This is interesting. Researchers from Cornell University conducted phone interviews with teens in New York City to explore how they define the word “snack.” Overall, the adolescents defined a snack as “a small, unhealthy food item that can be quickly eaten to reduce hunger between meals.”
We’ve got some work to do. Yes, the food kids eat between meals should reduce hunger. But the best snack is one that adds vital nutrients to their bodies as well. In other words, a snack needs to be nourishing, not just fill material.
Nutrition researchers report that most of our youngsters tend to eat too many “empty” calories from sugar, fat and salt. And they really need more protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D and zinc, as well as the vast array of vitamins and dietary fiber contained in fruits and vegetables.
So how do we — moms, dads, grandparents and caregivers — translate all these needs into tasty meals and snacks? Ah, that is the challenge.
My grandkids, for example, love ketchup, spaghetti and pizza sauce but won’t touch a tomato … unless it’s a cherry tomato from someone’s garden. Sigh.
Kids will be picky. Work with it. Don’t stop offering a disliked food; it takes a long time for kids to really know if they are going to like a certain taste and texture … or not.
In this case, I figured out that tomatoes are just one food in the red and orange-colored food category. (Experts say kids need more of the nutrients that reside in these foods.) My little ones happen to love watermelon, carrots and dried apricots, which I can easily offer at meals or snacks — while still sneaking in tomatoes.
We can also trade out one food for another of similar nutrient value. Many children and teens, for instance, do not consume enough calcium and vitamin D to support these years of rapid growth and development. Offer different forms of high-calcium foods like milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy products for meals and snacks. These foods have the added benefit of being high in protein. Cheese and whole grain crackers or a sliced apple, for example, makes a great after-school snack that will curb junior’s hunger until dinner time.
Try a new recipe. I found an easy one for baked carrot fries to replace regular french fries from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sponsors of a program called Kids Eat Right (eatright.org). Coat a baking pan with cooking spray. Peel and cut carrots into strips about 1/4-inch thick and few inches long. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Flip them over, coat with more cooking spray and bake another 15 minutes until browned.
I’m going to try this one. Because when it comes to kids, every bite really does count.
(Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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