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Volume II
January 27, 2006

Fun Snacks for Kids
by Amy Hunt

cup cakesRebecca is my overly curious 22-month-old daughter. Recently she has developed a hankering for sweet treats. I think that she, like me, is still recovering from the Christmas candy rush. Last week, despite my better judgment, we made cupcakes together. I kept them unfrosted in a large Tupperware container.

For days afterward all she wanted to eat was cupcakes, or “cupcups” as she calls them. I resorted to hiding the Tupperware in a cabinet… out of sight, out of mind… right? Not with Rebecca. Whenever meal time came around she thought cupcups would be a good idea. Mom didn’t. We fought an ongoing cupcup battle. The battle recently ended with Mom throwing out the cupcups and Rebecca throwing a tantrum.

While Rebecca was wailing on the floor and kicking the wall, I shut myself in the office and looked to the Internet for help. I needed some fun snack ideas that Rebecca would love and that I could give to her with a clear conscience. Tara Parker-Pope gave me hope in this article from the Wall Street Journal.

If you have found yourself in your own cupcup battle then this article is for you.

Healthy Snacks Your Kids Will Actually Eat
By Tara Parker-Pope
Wall Street Journal August 13, 2003

Kids clamor for "kid food" — those fun, portable, ready-made and nugget-sized treats designed to tempt young taste buds.

And though kid foods are usually loaded with sugar and fat, busy parents often give in. Kid foods are just so convenient, and it’s easy to get kids to eat them. The list is obvious to any parent — macaroni and cheese, sandwich pockets, chicken nuggets, crackers, Pop-Tarts, fruit snacks and chips, among others.

But with a little effort, parents can find regular kid foods they don’t have to feel guilty about. Armed with advice from experts at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition, I went to my regular grocery store looking for kid foods with less sugar, moderate fat, more fiber and no trans fats, which are the hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils found on the ingredient list.

But be warned, it’s easy to be duped by healthful-sounding claims. Many foods promise "all-natural" ingredients or real fruit, when a check of the label shows it’s mostly sugar or fat. And artery-clogging trans fats can show up in surprising places. I was stunned that Jell-O Pudding Snacks, "made with wholesome skim milk," also contain trans fats.

Better choices : Here are some tips for finding healthier kid foods.

AVOID TRANS FATS which show up as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils on the label.

LOOK FOR 2 GRAMS OF FIBER which indicates whole-grain ingredients.

CHOOSE WHOLE, UNPROCESSED FOODS like raisins, fruit, natural peanut butter and milk.


LOOK FOR BALANCE. No-fat isn’t always best if it means an all-carb snack.

SEE A LIST of alternatives to popular snacks.

Here’s how to make some healthier food choices that still have plenty of kid appeal.

QUICK BREAKFASTS. The new popular milk-and-cereal bars promise "the nutrition of a bowl of cereal with real milk." But check the label — Honey Nut Cheerios bars, for example, get 40% of their calories from the 16 grams of sugar, and there’s barely a hint of milk. A Kellogg’s Pop-Tart is loaded with 20 grams of sugar. And both contain trans fats.

Instead, consider Amy’s Toaster Pops. Compared with Pop-Tarts, they have half the fat, no trans fats and less than a third of the sugar. Whole-grain waffles are a better choice, as are low-fat granola and breakfast bars, but check the labels for trans fats.

SNACKS AND CHIPS. Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers, "baked with real cheese," were always a staple at my house. But they’re 40 percent fat, have little fiber and contain trans fats. Indeed, the chip-and-cracker aisle is a minefield of high-fat, trans-fat-laden food. After shopping around, I guessed that low-fat, Baked Lays was a better choice. But surprisingly, Tufts University nutritionist Susan Roberts was lukewarm on low-fat baked chips and pretzels. Her concern — taking away the fat leaves you with an unbalanced, all-carbohydrate snack, which a child’s body will quickly convert to sugar.
Instead, Dr. Roberts suggests a reasonable portion of corn chips cooked in oil. "Fried chips at least split your calories between fat and carb, so you don’t get all carb," she says. Add a mild salsa or bean dip and "the combined nutrition is positively healthy." Frito-Lay’s Tostitos are trans-fat-free, as are Newman’s Own organic yellow corn tortilla chips.

Nutritionist Christina Economos, also at Tufts and a mother of a pre-schooler, likes Veggie Booty snacks from Robert’s American Gourmet and low-fat microwave popcorn, which is high in fiber.

FRUIT SNACKS. Fruit snacks are a huge hit with kids, and parents like the idea of giving their kids fruit. But the truth is, most of these products are just candy with a healthy-sounding name. Betty Crocker’s popular Fruit Roll-Ups and Gushers are made with fruit concentrate (which is basically sugar), corn syrup and sugar, and they even contain trans fats. Even Sunkist fruit snacks, which promise 100% of your recommended vitamin C and real fruit juice, are mostly just a concoction of sugar.

Instead, switch to mini boxes of raisins — kids love them, and they contain one ingredient. Or try frozen fruit and juice bars. Even the fruitiest-sounding bars can be made mostly from sugar, corn syrup and concentrate, so compare labels and limit quantity.

SNACK CUPS. Pudding, applesauce and fruit cups are easy, but they are loaded with added sugars. But right next to the regular applesauce is Mott’s Healthy Harvest brand. It’s packed in the same cute cup, but contains half the sugar and calories. And Hidden Valley now makes single dipping cups filled with its light ranch dressing. While the 200 calories (150 from fat) would make most health-conscious eaters cringe, light-ranch dressing is a good way to encourage kids to eat fresh vegetables.

HOT, PREPARED MEALS. Don’t give up on macaroni and cheese, just switch to a better brand, like Amy’s. Instead of popular sandwich pocket brands, try Amy’s or Trader Joe’s brand burritos or Amy’s cheese pizza snacks. None of these choices are low fat, but they usually have less fat than popular brands and no trans fats.

Skip the hot dogs and baloney, they contain nitrites, which have been linked to cancer. You can switch to nitrite-free chicken or turkey dogs or all-veg brands like Smart Dogs or Morningstar Farms’ mini veggie-corn dogs. They don’t taste the same, but many kids don’t seem to notice.

Instead of fat-filled chicken nuggets, many of which also contain trans fats, look for all-natural brands like Bell & Evans, or switch to meatless varieties. Since it’s the bite-sized nugget (not the chicken) that appeals to most kids, frozen Veggie Munchies from Health is Wealth, which are crispy and nugget-sized, also are a hit with kids.

But when buying kid food, don’t go overboard by choosing tasteless foods. "It really backfires," says Dr. Roberts, "if you try to get kids to eat healthy but bad-tasting food."

* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *

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