Should Kids Be Snacking? Nutrition Tips From A Pediatrician

Tips on Healthy Snacking for Kids

Parents often ask me about snacks for their children once they are eating table food. Should they even give them snacks? If so, what kinds are good for them, and how often? In general, after age one I recommend 3 kids size meals and 1-2 snacks to help the get their daily nutritional requirements. Try not to stress or obsess at each feeding about them eating all that you serve.  Your job is to provide the food, your child’s is to decide how much to eat. Instead look at the nutrition content your child eats for the week rather than just on a daily basis. Here are some more tips to get the most health benefit out of your child’s snacks.

Cut out the juice and instead serve whole fruit- Juice is high in concentrated sugar, low in fiber, as well as causes big fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels.  Making whole fruit more accessible by cutting it up and even leaving it in containers or grab and go bags will increase the likelihood it will be gobbled up. A little fruit and veggie preparation for the week can make a huge difference in the amount eaten. Some suggestions: melon balls, tangerine slices, a fruit kebab skewer, even a glass of berries with a dollop of yogurt on top. Eating the whole foods instead of juicing will ensure your child feels full and satisfied until it’s time for the next meal.

Snacking is an activity. Be mindful, present and enjoy your snack completely. Don’t snack on the go or even in front of the television. This type of mindless/distracted eating often results in excess processed junk foods high in fat and sugar, low in fiber and important nutrients.  In addition, studies show eating while watching tv results in consuming more empty calories and still feeling hungry. I suggest, if you are having a snack, savor it by chewing slowly, paying attention, sitting at table and if possible don’t multitask.

Think outside the conventional snack bag I tell parents to think of a snack as a small meal. A snack is just another way to get the added fruits/veggies and nutrients kids need. So instead of assuming ‘snack’ means a bag of chips or chocolate bar, you can serve hard boiled eggs, peanut butter and crackers, turkey rolled up, waffle with fruit spread, a simple homemade mix of whole grain cereal, nuts, craisins and dark choc chips. In addition, kids love to “dip” using dressing, salsa, hummus or yogurt with their sliced raw peppers, carrots and cucumbers. If in a rush, and no time to spare, a glass of milk can be a snack too, Milk is high in protein, calcium, vitamin D as well as potassium and B vitamins.

Don’t confuse boredom for hunger. Often kids say they are hungry when in reality they are bored or don’t know what to do or play. If you child just ate and is whining to eat again, offer some water and then try to coax them in to an activity. Surprisingly, if you initiate play with them for a few minutes, for example coloring, or building blocks, they will become engaged and you can fade yourself out as they continue to play independently. By not over snacking and eating out of boredom, your child will have a healthy appetite at the next mealtime.

Daily snacks are different than “desserts’. A dessert or treat is usually thought of as an after meal food that may not be so healthy or nutritious. Desserts/ treats are inevitable and my advice, it’s totally ok to indulge on an intermittent basis. I tell my patients that total avoidance of cakes, cookies, and ice cream is not necessary, in fact I see it backfire all the time. Children who never eat any kind of junk food or a less than healthy treat often overindulge whenever the opportunity arises. So instead, embrace the moment and allow your child to enjoy the dessert. I also advise against labeling foods good or bad. Indulge in the birthday cake on occasion and savor the deliciousness.  But just remember portion size is key and you can control that amount (rarely are seconds necessary) when serving to the family . In addition if most of the time, you eat healthfully, provide a wide variety of high nutrient snacks, then your child overtime will develop a healthy relationship with food.

Happy snacking! What are your child;s favorite snacks? Let me know:)

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Healthy Hearts-5 Important Habits for Kids

                                                                 Heart Health in Kids

 

I was inspired to write this as February is American Heart Month to remind everyone that heart health really starts in childhood to avoid cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity and diabetes. Kids today have developed so many bad health habits that they are facing heart attacks in their 30s. Many experts predict they will be the first generation to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.  But it doesn’t need to be this way. Parents like you have a great influence over your kid’s habits. By modeling the behaviors as well as instilling positive habits, you can make a huge different in your child’s health. It’s all about establishing good habits and breaking the bad ones early on.  Our habits from childhood continue into our adult lives and can have a huge impact on our overall health more so than just our genetics.  So let’s not wait, here are some tips to improve heart health as well as avoid other chronic diseases.

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Move it- Daily exercise is a must. For kids at least an hour a day of heart pumping movement. Childhood is a great time to try out different activities and sports, whether team or solo to find a good fit. For kids rotating activities and sports is preferable to avoid over use injuries in growing bones, joints ligaments and muscles. The idea is those kids that are active in childhood will continue to seek out physical fitness as adults. I was into dance and gymnastics as a child but now bicycling, and pilates are more my speed. It doesn’t really matter what activity you do, as long as you get your muscles fired up, strengthening, improving balance and get your heart rate up -to help combat chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart disease and improve mood. Remember family activities like walking the dog, raking leaves, and free play at the playground all count too!

More Plants – Eating a diet that is predominately plant based (fruits, veggies, whole grains) and less emphasis on protein from meat  is a great way to keep healthy . It provides loads of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants as well as lots of fiber to keep you full and regulate your sugar levels. Parents are always concerned about kids getting enough protein but in general, kids get more than even necessary on a daily basis whether it be meat, eggs, dairy, poultry, fish)  Opt for smaller portions and instead  pile on the fruits and veggies. Make those side dishes the main event! In addition limit cured, smoked and fried foods and opt for kids getting used to steamed, baked and sautéed foods.

Ditch Desserts- A common error with kids is too start a habit that a meal ends with dessert. Forget the sweets after dinner, you should end feeling adequate and full from the food on your plate.  If hungry a few hours later, first drink a glass of water or even milk. If need be give a snack that’s healthy and avoid the highly processed, sugary laden snacks. Save those for more special occasions rather than daily treats.  Another tip is portion control. I have an ice cream loving family so trade off between frozen fruit treats and ice cream and in addition portion control is key to feeling satisfied and avoiding binge eating from deprivation.  Serve a small single cupful of ice cream rather than ordering a large 2-3 scoops. Your kids will still be happy😊

Chat with Your Child- Though it may seem like your kid tunes you out or doesn’t want to hear what you have to say, start early and keep talking about dangers and risky behaviors of smoking. Kids who’s parents talk about drugs and alcohol are 42 percent less likely to use substances than those whose parents don’t. And I know as a pediatrician its not enough to just ask about cigarette use,  you must discuss E-cigarettes which now are all the rage and extremely addictive. The most common brand is JUUL that comes in enticing fruity flavors, and each one pod contains as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes! I am seeing teens who are using and can’t stop- they quickly become jittery, develop headaches, anxiety and nervousness, diarrhea and difficulty concentrating.  The other chemical carcinogens as well as nicotine are dangerous to the developing brain long term. And it appears those kids that start off with e-cigarette use “just for fun” end up using regular tobacco cigarettes at a much higher rate than kids who do not vape. Let your kids learn the facts from you and help them stay healthy now and avoid heart disease and lung cancer later on.

Preventive Care Visits-  Show your kids you care about their health and your own. Make sure to schedule family annual physical exams with your physicians and stay up to date on immunizations, routine lab tests and physical examinations to ensure your health is on track. Prevention is key to avoiding chronic disease. Its also a great time to get specific advice from your doctor if you have a concern or there is a family history of a certain disease. Partnering with your family doctor or pediatrician, asking questions and being a role model will help your kids stay connected to the health system as they become young adults and in charge of their health.  Remember starting them down the right path with good health habits can make all the difference now and into their future.