Halloween is here and parents have been gobbling up my tips on how to get children snacking on healthy foods. So this week, let me help you digest some information on the subject of snacking.

Believe it or not, snacks can actually help children stay healthy and even provide an energy boost between meals. They can keep a hungry toddler from being cranky and help prevent older children from over-eating at larger meals. They may also be the secret to ensuring that your picky eaters get the nutrients they need.

The best snacks are those that are low in sugar, fat and salt. This means fresh fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy products like yogurt and cheese sticks. You can also choose foods that contain whole grains or protein, such as graham crackers. Many processed or packaged snacks have a lot of added sugar and salt.

Don’t use sweeter snacks as a reward for good behavior. If you do, children may think desserts are more valuable than other foods. That can trigger a pattern of unhealthy eating.

Remember that juice, even 100% fruit juice, can contain the same amount of calories and sugar as a soda. Limit your child’s juice intake to no more than 4 ounces a day, using milk and water instead.

Give your children a few healthy snack options to choose from. This gives them some control over the snack selection – and children are always looking for ways to gain control. Have a set snack time, such as mid-morning and afternoon, or after school. This can help regulate your child’s hunger pains and help them maintain a healthy weight as they get older. Make sure snacks for a small child or toddler are cut into small enough pieces that they can’t choke.

Snacking in front of the television can create an unhealthy association between television-watching and food. This can lead to unnecessary weight gain, especially since there is no physical activity in watching something on a screen.

Of course, the best way to ensure healthy snacking is not to have unhealthy snacks in your refrigerator or pantry. The best way to reinforce healthy snacking is for you to do it as well.

Hopefully, tips like these will satisfy your knowledge hunger pains to learn more about the importance of healthy snacking.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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