School’s out: Smart summer snacking

The kids are home from school, so let the grazing begin. Snacking isn’t a bad thing - if you plan it correctly. First, snacks should be a smaller amount than a meal. Second, snacks should be of the healthy variety. Read on to learn tips on being sure your children don’t resort to convenience foods.

LIMA — Now that kids are officially home for the summer, it’s time to fill the refrigerator with healthy snacks to fuel outdoor play and exercise.

Of course, there are better ways to satisfy hunger than opening a bag of chips and allowing a free-for-all snacking session. But how do parents make sure their children aren’t just junking out? A couple of local experts shared their tips for nutritious munching and crunching that will satisfy active kids all summer long.

“I always encourage families with really active children to try to keep ready-to-eat fresh fruits and vegetables in their refrigerator,” said Robin Pohlman, a registered dietitian with Lima Memorial Health System. “So, they can have baby carrots, celery washed and ready to eat in the refrigerator in a container — so they can just grab it and pull it out. Sometimes doing the small containers of low-fat or light yogurt, or even pudding made with low-fat milk works out really good for grab-and-go snacks.”

Portion size is something else to keep in mind for healthy snacking, Pohlman noted. Serving individual, pre-portioned snacks during the summer is typically a better idea than simply opening a bag of crackers and digging in.

“A lot of times, especially children, they make snacks a meal,” she said. “Snacks should be smaller than a meal, obviously.”

Is it hot outside and the kids need a frozen treat to cool down? Instead of serving up a big bowl of ice cream, maybe try frozen yogurt or a sugar-free popsicle, Pohlman suggested.

“Instead of potato chips, if you still want that salt and savory kind of flavor, maybe do homemade trail mix,” she added.

Alexa Miller, director of membership services with Anytime Fitness in Lima, stressed that healthy snacking and eating should be a family affair.

“It’s hard because when you’re talking to the kids, it’s something where the parents almost need to listen, too, because the kids are kind of following the parents’ footsteps,” Miller said. “You can’t tell the kids not to have junk food in the house if the parents are the ones buying the groceries.”

Miller’s advice: Cut the junk! If you don’t buy junk food in the first place, it can’t possibly be tempting you from the pantry. However, if you do decide to keep some special treats around the house, make sure to use them sparingly, she advised.

“Let’s be honest, they are kids, too; they do need treats once in a while,” she said. “Whatever it is, put it in a different location and make it last.”

Limiting the consumption of empty-calorie drinks— regular sodas, sports drinks, juices and more — is another helpful snacking tip for summertime.

“The truth is, regular Gatorade and juice have so many extra calories and sugar that kids don’t need,” she said. “It’s almost as bad, or at times as bad as drinking pop.”

Again, cutting out these drinks altogether probably isn’t the best move. Serving them in moderation is key.

Making an effort ensure that kids snack when they’re hungry and not when they’re just bored, is also important, Miller said. One mistake parents might make — which could, in turn, affect their snacking habits — is insisting that children finish their plates of food during mealtime.

“That’s not teaching our kids to stop eating when they’re full,” Miller said. “Maybe they are full, and you’re making them eat that extra 200 calories that they don’t need.”

Another tidbit of advice from Miller: If you set it out, kids will probably eat it.

“If you have a lot of kids over after school, or the weekend and your kids have friends over — if you cut up vegetables and fruit and healthier snacks, and put those out on the table, the kids are going to eat them,” she said. “But at the same time, if you put out Twinkies and all that kind of stuff, they’re probably going to eat them, too. Sometimes kids aren’t even conscious about it. They’ll run through and they’ll grab snacks.”

Having kids go with parents to the grocery store and allowing them pick out their own fresh produce and nutritious snack items can be a great way to include children in the process, Miller noted.

“Have them pick out stuff that they like, get home and kind of make it an activity to do together,” she said. “Have them help you cut it up, wash them, put them in containers. And that way they’re just easily accessible. Because if you bring home a lot of fruits and veggies and you just leave them in your fridge, they’re more than likely not going to eat them because it takes work to cut them up.”

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