May 28, 2009
Raising healthy kids
Snacks: plan, don't ban them
Establish snack time and choose healthy treats which contribute to a healthy diet. ESTELLE LOW reports
Parents might wish their children would take to nibbling on healthy snacks like carrot sticks when they are hungry.
Well dream on. Since when did kids care about the health quotient when they snack? They are more likely to choose chocolate and candy which is, of course, taboo to parents.
Snacking is not bad if the food consumed is nutritious. In fact, it is important that children have three proper meals and three proper snacks a day, said Ms Catherine Koh, a senior dietitian at the National University Hospital, as every child has a different calorie requirement.
However, snacks commonly consumed by children - like potato chips, cream-filled biscuits, chocolate, ice cream, fried food, fast food and sweetened drinks - tend to be high in salt, fat and/or sugar content.
Eating these snacks will push up the total calorie intake and saturated fat content, putting the child at risk of obesity, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.
Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada found that children on a nutritious diet may be more likely to pass academic tests.
In its study of nearly 4,600 children, those on the 'nutritious diet' consumed more fruits and vegetables and less fat. These children were more likely to pass literacy tests like reading and writing, regardless of their weight.
Ms Koh's choice of healthier snacks include low-fat yogurt or low-fat milk, multigrain or wholemeal sandwiches with low-fat fillings, fresh fruits and unsalted nuts.
These snacks contain nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals that are important for growth and development, she said.
There is another reason to embrace healthy snacking. 'Snacks can be an important source of energy for active kids,' said Dr Irene Chan, paediatrician at iKids Paediatric Practice, a member of Pacific Healthcare. 'However, snacking becomes bad if it discourages the child from eating his main meals.'
She added that timing is crucial as snacks given too close to meal times will cause children to eat less of the main meal and snack much more after that.
This might reduce their intake of protein, iron and vitamins or minerals that are important for their growth and development.
There is also room for dessert once in a while.
Dr Han Wee Meng, a senior dietitian at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said: 'There is a common misinterpretation of healthy eating guidelines. Parents who adopt an overly healthy diet for their children neglect the fact that their children are growing and require energy-dense food.'
However, she cautions: 'High-calorie snacks like fried and fast food should be eaten only twice a week and consumed in snack-sized portions."
The total fat intake of a child should be limited to 25 to 30 per cent of his total energy intake.
Guide to healthy snacking
Stock shelves with healthier choices
Dr Han Wee Ming, a senior dietitian at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, suggests these alternatives:
Breakfast cereals - These provide the crunch, like in potato chips and cookies, plus additional vitamins and minerals.
Dried fruits and nuts - These are a good source of fibre for children who refuse to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. However, be aware of the risk of choking for those under five years old.
Cheese - This provides an alternative source of calcium for children who do not drink milk regularly.
Fruit yogurt or frozen yogurt - A 113g serving of fruit yogurt can shave off more than 90 per cent of the fat content that would be present in a scoop of chocolate ice cream. It is also a good source of calcium.
Reduce snacking frequency
Ms Catherine Koh, a senior dietitian at the National University Hospital, said: 'If the child has been consuming one large packet of chips three times a week, the new aim should be to consume a small pack of chips once or twice a week.'
Over time, the craving for sweetened or salted snacks will be reduced.
Beware of sweetened drinks
It is best for children to drink plain water or milk, advises Dr Irene Chan, a paediatrician at iKids Paediatric Practice.
A can of sweetened drink contains five to seven teaspoons of sugar and provides little nutritional value. Over time, the child may also suffer from dental caries.
Snacks can be an important source of energy for active kids. However, snacking becomes bad if it discourages the child from eating his main meals.
Dr Irene Chan, a paediatrician at iKids Paediatric Practice