Parents are constantly bombarded with information on what they should and shouldn’t give their children as snacks; complicated by a stream of ads for unhealthy snacks. So how do busy parents juggle children’s hunger pangs, while making sure they’re balancing nutritional needs? Nina Hendy investigates.
Making sure your hungry child is snacking on nutrient-rich food is a constant battle. Especially when you throw in the fact that your child may see their classmates eating junk food or that you haven’t had time to buy fresh fruit and vegetables yet this week.
And while it sounds idealistic, feeding your children organic snacks isn’t always realistic as this could quickly break the family budget.
Sydney mother Cindy Matias says it’s very difficult for parents to find healthy snacks for their children. “Most of the advertised snacks at the supermarket are full of sugar and that’s exactly what kids want, so I find I’m saying no a lot. And that’s hard because often they see their friends eating those things every day. But I don’t want to feed my kids constant sugar.”
Cindy packs a piece of fruit, crackers or yoghurt most days for her two school-aged children. She says sweet biscuits, like Tiny Teddies, are packed as an occasional treat. She believes school lunchboxes present parents with a great opportunity to feed their children healthy food. ‘While they’re at school, they’re forced to eat what’s in their lunchbox because there’s no other choice.’
Sydney mother Kim McGuiness says growing your own vegetables worked well for her family. Her children snack on Lebanese cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, fruit and sesame snaps. As a treat they have jelly, an ice cream or a lolly, but she opts for natural where possible. ‘It also helps when they help to prepare foods in the kitchen that they haven’t eaten before.’
But life is more difficult for Sydney mother Denise Shrivell, who has two daughters aged seven and nine. Both are allergic to nuts, which nutritionists often recommend as a healthy snack in small doses. ‘We have a lot of challenges with food and what we can have in the house,’ Denise says.
Matters are complicated by the fact that her nine year old is a fussy eater. ‘We’ve taken her to tonnes of dieticians and nutritionists and they’ve told us that fussy eating is a natural defence system when a child has allergies,’ Denise says.
‘When it comes to snacks, you’re bombarded by junk food opportunities these days. Supermarkets are junk food heaven. My kids are very aware of when their next junk food opportunities are. It’s like a drug. The kids all rush for the lollies at birthday parties.’
Denise has even resorted to writing down everything her eldest daughter eats to ensure she’s eating everything from the five food groups. ‘I found that she’s getting all the nutrients she needs, albeit in very limited variation.’
Denise admits the situation can be very difficult, with an impending trip to China possibly forcing her spend the trip in fast food restaurants. ‘I can’t tell you how frustrating it is. We try and get her to try new things and if she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t have to eat it. That’s how we manage it.’
Gold Coast mother of three Mireille Ryan, who offers nutritional advice for children on her website busymumsfitnessclub.com, says if parents set a good example for their children, they’ve won half the battle.
She nicknames various healthy foods to make them sounds more exciting. ‘I call broccoli trees, and tell me kids to see who can eat all the trees in the forest.’ In her house, school lunch snacks include boiled eggs, vegetable sticks and corn thins.
But she advises that there does need to be some balance.
‘If a child doesn’t have access to treats at all, as soon as they get near junk food they’ll probably gorge themselves until they make themselves sick. We make it that there’s a place for nice things, like dessert, but only on weekends. And we don’t label food as being good food or bad food so there’s no guilt associated with eating unhealthy food later on.’
According to the Raising Children Network (Australia), fresh fruit, stewed fruit in natural juice, dried fruit, yoghurt, pieces of cheese, fruit bread, rice cakes, pikelets and crackers all make nutritious snacks for children. Opting for small fruits such as berries and apricots is best, or cut larger fruits into pieces so your child can eat easily and quickly, the site suggests.
‘If you limit sweet snacks, like chocolate, lollies and muesli bars, as well as salty fatty ones, like packets of chips (which are all low in nutrients but high in calories), there’s a greater chance your child will eat healthy food you want her to eat. Save treats for special occasions,’ the website advises.
It also says to make sure that containers in lunchboxes seal well but can be opened easily for your child.
Establish health eating habits from birth. This will help your child avoid problems with being overweight or developing obesity later on. Here are 10 top tips to get you on your way.
- Promote healthy eating in your home. Children are more likely to develop healthy eating behaviours when they are provided with a choice of healthy foods in their home environment.
- As a family, familiarise yourself with the five food groups. Also remind yourself of the food amounts recommended for different age groups to support health and wellbeing. You could put up a poster that summarises this information in your kitchen or on your fridge; or make a big poster as a family.
- Make a distinction between every day food and sometimes food. Talk to your child about this distinction.
- Establish healthy eating routines. Healthy eating is not only about food choices, it’s also about eating nutritious foods on a regular, predictable basis.
- Acknowledge your child whenever they choose healthy food. Give positive feedback, for example ‘Wow, you picked a banana for morning tea! Delicious!’ Remind your child of the benefits of healthy eating. Try and avoid nagging or making mealtimes a battleground, or occasions for power struggles.
- Make physical activity part of every day life. Aside from exercise, encourage your child to walk instead of getting in the car, take the dog for a walk instead of watching TV and use steps instead of lifts or escalators in shopping centres.
- Enjoy physical activity as a family. You could ride bikes together, or visit the park to throw Frisbee or kick a football. Talk about these as fun play rather than exercise. Sometimes children who are forced to exercise or participate in activities that they don’t enjoy develop a negative attitude to physical activity for the rest of their lives.
- Turn off the TV. Limit the time your child spends on low-activity pastimes, like watching television or playing computer games.
- Try not to draw too much attention to your child’s weight. This may cause self-esteem issues and lack of confidence.
- Set a good example. Parents who have a healthy diet and frequently engage in physical activity are much more likely to encourage the same habits in their children.
By Nina Hendy
Vegetarian Chickpea spread
This savory sandwich spread and dip is incredibly versatile and great to have on hand for snacks. Serve with crisped pita triangles, crudites, melba toasts or garlic-rubbed baguette slices.
1 (19 ounce) can chickpeas
1 stalk celery, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste
- Drain and rinse chickpeas.
- Pour chickpeas into a medium size mixing bowl and mash with a fork.
- Mix in celery, onion, mayonnaise, lemon juice, dill, salt and pepper to taste.
These low-fat baked pita chips, brushed with olive oil and herbs, are wonderful warm and fresh from the oven, and they're great to have at the ready to accompany dips and salsas or on their own for healthy snacks.
12 pita bread pockets
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried chervil
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees C).
- Cut each pita bread into 8 triangles. Place triangles on lined biscuit tray.
- In a small bowl, combine the oil, pepper, salt, basil and chervil. Brush each triangle with oil mixture.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned and crispy. Watch carefully, as they tend to burn easily!
50 grams mMargarine
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa (sifted)
1 cup SR flour (sifted)
1 cup sultanas
- Combine all dry ingredients.
- Melt margarine, then mix well into dry ingredients.
- Roll into walnut size balls and slightly flatten with fork.
- Place onto greased tray. Bake at 180 degrees for 10-15minutes or until cooked.
- Allow to cool before serving.
Low fat muffins
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups SR flour, sifted
2 tablespoons marmalade
1/2 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup yoghurt (low fat vanilla)
- Pre-heat oven to 200 C. Coat a 12 cup muffin tray with cooking spray.
- Sift the flour and bi-carb soda into a medium bowl.
- Combine the yoghurt, orange juice and sugar and add to the flour.
- Add the egg and stir to combine, being careful not to over mix.
- Spoon mixture into the prepared tray
- Heat the marmalade in the microwave for 30 seconds. Brush over cooked muffins.
Source: Nutrition Australia
This article was first published in the Spring 2009 edition of Australian Family Magazine.