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The recent announcement by global fast-food giant McDonald’s that it will offer a healthier Happy Meal® signifies a major shift in eating behavior and consumer trends. By reducing portion size of fries, including apples and offering a low-fat dairy option in Happy Meals®, McDonald’s is showing a willingness to address childhood obesity. (Two bags of apples can be substituted for apples and fries.) Because many children eat fast-food meals regularly, it is definitely a step in the right direction to add fiber, calcium and other critical nutrients, even in small amounts, and to reduce fat by 20 percent in these hugely popular meals.
Families can take a cue from the fast-food restaurants, which increasingly are offering healthier side dishes and snacks. One of the best options is to limit fast food meals so they are an occasional, infrequent treat. Another long-term strategy is to eat at home and to pack a healthy lunch that includes nutritious snacks for all members of your family, especially children.
Providing smart snacks is important as children head back to school and need the right sort of fuel to help them stay alert and healthy while they are learning. According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat balanced snacks pay attention longer in class, make fewer mistakes on tests and generally have fewer behavioral problems.
Having a steady supply of snacks that do not include high levels of processing, sugars and salt will help your child’s palate remain acclimated to fresh, natural foods. Remember to offer appropriate serving sizes of these foods, which should supplement, not replace, regular mealtimes.
Smart snacks include options such as the following:
•Fruit (leave the skin on when possible for extra fiber)
•Pretzels or plain popcorn
•Cheese, sliced or cubed
•Yogurt, kefir or low-fat pudding
•Whole grain bread or crackers
•Raw veggies, such as carrots, cucumbers, red pepper, etc.
•Raisins and other dried, non-sweetened fruit
Parents should also set rules for snacking. For example:
•Teach your kids to ask before they help themselves to snacks.
•Eat snacks at the table or in the kitchen, not in front of the TV.
•Serve snacks in a bowl, offering appropriate serving sizes. Don’t let kids eat snack foods directly out of the bag or box.
Healthy eating involves a certain amount of creativity and effort. For example, if your child asks for a snack after breakfast, offer a plain hard-boiled egg, which is high in protein and other nutrients and low in both calories and price. If the request arises in the afternoon, offer sliced tomatoes and cheese. During the summer and early fall, teach your child where food comes from by going to the garden (or visit one) and let the child pick which fresh vegetables he or she wants to eat. Letting children make decisions about their intake can make them feel empowered and receptive to healthy eating.
Many groceries have expanded their fruit selection and regularly stock items that used to be hard to find or exotic. When in season, look for kiwi, gooseberries, currants, figs, papaya, mango, pineapple, pomegranates, plumcots, apricots and other unusual and seasonal fruit to break up the year-round standards of apples, oranges, pears and bananas. Introducing your family to variety and seasonality will make them savor each tasty and nutritious bite.
Source: Ingrid Adams, UK extension specialist for nutrition and weight management
Carole Gnatuk, UK extension specialist
Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.