How Healthy Snacks Can Make Your Child a Better Learner
We all want our children to get the foods they need to learn, grow, and have long, healthy lives. A healthy eating routine is important at every stage of life, and it can have positive effects that add up over time. Existing data suggest that children who eat a more balanced diet are healthier and often better learners. Good nutrition helps children have fewer absences and behave better in school, resulting in fewer disruptions in the classroom.
Snacks can be particularly challenging. Many packaged snacks for children are full of refined flour, added sugars, artificial ingredients, and high salt and fat levels. Food and drink packaged with marketing that appeals to children, such as colorful labels or cartoon characters, are often higher in sugars and lower in all other nutrients.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide snacks – children need to refuel more often than just breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and snacks are a great way to help your child eat more fruits, veggies, and other essential things like fiber.
It’s important to note that many young children don’t know the difference between healthy and unhealthy snacks, and you can help them learn how to choose snacks wisely to get the energy and nutrients they need.
Tips and Tricks
Making a healthy snack in fun shapes and colors can be more appealing to children who might tend to turn up their noses at fruits and veggies. Using cookie cutters to shape food can provide a fun activity, which may motivate your child to eat the healthy snack they helped to make.
Encourage your child to eat a rainbow of foods by choosing a variety of different-colored whole foods throughout the day and week. The more naturally occurring colors at each meal or snack, the better. (It does not mean making a rainbow with artificially colored foods such as gummy snacks, soda, and popsicles.)
Bite by Bite
Start small, no matter your children’s food preferences (or lack of) or your family’s budget. The US Department of Agriculture wants everyone to ‘start simple’, as the benefits of healthy eating add up over time, bite by bite. Small changes matter. You can download the USDA’s MyPlate mini-posters in English or Spanish, giving hints such as choosing whole-grain versions of common foods such as bread, pasta, and tortillas.
For those that qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), you can take advantage of the fruit and veggie allowances and healthy options on the food lists and the farmers market coupons available in the summer through your local WIC office. This guide can help you explore different fruits and vegetables throughout the year.
You are not alone! Your child may insist on eating only a specific type of food or refuse foods based on a certain color or texture. They may also play at the table and may want to avoid eating. Don’t worry if your child has some picky eating behaviors: it is common for many children from 2 to 5 years old. You can look for tips and tricks from the USDA’s Healthy Tips for Picky Eaters in English and Spanish.
And, of course, the best way to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you’ll be building lifelong habits for healthy living and healthy learning and modeling what you hope to inspire in your children too.