Thursday, July 15, 2010

What Does a Nutritionist Soccer Mom Bring for Snacks?

I had a short stint as a soccer mom this past spring when my 3 year old was taking a soccer class.
While getting ready for his first soccer class, we packed a quick snack. Then we had some extra time.  So at my son's request in honor of this special day, we went to watch the Metro North trains and picked up some "warm chocolate" from Dunkin' Donuts. "Warm chocolate" is my son's made-up version of hot chocolate: a little bit of hot chocolate mixed with lots of milk. Then we walked over to Central Park for his first class, my son drinking his warm chocolate and munching on the snack I packed: half a green pepper.  

I'm a nutritionist; my family usually eats healthy snacks.  But I was reminded that many kids are not as often exposed to health foods upon my arrival at soccer class.  That  half of pepper sparked three conversations among different parents upon our arrival: "How did you get your son to eat that?"   "What an interesting idea..."   "I never thought of that, that is an easy snack!"  

More recently,  I was on the subway with my kids and my older son munching on a whole cucumber.  That elicited a similar string of questions from fellow strap-hangers.

Upon first hearing these types of questions, I used to think "Oh no, don't talk about it in front of my son, he thinks everyone eats like us, please don't ruin it!"  But after a year in a preschool filled with not-as-healthy snacks, such as white bread, American cheese, Ritz crackers, chocolate chips as potty-training rewards (oy!), my son understands that we eat a little differently than other people and is now proud to tell people that I am a nutritionist.  

I usually go on to explain to these inquisitive parents, that we simply have always had snacks like these on hand so he doesn't need convincing and he actually likes them (let's call this Prevention - as in prevention of the problem).  Which inevitably leads to great conversations about how to convince kids to eat healthy snacks who have grown up with more conventional snacks (let's call this Intervention). Basically, repeat, repeat, repeat and sneak. 

That is, (1) keep bringing it along and offering it even if they say no on days 1,2, 3, and 10, and if that does not work (2) mix it up with some other snacks to sneak it in.  Get it? Repeat, repeat, repeat, and sneak!

How can you sneak in some healthy snacks?
Your kid loves Fruit-by-the-Foot or other "fruit-flavored" chewy snacks? Make it a red-snack-day!  Mix a baggie of chewy snacks and add other red food, such as dried cranberries, strips of red pepper, strawberries, dried mango, dried apple.  

Loves goldfish and other cheese crackers? Mix it up with small pieces of whole-grain no-trans-fat crackers.  

Loves pretzels and other crunchy snacks? Mix in some crunchy celery and carrots for a crunch-a-long snack.

In my experience, most of the time the healthy foods gets eaten along with the rest of the snack.

If kids refuse to eat the healthy snack, tell them they don't have to eat all the foods, but they have to keep it in the bag, and (here is the most important part) while they don't have to eat the snack if they don't like it, there is no other snack.  You are the parent and you make the decision of what and when the food is being served. Let your kid to decide if and how much they will eat.  I think Ellyn Satter was the first nutritionist to introduce this concept, but many now claim it as their own.   (This works very nice at meal times too: "You don't have to eat the white beans but keep them on your plate."  Sectional plates help with kids who do not like food touching other food)

Do not assume he/she won't eat it because you don't like it or because they did not like last year, keep trying.  Repeat, repeat, repeat, and sneak!  (At mealtimes for example, you can mash white beans into mashed potatoes)

Besides the fact that people are surprised at the foods we eat as snacks, I really think they are sometimes more surprised by the form: some days, I have been known to tote half a pepper, a whole cucumber, a whole apple, half an ear of corn, a handful of string beans, a peeled whole orange...  You get the point.  My snacks are not always in appropriate snacking form, or in snack cups or baggies.  Why not?  Sometimes, I just don't have the time.  So instead of grabbing a bag of chips, I raid the fridge.  When the mornings are crazed and we just need to get out already, who has time to cut up snacks? Of course you can pack up the night before but as we know, that doesn't always happen. So on those mornings is when you will usually find me rinsing some fruit under the sink and throwing it in our bag, grabbing some whole-grain rice cakes, grabbing the Tupperware of the left-over vegetables.  Almost as easy as grabbing a bag of chips!  Don't laugh, I did say almost.

And what do I like to pack my snacks in?  The Arrow Pack-a-Snack (BPA-free) or you can  Search for snack cups

Here are a few easy ideas to get you started down the road of easy healthier snacking and feel free to comment and tell me what healthy snacks you like to pack up:

Half or whole bell peppers, or cut into strips
Whole cucumber, or cut into strips
Apples, pears, peachs, plums, etc...
Frozen peas and corn (throw them into a snack cup, good frozen or defrosted)
Whole grain crackers (We love Barbara's Wheatines)
Assorted dried fruit- apricot, fig, plums a.k.a prunes, apples
Cheese sticks
Brown-rice or spelt "rice" cakes
Peel an orange and wrap it in paper-towel/sandwich bag
Individual portions of yogurt or cottage cheese
Whole-grain breakfast cereal
Nature's Path Organic Kamut Puffs Cereal, 6-Ounce Bags (Pack of 12) 
Trail mix
Left-over half-sandwich
Baby carrots or cut them yourself to save money (I try to cut a 1-pound bag of carrots and celery at the beginning of the week and put it into baggies for snacking or cooking)

What is your go-to snack?


  1. I make my own peanut butter sandwitch crackers.

    I buy organic crackers. I mix a little honey and some peanut butter, make the sandwitch crackers, put them in the refrigerator in a tupperwear so we are ready to go!

  2. Mmmm...sounds like a great idea! We have some peanut allergies here but I'll try this with soynut or sunflower butter.

  3. Do I even have to say how much I agree with you? :-) Great post.

  4. I completely agree. One thing I would add is this: make a deliberate decision to rotate through snacks. This sets the foundation for your kids to accept new foods because it promotes the idea that we don't eat the same foods all the time. It's also the nutritious way to go.

    Thanks for a wonderful post.


  5. Great post, I really like your thoughts! I kept saying "No! No!" though, you AREN'T a nutritionist!!! Don't sell yourself short!! :)

  6. Thanks Cathy and Dina and Kate!
    Kate- I prefer to use the term nutritionist even though I am an RD b/c people understand what nutritionist means. But people should always check out someone's credentials anyway...Do you only go by RD?