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Snacks can help with good health

May 08, 2012|Lynn Little

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

Fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and crackers, dairy foods and even leftovers are good choices, as they are nutrient-dense in relation to their calorie count. Pre-packaged snacks are convenient, however, most are often high in sugar and fat and short on nutritional benefits. 

When planned to complement meals rather than replace them, a snack 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. 

Children typically fall short in dietary recommendations (www.choose myplate.gov) for calcium-rich dairy foods, fruits and 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 cut up fruits and vegetables, cover so flavors don't migrate, and store them 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 cut up fruits and vegetables in ready-to-go containers can ensure a healthy snack at almost any time. 
 A glass of 100-percent fruit juice or vegetable juice also can serve as a healthful snack. However, whole, fresh fruits and vegetables, rather than juice, offer more fiber. 

 Low-fat dairy products, including string cheese, low-fat milk or yogurt are calcium-rich and nutrient-dense. Consider combining fruit and milk or juice to make a homemade smoothie (visit www.fruitandveggiesmorematters.org and do a recipe search). You could freeze fruit juice or yogurt to make a cooling summer snack.

 Popcorn is a healthful whole-grain food; it's the add-ons, such as butter and salt, that can give it a bad rap. For a healthful snack, hold the extras and watch your 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 and protein to provide a filling, satisfying snack. 

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

 Consider leftovers as a snack. A slice of cold pizza may 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 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 multi-tasking. Adults tend to mindlessly eat more when they aren't paying attention to what they eat. 

Visit www.choosemyplate.gov and search for healthy snacks. You will find tips and ideas on choosing and serving healthful snacks. 



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

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