours in order to replenish energy stores and recharge their bodies.
But the choice of what to snack on is a critical one. A healthy snack can recharge energy levels and provide needed nutritional value as well. Junk food might satisfy a childís hunger, but it does little in the way of providing vitamins and minerals, and may in fact provide unhealthy levels of things like sodium, sugar, fats or cholesterol.
When snacking, children often reach for whateverís the closest and most convenient. If your pantry is stocked with corn chips and candy bars thatís probably what your child will eat. If, however, there is a bowl of grapes or apples on the kitchen table and yogurt in the fridge, you stand a fighting chance of having them choose a healthier snack. Kids get used to eating the foods that are commonly available. If itís easy and convenient for them to reach for items like raw carrots, bananas, shredded cheese and bagels, thatís probably what theyíll get in the habit of eating. Likewise, having Twinkies, tortilla chips and doughnuts close at hand will make these be the snacks of habit.
Itís common sense that what you buy at the store will be consumed at home. So when walking the aisles, reach for the healthier choice whenever possible. Choose whole grain breads instead of the white variety. Pretzels are a crunchy, salty snack but they have a much lower fat content than most chips. ďChip dipsĒ are most often high-fat and high calorie.
While children under two shouldnít typically limit their fat intake due to its role in their body and brain development, a sensible lower-fat diet for older children is often the healthiest. So, read the labels. Check the fat content and buy healthy.
A good snack is often accompanied by a healthful drink. Help kids avoid soda pop (a snack choice thatís high in sugar content and ďemptyĒ calories) by keeping the fridge filled with milk, 100 percent fruit juice and -- best of all -- water.
Healthy snacking habits can help set kids up for a lifetime of good eating. And a healthy snack doesnít have to be inconvenient or lacking in taste or flavor. When school lets out and the fridge opens up, itís beneficial for kids to have lots of healthy options to pick from. There are lots of good choices out there. Itís up to us to help our kids find them.
Dr. Rogers is a family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.