Spring and sports are in the air. Whether soccer, softball, or some other sport, it’s not unusual for a children’s team to celebrate a victory or recover from a loss with a post-game snack. It’s very important to choose wisely when it comes to what snack is eaten because snacks can also help children get the nutrients they need.
Helping children learn which foods to choose to stay fit is part of providing a foundation for lifelong health. Think of a snack as a mini-meal that helps provide nutrients and energy children need to learn, focus and play well. Active kids are healthier kids and good nutrition supports good health and enhances performance. Let them know how food helps them grow. Deliver it in terms that children understand. Tell them that food fuels their bodies the same way gas fuels a car.
It's important for children to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, which can lessen their strength, energy, and coordination and lead to heat-related illness. For most young children, water is the best choice for hydration. It is calorie-free and low cost. Make sure a pitcher of water and cups are available every day at snack time. Kids should also drink plenty of water when they are playing and being active.
Some good snacks choices include:
• Low-fat cheese, yogurt, or milk
• Mini sandwiches of whole grain crackers topped with peanut butter, lunch meat or cheese
• Banana muffins with extra bananas and applesauce instead of oil
• Fruit such as sliced apples, orange wedges, cantaloupe, blueberries, grapes, raspberries, strawberries or watermelon
• Vegetables such as baby carrots, red pepper slices, celery sticks or cherry tomatoes
• For a little crunch choose sunflower and/or pumpkin seeds, plain or low-fat popcorn, soy nuts, whole-grain bread, crackers, tortillas, or pretzels
• To satisfy a sweet tooth try no-sugar added applesauce cups, granola, raisins, dried fruit or popsicles made with 100 percent fruit juice
When it comes to tailgating or eating at an event, you want to keep the same things in mind for yourself and your children. It might be tempting to grab a side of fries or onion rings, but avoid it if you can. Look for or bring with you fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
The Independence Parks and Recreation Department is making this easier by offering healthier options at its park concessions. For the 2014 season the menu at all Independence park concessions will consist of 30 percent healthy choices, which are defined as entrees with fewer than 400 calories, snacks with less than 250 calories, and juice under 40 calories per 12-ounce serving with no added sugar. This is in line with the Missouri’s statewide initiative Eat Smart in Parks, which is an effort aimed at promoting healthier eating options in Missouri’s state and local parks.
Snacks will soon be changing in schools as well. Candy bars, doughnuts and regular potato chips will become scarce under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new "Smart Snacks in School" nutrition standards. They will be replaced replaced by healthier options. This represents the first nutritional overhaul of school snacks in more than 30 years. According to the USDA schools and food and beverage companies must meet these standards by July 1.
The regulations set limits for fat, salt and sugar sold in places such as vending machines and snack bars. School foods must contain at least 50 percent whole grains or have a fruit, vegetable, dairy or protein as the first ingredient. Foods that contain at least one-fourth cup of fruit and/or vegetables will also be allowed.
Beverages will be under watch as well. Sports drinks that contain relatively high amounts of sugar are prohibited, but the low-calorie versions will be for sale. Low-fat and fat-free milk, 100 percent fruit and vegetable juice, and no-calorie flavored waters are permitted. Potable water must be made available to kids at no charge where meals are served.
Remember, snacks should be healthy and fun. As a parent, try to be a good role model. Eating and activity habits are formed early in life. You can help your child develop healthy habits so they can reach their full potential.
Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.