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Never underestimate the power of a snack.  They have a major impact on a child’s diet.

Nutrition research supporting the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans is clear.  As Americans, we eat more calories than we need, without getting the needed nutrients. How does this happen? By eating foods that are high in calories and low in nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines and ChooseMyPlate.gov recommend that we consume foods higher in nutrients and lower in calories.

Snacks are important. A recent dietary survey of infants and toddlers found that snacks provided 25 percent of the total calories consumed by one- and two-year-olds. Typical snacks included milk, crackers, cookies, chips and fruit drinks. The research shows a similar trend for older children and adolescents.

The recommendations from MyPlate are to make half the plate fruits and vegetables, one-fourth whole grains, one-fourth lean protein and serve low-fat dairy foods.  This is true for children and adults.  Snacks are a great way to get more of the nutrients we need for good health, without getting more calories than we need.

Improving snacks can help improve overall eating patterns. Here are some snack ideas for a healthier family:

  • Keep fruit on the table and carrot and celery sticks visible in the refrigerator.
  • Set a good example. When kids see you enjoy fruits, vegetables and whole grains, they will too.
  • For snacks on the go, try apples, raisins, grapes, carrots, sliced vegetables and dip made with low-fat yogurt.
  • Try whole wheat bread with peanut butter, whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, or whole grain popcorn or cereal mixed with nuts or raisins.
  • Keep less chips, candy, cookies and soda around. Instead, provide healthier convenience foods like berries, yogurt, bananas, carrots, broccoli or graham crackers.

Are healthy snacks available at school? Do you know what choices your children have not only in the school lunch program, but also in vending machines at school?  Let your school administration, Parent Teacher Organization, or school board know that you are interested in the food choices available to your children.

Prioritizing your family’s health can be a challenge. Being aware of what your family is snacking on is an important step toward improved nutritional health.  For more nutrition information go online to ChooseMyPlate.gov

Author:  Linnette Goard, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension.

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