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You would be surprised to learn that most children receive at least one-fourth of their calories from snacks. Most people think of children’s snacks and treats as basic junk food, unaware that all snacks or treats do not need to be high in sugar, unhealthy oil or junk foods. Snacking can be fine and even good for school-age children, with most loving to snack more than eat meals.

If you provide nutritious snacks, you are helping make sure that nutritional needs are met by your child, as well as what their palate craves. Growing, active children need more calories. But not all snacks are equal or good for your child. If the focus is nutritious snacks, they can help children get the needed daily vitamin and mineral nutrients they need.

The not-so-good or downright bad snacks can increase cavities and other problems, such as weight gain and health problems experienced as an adult. If the focus of your child’s snacks is sugary foods, this could also start a very unhealthy habit and could lead to sugar cravings, which is an addiction to sweets. And of course eating too many sweets causes tooth decay and eventually poor oral health.

Snacks that are high in sugar, sticky foods or ones that are sucked on, stay in the mouth longer and are the type cavity causing bacteria love. Examples of some of these foods are suckers and donuts. Studies show if high sugar foods are eaten as part of a meal, they are not as much a problem in producing cavities, instead of by themselves in between meals. The reason being that when eaten with meals, other foods or drinks can help clean these types of sticky foods.

Moderation has been said to be the key to good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. It’s okay for your child to enjoy birthday cake, Halloween candy and holiday sweets. However, it’s important to include the other needed nutrients that have been recommended in the food pyramid.

It’s recommended never to force a child to eat. They need to learn to eat when their bodies tell them they’re hungry. Teaching your child to balance structured meals and freedom of choice for snacks is a healthy attitude to nurture.

The Internet has literally hundreds of suggested recipes for healthy snacks. Below are listed some of the best healthy snack ideas for your school-aged child.

Cheese shaped like stars, hearts, circles or squares. This is easy to do with low fat cheese and cookie cutters.
  • Salt free pretzel sticks.
  • Baked tortilla chips, whole-wheat crackers, toasted pita triangles with healthy dip.
  • Veggies with hummus or low fat ranch dip. It’s more fun when they can dip the veggie sticks of carrots, celery or cucumbers in a tasty dip, than by itself.
  • Sliced fruit with sweet, creamy dip such as applesauce, yogurt sweetened with honey or fruit sweetened preserves.
  • Low fat yogurt mixed with organic fruit sweetened preserves. Top with low fat non-dairy whip cream.
  • Mini sandwiches made of wholewheat crackers, cookie cutter funshaped pita or whole wheat bread, topped with lunch meat or cheese.
  • Mini pizza made with half an English muffin or pita topped with low-fat mozzarella cheese, chopped vegetables and lean meat.
  • Popsicles made of fresh juice frozen in store bought Popsicle molds. You can also add puree of fruit to these. Small paper cups and wooden Popsicle sticks can be substituted for Popsicle mold.
  • Home made frozen yogurt: pour your favorite flavor yogurt in popsicle mold or small paper cup, stretch a small piece of plastic wrap across top of cup, place the stick through the plastic by poking a hole. Freeze and remove the cup and plastic wrap and enjoy.
  • Milkshake or smoothie is a favorite with banana (or other fruit), milk, yogurt, juice and ice, mixed in blender.
  • Cookie recipes can have substitution for sugar and fat with agave nectar and applesauce. Shape the cookies to resemble happy faces, bears or Mickey Mouse with raisins, sesame or sunflower seeds.
  • Zucchini, carrots, bananas or blueberries can be added to muffin or bread recipes without any taste difference. Chop the veggies and fruit fine or mash, and add to the mix before baking.
  • Celery stick spread with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese is another favorite. Can be topped with raisins for a variety.
  • Apple slices spread with peanut butter.
  • Fill an ice cream cone with vanilla yogurt, chopped apples, strawberries and other favorite fruit. For variety, add whole grain cereal.
  • Pop low-fat popcorn made of organic kernels.
  • Mini quesadilla made in a microwave or toasted with soft tortilla with lowfat cheese.

Remember, the wrong snacks add extra empty calories, sugar and fat to your child’s sensitive body. Unhealthy food can increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. Prevention is the key at any age. Exercise and healthy diet in childhood can decrease risk of diseases normally associated with adults, such as atherosclerosis, which is stiff, clogged arteries.

In addition to three regular meals, healthy snacks can help provide needed nutrients to children. Make sure to keep junk food out of your refrigerator and cupboards, or within reach of children. Add variety and get creative in your presentation of snacks, and promote independence by keeping healthy snacks within reach.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), following the guidelines below will help give your child a nutritious diet:

  1. Offer five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  2. Choose healthy sources of protein, such as lean meat, nuts and eggs
  3. Serve whole-grain breads and cereals for their high fiber content
  4. Limit fast foods and junk food 5. Offer water and milk instead of sugary fruit drinks and soda

Make sure to read labels and don’t get fooled by gimmicks that claim to be “healthy,” “low fat” or “natural.” The nutrition labels will list what the real story is, then decide if it is truly healthy.

Snacks can be nutritious and at the same time fun and delicious. Learn how to prepare healthy treats that your child will love to snack on. Remember to always help your child develop good oral hygiene habits on a daily basis.

Flora Stay, DDS

Dr. Flora Stay has been in the wellness industry for over 30 years. After graduating from University of California at San Francisco with her doctor of dental surgery degree (D.D.S.), she knew her path was clear towards health and wellness. She became passionate about helping others take responsibility towards their health.

She is an author (Secret Gateway to Health), speaker, practicing dentist and professor at University of Southern California. Dr. Stay noticed the need for a truly safe and effective toothpaste in 1993. Since then due to popularity of her dental products and demand from loyal customers, the Cleure line has grown to include personal care, skin care and makeup.