In a new study, children who were given cheese and vegetables as a snack ate 72% fewer calories than children who snacked on potato chips, and this effect was even more pronounced among kids who were overweight or obese.
What's more, these kids needed fewer calories to feel full than those who ate chips.
The study included about 200 kids entering third or sixth grades. They were given chips, cheese, veggies, or a combination of veggies and cheese, and allowed to snack freely while watching a 45-minute TV show.
While children offered the veggies-only option took in the fewest calories, those offered the combo snack or only cheese took in about the same number of calories. But either option meant far fewer calories than those who were served potato chips, suggesting that replacing potato chips even with cheese alone may also be an option.
"Eliminating snacking altogether is impractical, and in some cases can backfire," the researchers write. But replacing unhealthy snacks with more nutritious choices such as cheese and veggies may result in less backlash.
The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.
The Kids Are All Right
The good news is that children will accept healthier snacks, says Erin Corrigan, RD. She is a clinical nutrition manager at Miami Children's Hospital in Florida. "Snacks are an important part of a child's diet if you provide nutrient-dense foods," she says.
Yes, cheese can be high in calories, but it is also high in protein and calcium, she says. "Fruits and vegetables have more fiber, which helps people feel full quicker and longer, and when combined with protein it's the perfect combination for a well-balanced snack."
Choices are good and give kids a sense of control, she says. "They should be equally healthy."
Connie Diekman, RD, says the new findings make sense. She is the director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. "Protein and carbohydrate help elevate blood sugar while sustaining the elevation of the blood sugar, thus aiding [fullness], versus potato chips alone," she says. In addition, the fiber in the vegetables likely added to the feeling of fullness.
So what are some solid snacking choices for kids? Diekman suggests:
- Cheese and fruit
- Cheese and whole-grain crackers
- Yogurt and granola
- Hummus and veggies
- Peanut, sunflower, or almond nut butter with fruit or whole-grain crackers
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