Snacks, Sweets and Stars …Oh My!

Recently I was invited to present to the parents and administrators of two local NY school districts. I genuinely enjoy the opportunity to speak to parents and caregivers about their child’s nutrition. As a sidebar, to be able to speak directly with a group like this is unique, noteworthy and a clear illustration of a community’s commitment to the health and wellness of their students. This is definitely a welcomed start and a great way to begin the conversation on healthy eating and nutrition.

When I lead a conversation on healthier eating for school age children, there are a few questions that always come up. The first is snacking – should kids or shouldn’t they? What is a healthy snack? I’m not surprised so many adults are thrown off by the “if, when and how” of proper snacking, as many adults I know struggle with it themselves. For me, what to choose in the afternoon is cause for the greatest concern and deserves our focus and attention.  Why?  Some kids are “calorically” eating a fourth meal during this time. So here’s the scoop…Yes, kids should snack (we all should) but it needs be purposeful and act like a “bridge” between meals. An ideal snack combines our nutrients – a little carbohydrate with some protein and/or healthful fat. That may sound hard but it simply means adding one of the many Guiding Stars “3 star” peanut butters or a cheese stick with some starred fruit or whole grain crackers like those made by Kashi (3 stars); or mixing a handful of nuts (3 stars) with pretzels.

A well-combined snack like this is sustaining and believe it or not adds to the overall quality of your child’s day. Think about it like this – that simple Goldfish snack that you pack for your child to eat an hour before they come home is mostly empty calories … and as a result leaves them ready to drop from hunger and lack of energy  just about the time they are getting off the bus or walking in the door. Probably not what you are aiming for…but fortify the snack by adding a handful of nuts or lightly salted roasted soy beans (2 stars), and now you have a snack that will keep them satisfied (more energetic and less grumpy) longer.

Almonds / / CC BY 2.0

After snacking, the topic that seems to get the most attention is sweets. My personal philosophy on sweets is that they not be an everyday occurrence but allowed occasionally at parties and other special events. For me, the message around sweets boils down to simply understanding they are a “sometimes” food. They are not bad and we are not bad for eating them. We just don’t want to create a situation where kids seek them out more than any other food. I simply remind parents, caregivers and children that sweets are “sometimes” foods because they don’t give us good energy – meaning they don’t make us stronger or faster at doing the things we love to do. It is for this reason we should not eat them all the time.

Finally, no presentation is complete without discussing how to serve quick, healthful meals during a busy week. Like the other two topics, this is part of a larger conversation about helping kids balance their diet to prevent childhood obesity and touches both on lunches and dinners. In my world, this offers an easy, teachable moment on how to use Guiding Stars, as it is all about redirecting choices for better balance. This is how I teach it to kids. My goal is to encourage them, for example, to drop the French fries and substitute baby carrots when they eat chicken nuggets so that a nutritious, star-rated choice has a presence on their plate. Often parents are stressed out about what it is exactly their kids are eating during the day. They have fears about the nutritional quality of the school lunch. I’m pleased to say that many schools in my immediate geographical area are doing the best they can to improve their in school lunch offerings. I, however, strongly encourage parents to limit “buying” school lunches  to 2-3 days per week. It gives you more control. I remind participants to balance the school lunch with dinner – so if lunch was fried or “cheesy” make a simple dinner of chicken, rice and vegetables to counter balance what your child was fed at school. We live in an age of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and steady headlines about the health of children, so at times it can be hard to remember how much good we are actually doing.

It all starts with conversations like these. My plan is to have even more in the coming weeks and months and I’m happy to have them with you too! You can follow me on twitter @guidingstarsRD.  Together we can get the word out on eating more nutritiously and do what is right for our kids which after all is really what this is all about!

About our Consulting Dietitian

Allison Stowell MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian and a working mom of two. Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.

She also runs a successful private practice with offices in Danbury, CT, Bedford Hills, NY and Mahopac, NY. Since 2007, Allison has also worked with the grocer, Hannaford Brothers Corporation, as a Nutrition Coordinator. She provides complementary nutrition classes and tours, community workshops and one-on-one shopping experiences at their Carmel, NY location.

She joins the Guiding Stars team to help people in a number of sectors (grocery, hospitals, schools and universities) to understand how to use the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation program to make healthier food choices.

Allison lives in Connecticut with her husband, two small children and her dog, Chase.