Snack Attack Parents' goal: Turning around junk food junkies

September 15, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

No doubt about it -- there's absolutely nothing like a little reading, writing and arithmetic for stirring up an appetite. By 2 o'clock all the zeros look like bagels, the triangles like tortilla chips. A is for apple, B is for biscuit, C is for carrot, D is for doughnut . . .

And the hordes arrive home from school ravenous. "MO-om, what can I eat?"

Good question.

What can young people snack on that's nutritious and filling, but not full of fat and calories, tasty but not torpor-inducing, easy to fix and not expensive?

"People tend to think of a snack as candy or cookies or cake," says Amy Kovar, a registered dietitian and pediatric nutritionist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. "But if you look it up in the dictionary, it's a small amount of food between meals. People need to change their perspective on snacks."

Parents should try to offer snacks that provide more than calories and energy, Ms. Kovar says. "With things like cheese and crackers, there're some vitamins, some minerals."

She suggests parents designate a jar, drawer or portion of the refrigerator as a snack area, and fill it with suitable snacks in individual portions.

"Especially since we're getting into the latchkey situation," she says, with children coming home to an empty house. Having a certain place where they can always find appropriate snacks is important, she says.

She suggests parents stock the snack area with small boxes of raisins, graham crackers, cheese cubes, cut-up fruit and cut-up vegetables. Snacks that require some parental preparation could made over the weekend, or on the evening before, so children need only reach in and select what they'd like.

Young children with a parent or other care-provider available might like snacks such as "ants on a log" (banana, peanut butter, raisins) or "sailboats" (apple wedges, cheese triangle on toothpick), or banana rolls (banana slices spread with peanut butter and rolled in crisp cereal, such as Rice Krispies, or granola). "It gives them an activity as well as a snack," she says.

Ann Schrader, a Denver mother of two who runs her own advertising specialty business, says, "I'm a mom who walks a real moderate line. We do a variety of things," for snacks, ranging from Kool-Aid drinks to pretzels to iced herbal teas sweetened with a little honey.

Collecting 'Healthy Yummies'

Ms. Schrader and her husband discovered when they had children that the kids weren't always enthralled with things their health-conscious parents considered essential. So Ms. Schrader embarked on an experiment, testing recipes and getting family votes on what people liked or didn't like. Her goal was to put together a collection of recipes for family use, but the recipes turned into a cookbook, "Healthy Yummies for Young Tummies," (Rutledge Hill Press, 1993, $14.95).

Ms. Schrader, a working mom, tries to make dishes do double duty, appearing with dinner one night, then as a snack the next day. "One night I might make soup and corn bread and the next day serve the corn bread warmed up, with a little honey on it.

"I don't make a lot of cookies and things like that," Ms. Schrader says, "it's more an occasional thing." Nor do her children expect such treats all the time: "My kids really love it when you cut up celery and carrots and dip them in fat-free ranch dressing."

How much should children eat when they come home from school? It depends on each child's size, weight, metabolism, and activity level, says Ms. Kovar of Hopkins Children's Center. "A general rule is to make sure they're not eating too close to a meal -- for one hour before meal time, no snacks. Or limit snacks to right after school."

Variety and balance are the keys, she says. A muffin, though it may be higher in fat than other snacks, is fine once a week; parents who have time to make their own baked snacks can regulate the fat and sugar.

"A lot of people think a snack is a negative," Ms. Kovar says. "But snacks are a necessary way for children to get the amount of nutrients they need."

She noted, for instance, that a child who weighs 22 pounds needs roughly 1,000 calories a day. To a weight-conscious adult who's ever tried to stick to a 1,200-calorie diet, that may sound like a lot. But adults eat for weight-maintenance, she says, while children need to eat for growth.

Adolescents could require 2,500 to 3,500 calories a day, she says.

How does your child grow?

"The bottom line is, how are they growing? If they're not growing inappropriately, gaining weight, they are probably getting what they need."

Snack time, like meal time, is an opportunity to teach children about nutrition, and to help them form life-long, good-eating habits.

"Parents have to set an example as well," says Cathy Kapica, a registered dietitian and certified home economist. "You can't expect kids to eat healthy if their parents don't."

It's important to avoid snacks that are high in fat, she says, and to make sure children are getting enough fruits and vegetables.

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