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Battle of the Snack Attack

From the Doctor's Corner:
Sonia Angel, MS, RD, CDE, Diabetes and Nutrition Specialist
at Memorial Regional Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood, Florida

It's just after school and your child is raiding the refrigerator for an instant response to a grumbling tummy.

It's only an hour after dinner and already the child is searching the pantry for cookies, potato chips -- anything to satisfy a sudden need for something sweet or salty.

boy eating a snack

It's the snack attack: sometimes brought on by boredom, sometimes thirst mistaken for hunger, but many times leading to obesity, pre-diabetes and even stunted body or brain development, says Sonia Angel, a diabetes and nutrition specialist at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.

And when parents attempt to curb the snack urge, the dreaded temper tantrum often erupts. Angel says parents can win the war against poor snacking habits with one preemptive strike.

"Healthy eating starts in the grocery store," she says. "If you don't want your child to munch on ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, chips and candy, just don't buy them."

Instead, shopping carts should be heavy with fresh fruits, nuts, raisins, yogurt, granola and crunchy, colorful fresh vegetables.

Snack attacks are best served in grab and go portions.

Before putting away the groceries, invite kids to assist filling clear plastic snack bags or containers with slices of fruit, nibbles of nuts, fun size veggie pieces and other healthy goodies.

"When you make it fun, you can't go wrong and at the same time, there are no better snacks for vitamins, minerals and fiber," Angel says.

But how can parents break junk food diets already entrenched?

  • Don't keep an unhealthy snack stash for grownups in the house. A child will surely rebel when he sees dad in the next room watching television, crunching chips and drinking soda.
  • Set snack times. Allow only one healthy snack in the afternoon; maybe another as a treat after dinner but never before bedtime.
  • Set ground rules. This includes no eating food of any sort in the car or in front of the TV. Eat snacks only at the kitchen table.
  • Avoid fast food, even when it's cooked at home. Chicken nuggets and French fries from freezer to oven to table are not a good choice. Make homemade baked nuggets, baked sweet potato fries and the child's favorite vegetable. Cheeseburgers are healthier if made from ground turkey breast and served on whole wheat rolls with crunchy fresh broccoli or string beans on the side.
  • Let kids have dip. Plain low fat or light yogurt adds zing to fresh fruits. For veggie strips and sticks, try low fat and low sugar pepper corn ranch or zesty Italian dressing.
  • Start a water drinking habit. Juices, whether bottled, boxed or pouched add 450 to 800 sugary calories a day to your child's diet. A glass of water before meals prevents overeating and reduces cravings.

"Finally? Tough love. You may seem like an ogre to your kids at first, but in the long run you are doing them a favor," Angel said.

For specific questions about childhood nutrition, consult your physician.
From The Doctor's Corner is for informational purposes only. Nothing contained is intended for medical diagnosis or treatment and is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with your doctor or health care provider.