food

"A dietician looked at my kid's favourite snack foods."

Is it as simple as banning all my children’s favourite snack foods?

I like to tell myself that my children eat healthy foods. We don’t have bars of chocolate and jars of lollies in our house every day. We don’t cook cakes for no reason or eat takeaway every night. I do put some effort into our meals, making sure they start the day with a healthy breakfast, packing nutritious school lunches and cooking delicious dinners with lots of hidden vegies.

Except there is one area of my family’s diet that I was ignoring, and that is snack foods.

My children snack a lot. I have to kick them out of the kitchen each afternoon from 4pm otherwise they won’t be hungry for dinner. I’m a snacker, so I’ve passed on my bad habits to them. And it’s not just our snacking habit that is getting out of control. I know that our choice of snack foods isn’t the best.

Yes my kids eat fruit and yoghurt and vegetable sticks and soups. But they also eat a lot of processed foods. Some of these snack foods are obviously not healthy, and others aren’t so cut and dry.

Susie Burrell.

So I contacted my favourite dietician Susie Burrell who has just released an e-book called Your Kids, Their Food. She says parents just need to put a little more thought into when and how their children snack.

The most significant issue associated with a number of commonly eaten snack foods is the highly processed, high carbohydrate nature. While a number of snack foods (including biscuits and cake) may be low in fat, it can mean that they are inversely high in sugar. Some classic examples of this are demonstrated in low fat cookies, fruit twists and rolls, packaged muffins and cakes and rice snacks. While these foods will not do kids any harm, they are not offering any real nutrition.

Burrell does acknowledge how hard it is for busy mums to make the right food choices for their children all day every day. So when I told her my children's top five favourite snack foods, with the subject line reading, "Don't judge me", she said, "OMG lol" and then gave me some brilliant advice.

1. Flavoured milk

I never let my children eat sugary snacks before lunchtime and while I can pat myself on the back over this, I'm not proud of the fact that most afternoons after school they have gotten into the habit of having a big glass of milk loaded up with their favourite milk-flavouring product. The thought of getting rid of it all distresses me somewhat because I work late at night and I'm not sure I could get through it all without my own secret snack - Milo milk with just a splash of milk and a lot of Milo.

Burrell says it's okay for kids to use milk-flavouring products, but it's all about making the right choices.

Flavoured milk does contain added sugars but also the nutritional benefits of protein and calcium. An easy way to lower the sugars is to use regular old milk with a flavoured straw for far less sugar or better again, freeze greek yogurt with berries and a few dark chocolate bits into individual yoghurt pops or frozen yoghurt sticks. Here they get all the benefits of dairy with minimal added sugar + the fibre from fruit.

2. Two-minute noodles

Instant noodle sales topped $100 billion world-wide in 2013, according to the World Instant Noodles Association based in Japan.

Once a month I buy a pack of chicken-flavoured two-minute noodles. We all love them, which is why I can't buy them every week because we eat them so quickly. They are so tasty and delicious and salty and fast. I try not to look at the nutritional information on the side of the pack. They are so NOT healthy, even if we do include the little packet of dried vegetables.

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So if your kids like salty and flavoursome snacks, Burrell says get rid of the noodles and try something different.

A concentrated source of carbs with relatively high amounts of salt; another tasty option is to pick up some roasted broadbeans or chick peas or edamame beans which also have fibre and protein and are crunchy just like chips.

3. Hot chips

There is no denying the fact that well-cooked hot chips are just delicious. I make really good ones at home. The trick is to soak the sliced potatoes in hot water, then dry them and fry them in good quality olive oil. That's how you get them crispy. You can even bake them with a splash of olive oil and just toss them to coat them all. However making your own hot chips takes time. So we do buy them when we are out and about.

Burrell says to mix it up, and look for other quick foods you can pick up on the run that are much healthier.

A fatty mix of carbs, fats and salt, if you are planning to pick up snacks on the run kids are often big fans of sushi; a mini chicken snack wrap is another much more nutritious choice or a burrito cut in half are all relatively healthy options that offer a little more than hot chips.

4. Savoury crackers.

Crackers, particularly the flavoured variety, are incredibly high in salt.

It's gotten to a stage in my home that if I run out of my children's favourite savoury snacks, there will be hell to pay. Our top three are Pizza Shapes, Sakata Tasty Cheese Rice Crackers and Fantastic Chicken Flavoured Rice Crackers. For a long time I felt like they were an okay snack when paired with fruit, because they couldn't be as bad as packet chips.

Not so, says Burrell, and so easy to replace.

Packet snacks are notoriously high in refined carbs and/ or fats - popcorn is a wholegrain popular choice that is high in fibre and very low in calories; homemade banana bread or mini muffins are also relatively easy to make and are better nutritionally than packaged snacks and if you do have some time, homemade nut and seed balls are a tasty treat than kids may also enjoy

5. Ice-cream

I grew up eating Neopolitan ice-cream. It was the only treat my parents ever allowed in our home. My sisters and I would savour every mouthful and then lick our bowls clean. Now that I am a mum I love to share my favourite childhood treat with them. It's just that it's gone from being an occasional treat to an after-dinner snack most nights.

Burrell says there are lots of healthier ways satisfy cravings for cold, sugary snacks.

A single serve of gelato is a slightly better option than ice cream but a frozen banana dipped in dark chocolate or frozen grapes can go a long way in pleasing kids in a much lower fat way than rich commercial ice creams.

Are there snack foods you feed your kids that you know you should be limiting? 

To purchase a copy of Susie Burrell's new e-book Your Kids, Their Food for just $14.95, click here.

SCROLL THROUGH the gallery for more of Susie Burrell's healthy snack ideas for kids.

Want more? Try:

A nutritionist look inside my kid's lunchboxes...

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