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Feeding the Family: Good Snacks and Immune-boosting Foods

February 2, 2021
With everyone at home all day, it can be difficult to establish routines, especially when it comes to children and meals. With food readily accessible, mealtimes slide into snacks and vice versa. According to Lisa Davis, RDN, LDN, CDE, a registered and licensed dietitian with the GBMC Geckle Diabetes & Nutrition Center, it’s important to maintain a sense of normalcy with a meal schedule.

“Having some semblance to the day, a routine or schedule, helps kids develop healthy eating habits from the get-go,” Lisa said. “Typically, adults get hungry every 3-4 hours, but kids get hungry more frequently. In between meals, you want a snack that’s half the calories of a meal because you don’t want them to fill up completely.”

When choosing snacks, Lisa reinforces balance. She suggests wholesome foods such as fresh fruit, edamame or nuts, if children aren’t allergic, as well as classics such as peanut butter on celery with dried fruit or on whole grain bread with banana. Greek yogurt is also a versatile snack option because it can be made sweet with a little honey, cinnamon, fresh berries and granola or savory with garlic powder, onion powder, parsley or lemon juice as a dip with fresh vegetables.

In the midst of a global pandemic, it’s also good to keep the immune-boosting properties from certain foods in mind.

Vitamins C, D, and E are important for the immune system. Vitamin C is most widely known to be found in citrus fruits. However, red bell pepper and broccoli also contain a large amount of Vitamin C, which can be used to dip in Greek yogurt or hummus as a wholesome snack. Other great alternatives include spinach and garlic.

Vitamin D is found primarily in dairy products, again Greek yogurt, but also many cheeses. Vitamin E is not water soluble like Vitamins C and D, so daily intake is not required. Almonds and sunflower seeds are a good source of Vitamin E.

Preparation is just as important as the content of the snacks. Lisa encourages kids to build their own snacks to cultivate a sense of autonomy in the choice as well as independence. She also suggests including kids in the building of meals, such as helping to select which vegetable to eat for dinner. When safe to do so, taking kids to a farmer’s market to choose new fruits or vegetables to try, or to a farm or garden to pick their own, can help them to learn more about food itself and appreciate what it does for their body.

Common high-fat snack foods such as corn chips and potato chips don’t do much for the body, but Lisa doesn’t recommend cutting them out completely.

“You shouldn’t forbid candies or chips. You just don’t want them to be an everyday food,” Lisa said. “Making sure you include some of those foods helps kids realize it’s just part of the selection. Give them permission to have some of those foods, but also encourage them to eat some foods they can make themselves.”

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended amount of daily added sugar intake for children ages 2 to 18 is less than 25 grams, or 6 tsp of added sugar daily, including no more than 8 ounces of sugar-sweetened drinks. For reference, a can of soda has about 9 teaspoons of sugar.

“It has to do with balance,” Lisa said. “Snacks are designed to be a little more fun. While meals can be fun too, they really need to reflect a balanced plate and there is a reason for that.

“Protein takes longer to digest, which keeps you full longer. Carbohydrates give you energy for at least a few hours. But if kids eat mostly carbohydrates, especially refined, low-fiber carbs, at meals, the result can be a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a blood sugar drop. That's when cravings for more carbs can kick in. The balance of proteins and carbs is always important for blood sugar stability. Meals, along with smart snacks like fresh fruit, nuts and cheese, will provide “consistent” energy through the day.”

Each day won’t be perfect but maintaining balance and routine when it comes to our meals can keep us all physically healthy during this stressful time.
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