Jane Brody again has another immensely readable and helpful column in the New York Times that summarizes Michael Pollan’s newest book, Food Rules.
The article is worth a read once a week, or maybe even once a day, because our entire culture really is constantly reminding us to break those “rules” of good nutrition. “Have a syrupy drink. Munch a crunchy oily snack. Eat a sugary cookie. Maybe just one. You deserve it.” The best parent is fighting a continuous battle to teach good eating habits at least while the kids are at home, not too raise scrawny lactose-free vegans who can’t eat anything and look like it, but to raise kids who develop a taste for things that are good for them, rather than those that just fill them up fast.
I particularly liked Ms. Brody’s (and Pollan’s) suggestions on snacking, one of the worst of our daily habits.
Although the most wholesome eating pattern consists of three leisurely meals a day, and preferably a light meal at night, if you must have snacks, stick to fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and nuts, which are naturally loaded with healthful nutrients. I keep a dish of raisins and walnuts handy to satisfy the urge to nibble between meals. I also take them along for long car trips. Feel free to use the gas-station restroom, but never “get your fuel from the same place your car does,” Mr. Pollan writes.
I have to say that I fall victim to a cliché we’ve seen over and over on TV. Kids come home from school. They are hungry. Of course, they should have cookies and milk. Because that’s what I’ve seen on TV hundreds of times and I think it’s what a good mom or dad does for their kids. That’s actually where my mind goes when they come home and complain that they are hungry. I literally have to stop and think twice and then suggest something else on some days.
Some suggestions for healthy snacking:
1. Freeze plain yogurt and frozen or fresh fruit in popsicles. It’s amazing how form factor affects young appetites. Avoid the yogurts that are filled with gelatin and extra sweeteners.
2. Buy different dip-friendly vegetables and leave out where kids can grab them. You might have to leave out 3-4 options like celery, carrots, pea pods and broccoli to see what gets eaten, but, if that’s what’s out, they might surprise you. Cream cheese, while still 50 calories for a tablespoon is still a kid-friendly lower-fat though it has a bit more fat than regular old cheddar cheese at about 35 calories for a tablespoon. We’ve had to develop a change of habit when it comes to vegetables. A little more gets thrown away, but a lot more gets eaten if I prepare a little bit in advance so I can often set out a bowl of cut up yellow or red peppers, some snow peas, some carrots and some celery. Give them lots of choices and find stuff they can use as dip, like peanut butter or….#3 next:
3. Try hummus, which often comes in different flavors. Some kids will eat a boatload of this healthy mixture of crushed chick peas, olive or canola oil, a little salt (100 mg. for 2 tablespoons), lemon juice, some spices, and garlic. We usually get our hummus from Trader Joe’s which makes a natural blend with olive oil. It has about 70 calories for a 2 TBS serving. We recently tried Tribe Hummus which is all-natural as well, and comes in flavors like extra garlic and red pepper. It’s made with canola oil which is an oil low in saturated fat and has only 50 calories per 2 TBS serving. Look for natural options in your neck of the woods. The only drawback of this healthy food is that your kids might start farting very odiferous farts. It’s a small price to pay for healthier eating, especially if you have a distant rec room with good ventilation.
4. Leave out dried fruit as a substitute for candy. We like plain old raisins, but now, almost all fruits are dried up to make healthier snacks. The one caveat here is that many, especially those with health claims all over the box, use added sugar to make them even that much better tasting. We also tried more novelty items like Frutabu, which is a kid-oriented brand that makes eating “smooshed” fruit rolls look fun. My kids gobbled them down and asked for more. All the ingredients are natural and there is no added sugar that doesn’t come from the fruit. Sadly, the kids prefer the bright packaging and form factor, but I have to admit to hoarding a few of them myself.
5. While nuts are a calorie-high snacking food for adults, they are great for nutrition and some nutritionists suggest eating 10-20 almonds every day (around 100 calories). If your kids like nuts, this is a far better option than a bag of chips (and they don’t crush in a lunch bag. As with other nuts, be aware of choking hazard for kids under three, as well as the possibility of life-threatening food allergies.
6. Another option in small quantities is olives. Olives are concentrated in monounsaturated fats and a good source of vitamin E. Each olive is five to six calories so should only be part of a mix of other healthy snacks, especially since the sodium content is high at about 60 mg. per medium size olive. The USDA suggests a sodium intake of less than 2300mg. for adults and some doctors think that number should be lower than 1000mg. Most medium size olives are around 10 calories and about 75 mg. of salt.
7. Let them have ice cream or other sweets on occasion. At our house, it’s ice cream Fridays. Sure the kids would love ice cream every day, but they know (mostly) not to expect that will happen.
Don’t demonize eating the “bad stuff” or you risk kids fetishizing the foods that mom and dad think are so baaaddddd. It’s better to provide more healthy options and educate kids why the stuff you are giving them is good for their growing bodies.
I’d love to hear more ideas. Write me at Paul AT GreatDad . com or leave a comment below.