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Stock your pantry with healthful snacks

August 18, 2010|By LYNN LITTLE / Special to The Herald-Mail

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

Healthful snacks are typically nutrient dense, meaning that they offer concentrated nutritional benefits in relation to their calories.

Healthful snacks include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, crackers, dairy foods and even leftovers rather than prepackaged snack foods that often are high in sugar and fat and short on nutritional benefits.

When planned to complement rather than replace a meal, a healthful snack will take the edge off the appetite and reduce the temptation to overeat at the next meal.

oChoose snack foods from two food groups that complement each other, such as whole grain crackers and milk or fruit and cheese. Combining low-fat cheese with a whole grain tortilla and chopped peppers to make a quesadilla is another example.

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Choose snack foods that can boost overall nutrition and health. Some healthful snack suggestions include:

o 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.

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

o 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 cool hot weather snack.

o Popcorn is a healthful whole grain food --- it's the add-ons, such as butter and salt, which can give it a bad rap. For a healthy snack, omit the extras and watch portion size.

o Consider 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.

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

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

o To enjoy similar convenience to pre-packaged snack foods, buy healthful snacks in bulk and repackage single servings in reusable serving containers or, if on the go, disposable containers such as resealable plastic bags.

Children need regularly planned snacks because their stomachs are small and they are not likely to eat enough at mealtime to carry them through to the next meal.

o A planned snack also can be helpful for adults, whose energy level may dip at mid-morning or mid-afternoon. Most children and adults can enjoy age-appropriate portions of the same snack foods.

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

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