Basic Nutrition for Children

Basic Nutrition for Children

by Dr. Michael B. Finkelstein, M.D., F.A.C.P., A.B.H.M.
posted on June 13th 2010

Snacks are a great way to ensure that our busy little folks continue to thrive despite their frenzied pace and food aversions. 

But we’re not talking about letting your toddler tote around a bag of fried taters. When we say “snacks” we mean something that is fresh and healthy but also tastes good, whether it’s carrot sticks, grapes, grab−and−go organic snack bars, or something creative you and your child whip up in the kitchen together. 

You should offer several (and portable) healthy snacks between main meals. Stash those with a relatively long shelf life in your car, purse, diaper bag or stroller pocket so you are never without a quick bite − suggestions for these include raw nuts and dried fruit.

Give your child an opportunity to share in the decision making process when selecting snacks. However, don’t overwhelm your toddler with choices; just offer two or three different healthy options. Depending on his/her exact age, independence level, temperament, and motor skills, you may even consider allowing some degree of free access to snacks. Ultimately, snacks are a critical source of nutrition for our children and can fill in some of the gaps, not only between meals, but in their overall nutritional balance. But here again, be selective as to what you offer. Children can quickly develop a “sweet tooth” and, after that, you might have a difficult time encouraging good choices. You may also find that your child’s behavior and demands can become erratic. So the time to begin all of this is at the very beginning. 

To avoid the most common caveat, it would be wise to learn a little about the “macro−nutrients” found in common foods, e.g. the types of carbohydrates, protein, and fat that they contain. Did you know that the quicker the rise in blood sugar after a food is consumed, the more “cravings” will develop. And you know what trouble this can cause. Dried fruit, as an example, while reasonably healthy, especially if you compare it to most of the “junk” in packages and boxes, is relatively “glycemic” in this regard. Thus, a whole fresh fruit, e.g. grapes instead of raisins is a better choice. Still, when considering “storage” and “convenience” while on the run, dried fruit is always a good option.

Ideally, snacks should incorporate close to equal amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein. The fat will provide a little more calorie and “satisfaction” and the protein is an important nutrient itself and offers some balance, e.g. smooth out the sugar rush that the sugar/carbohydrate might create. 

In conclusion, keep your snack choices varied and fresh and, if you stick to whole foods, you will find that you don’t have to become an expert and your child will develop a lifetime of smart and healthy eating habits.

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