Three Simple Ways to Healthier Eating Part 2: Redefine Snacks

One question I hear over and over again when talking to people about eating fewer processed foods is “How do I start?” It got me thinking back to how I started changing my families eating habits, how overwhelming it seemed, and what small first steps I took. The result is this three-part series of posts about three simple things you can do to start eating healthier.

GOAL: Eat less “snack foods” and more food for snacks.

WHY: Making snack time into a mini meal is more satisfying, lessens consumption of processed snack foods, and passes on the skill of putting together food for a snack, rather than grabbing “snack food.”

“Snack is a time, not a food” Dr. Dina Rose

Most people, especially kids, need a little something to make it from one meal to the next. But snack time shouldn’t be just chips, crackers, fruit leathers, or cereal bars.

It’s time to break out of the box and redefine what a snack is.

The majority of traditional snack foods include additives, colors, high sodium but don’t pack very much of a nutritional punch. Even so-called healthy options (organic cereal bars, cheese sticks, pretzels, etc.) don’t make good stand alone snacks.

It’s better to make a mini-meal that includes at least two different things, one of them being a fruit or vegetable. It’s healthier and more filling with less food — and you don’t have to worry about kids “ruining” their appetite for the next real meal because the snack was a real meal.

HOW: Changing snack time can seem almost impossible, but it can be done! Here are some practical tips for making some real change in the way your kids snack, based on things that worked in my house.

  • Think of each snack as a mini-meal, and always include fruits or vegetables.
  • Stop buying the worst snack foods currently in your pantry. If they aren’t there, no one can eat them. I went cold turkey with the Goldfish crackers, and when they weren’t there, we found something else to eat instead.
  • Serve snacks on plate. This gives kids a visual guide to what an appropriate amount of food is for a snack. This also limits mindless munching out of bags or boxes.
  • Mix up the snack “menu.” Limit each type of traditional snack food (like chips or crackers) to once a week and make sure to serve fruit or veg with it.
  • Keep fruits and vegetables handy and visible, a proven way to increase kids consumption of them.
  • Be creative. Snack can be a peanut butter and banana sandwich, homemade cookies with milk, veggies and hummus, a yogurt and fruit parfait, or homemade smoothies – so much more than a bowl of chips or a bag of animal-shaped graham crackers.
  • Don’t stress if your kids have a hard time at first. I always try to remember this gem from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules: “If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.” And remember, snack time is optional. If your kids don’t eat it, it’s okay.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Changing snacks into mini meals made up of food will lessen the amount of processed food your family eats and cut your spending in the chip and cracker aisle. Your kids will be healthier, feel better, and will learn how to snack – an important food skill.

Remember: I’m not a health or medical professional and this is not meant to be medical advice. Speak to your physician if you have questions about diet and nutrition.

1 comment for “Three Simple Ways to Healthier Eating Part 2: Redefine Snacks

  1. December 7, 2010 at 10:22 am

    Here’s another way to think about snacks: if you wouldn’t serve it for a meal in a larger portion, it’s a treat not a snack. Would you put a pile of Goldfish on the dinner plate, candy, or cookies? No. Then it’s a treat, not a snack.

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