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Packing Healthy Snacks for School

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Now that school has begun, now is the time to plan more healthy nutrition for students. One area that can use a makeover in many homes is the choice of snacks. Pediatric clinical dietitian Kim Bilger, MPH, RD, LD, at Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, offers some advice and suggestions to help make healthier snacks for your hungry students.

"Many times, students - especially younger ones - eat lunch at school before noon, so by the time class is over in the afternoon, they are hungry for a snack,” Kim said. “Snacks are a good way to regulate hunger if they are planned properly. Waiting too long to eat (more than three to four hours) often results in overeating and eating too quickly. Choosing a healthy snack between meals helps keep youngsters' blood sugars and metabolisms regulated, energy levels up and hunger under control."

When choosing a snack, Kim says having a balance of nutrients is just as important as it is at mealtimes. “A combination of carbohydrate and protein is a good choice. The carbohydrate fuels the brain and the cells in your body, while the protein helps keep you feeling full longer.”

The types of carbohydrates and proteins you choose are also important to consider. According to Kim, the best choice is a complex carbohydrate that includes fiber. The best protein to choose is one that is low in fat. Vegetables are always a good choice as part of a snack as they provide many nutrients and minimal calories.

"Watch out for beverages,” Kim added. “Often what a student chooses to drink adds more calories than we should have in a snack. Keep that in mind when pairing a beverage with a snack that water is always an excellent choice."

Healthy Snacks

Kim suggests snacks that include protein be paired with a fruit, vegetable or starch to keep kids feeling full longer than just eating one of those foods by itself.

"Some foods naturally fall into different groups and can be eaten by themselves as delicious, healthy snacks,” Kim said. “Nuts and seeds are one example. Even if a food is healthy, portions are still important. Snacks should contain roughly 100 to 200 calories and you should plan on eating your next meal within two to three hours. Feel free to let your child eat unlimited amounts of non-starchy vegetables at every snack!"

These snacks are some of Kim’s favorites:

  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter on celery sticks and 1/2 apple
  • 1/3 cup hummus with baby carrots, bell peppers and broccoli
  • 1 slice Swiss cheese and 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cashew butter on celery sticks
  • 1 slice mozzarella cheese with 6 whole-wheat crackers
  • 1/2 cup nonfat cottage cheese with 1/2 cup fruit
  • 1 string cheese and 1 small apple
  • 1 slice turkey or cheese and 1/2 sliced mango
  • 1 cup cherries with 1 slice cheese
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter with 1/2 small banana
  • 1/4 cup walnuts and 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons hummus on a whole wheat pita or 1 ounce pretzels
  • 1 mini bagel with 1 ounce turkey or lean ham
  • 1 string cheese and 2 cups low fat popcorn
  • Granola bar with 6 ounces nonfat milk
  • 1 tortilla with 1 ounce melted cheese and 2 tablespoons salsa
  • 1/2 sandwich with lean lunch meat
  • Baked tortilla chips with salsa or low fat bean dip
  • Raw vegetables with fat free salad dressing and string cheese
  • 1 mini bagel with fat free cream cheese

More Snack Tips

"Often times, we choose less-healthy snacks when we have failed to plan ahead,” Kim said. “If kids don’t have a healthy snack ready when they want one, it’s easy to turn to the nearest vending machine, convenience store or fast food restaurant. Although it is still possible to find healthy snacks in these places sometimes, we reduce the temptation to have a less healthy snack by bringing along something that’s ready to eat and better for us. Besides, it's more economical," Kim added. "If your child attends an after-school program or goes straight from school to an extracurricular event, pack a snack and send it with them in their backpack. Choose one that isn't likely to spoil easily, which means generally avoiding dairy products, meats or eggs that can't be refrigerated. This will also avoid any unplanned stops on the way to that sporting event to satisfy a hungry child."

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Good Health for Kids is produced by Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas.