Break bad eating habits, not your budget

Wynne Everett

About 42 percent of American kids eat three or more snacks a day, according to a 2002 government study. That’s up from just 11 percent of us who snacked that much in 1977. Researchers also found that most of these snacks were processed and pre-packaged rather than homemade.

Those processed, single-serving snacks are unhealthy for your kids and your budget.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says our kids are getting too many of their calories from snacks and not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Here are some of her suggestions for improving nutrition and stretching your snack budget.

Differentiate between “snacks” — healthy foods that hold you over until the next meal — and “treats,” which should be limited to special occasions.

Don’t offer snacks to fill time or relieve your kids’ boredom.

Don’t back down. If your kid refuses a new kind of snack, just skip it. “If your kid doesn’t get a snack, big deal. There’s a meal coming soon.”

If you’re going to switch from potato chips, cookies and other popular but pricey foods, be patient. Gradually transition kids to healthier snacks. “If you’ve been feeding your kid potato chips for a snack for years and you suddenly switch to carrots, there is going to be some pushback,” Wootan said.

Canned fruit is just as nutritious as fresh and can often be bought in bulk at a discount. Look for peaches, Mandarin oranges and pineapple in natural juice or light syrup. You can package single servings in your own Tupperware for kids to grab out of their lunch boxes or the fridge.

On the right trail

Instead of pre-packaged snack mixes, try making your own trail mix from family-sized (read: less expensive) packages of dry cereals, dried fruits and nuts. Small resealable bags or reusable containers can give each child his or her own serving of the tasty treat. Look for low-fat granola, whole-grain cereals, peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and dried fruits like raisins, apricots, apples, pineapple or cranberries. This mixture will keep for a week or more in a sealed container: One medium bag of plain M&Ms, 8 ounces of dried cranberries or raisins, 9 to 10 ounces of whole cashews or peanuts.

GateHouse News Service