Snacks need not be 'snack food'

May 09, 2007|by LYNN LITTLE

A well-chosen snack can boost energy and brainpower and be helpful in managing weight and health.

Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and crackers, dairy foods and even leftovers are usually the best choices as they are nutrient-dense in relation to their calorie count. Many prepackaged foods, marketed as snack foods, might not fill the bill. Prepackaged snacks are convenient, however, the majority of prepackaged snack foods are often high in sugar and fat and short on nutritional benefits.

While children need regularly planned snacks because their stomachs are small and they simply are not likely to eat enough at mealtime to carry them through to the next meal, a planned snack also can be helpful for adults, whose energy level might dip during the morning or afternoon.

When planned to complement meals, rather than replace them, a snack typically takes the edge off the appetite and reduces the temptation to overeat at the next meal. Choose snack foods from two food groups that complement each other, such as whole-grain crackers and milk or fruit and cheese, as a healthy snack. Combining low-fat cheese with a whole-grain tortilla and chopped peppers to make a quesadilla is another example.


Children typically fall short in comparison to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary recommendations for calcium-rich dairy foods, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Because the same also is generally true for adults, choosing these foods as snack foods can boost overall nutrition and health.

Tips for healthy snacks include:

· Make fruits and vegetables easy to eat. Wash and section (or cut up) fruits and vegetables and store them, covered, so flavors won't migrate in the refrigerator. Orange sections, apple slices, a banana, grapes or chunks of melons are examples of easy-to-eat fruits. Celery stalks, carrot sticks, broccoli or cauliflower florets and pepper strips are easy-to-eat vegetables. Placing chunks of melon, sectioned oranges or cut fresh vegetables in ready-to-go containers can ensure a healthy snack at almost any time.

· One hundred percent fruit juice or vegetable juice also can serve as a healthy snack. However, fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than juice, offer more fiber.

· Low-fat dairy products, including a string cheese log, low-fat milk or yogurt are calcium-rich and nutrient-dense. Consider combining fruit and milk or juice to make a homemade smoothie, or freeze fruit juice or yogurt for a cooling summer snack.

· Popcorn is a healthy whole-grain food; it's the add-ons, such as butter and salt, that can give it a bad rap. For a healthy snack, hold the extras and watch portion size.

· Serve whole-grain crackers or toast with peanut butter, which combine complex carbohydrates (which break down slowly to provide lasting energy) and some fat (from the peanut butter) for satiety value.

· A bowl of whole-grain cereal, dry to munch or with milk, also can make a quick, easy and healthy snack.

· Consider leftovers as a snack. A slice of cold pizza might represent up to four food groups - grain, dairy, vegetable and protein.

Most children and adults can enjoy age-appropriate portions of the same snack foods. Small children should, however, be supervised while eating a snack. Older children, teens and adults should sit down while eating a snack, rather than walking around the house or doing something else. We tend to mindlessly eat more when we aren't paying attention to what we eat.

For more tips and ideas on choosing and serving healthy snacks, go to

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

The Herald-Mail Articles