Adapted from the Nutrition and You! blog on Boston.com.
According to the Economic Research Service, in the late 1970s, American children consumed only one snack, on average, daily. But today, they are gobbling up nearly three snacks totaling about 200 calories daily. Couple this snacking trend with the current sedentary lifestyle of kids and it’s not surprising that more than 30 percent of American children are overweight.
Because of this snacking trend, the US Department of Agriculture is proposing a new rule that limits the calories, fat, sodium, and sugar in the snacks sold to children from vending machines or other locations within a school. Not surprisingly, much of the foods that kids snack on are high in calories but low in nutrition per bite. For example, a handful of potato chips (about a measly ounce) provides a whopping 150 calories and little nutrition, whereas a cup of broccoli is chock-full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy phytochemicals and weighs in at about 20 calories. More importantly, filling up on less nutrient-rich chips displaces other healthier foods such as veggies and dairy — two foods that all Americans, young and old, are falling short of daily.
Since research has also shown that increasing the variety of the foods available increases a person’s intake, would providing a variety of healthier snack foods encourage their consumption? More importantly, would the kids really eat the healthier snack if it was offered? Cornell University researcher Brian Wansink, PhD. cracked open the chips, cheese, and veggies and found out.
In a study published in Pediatrics, Wansink and his colleagues allowed more than 180 children to munch to their heart’s content on a snack of either chips, cheese, veggies (carrots, peppers, broccoli), or a combination of cheese and veggies while watching about 45 minutes of TV. The children were encouraged to “eat all you wish” of their plentiful snacks. Their level of fullness, also known as satiety, was measured. The results showed that the children who had access only to the chips consumed slightly more than 600 calories while those in the combo group (cheese and veggies) consumed only 170 calories to feel full. Those in the cheese only group ate 200 calories whereas the veggies group consumed a mere 60 calories, on average, to feel full.
When looking at the snack that gave the kiddies the most nutrient bang for the buck, the combo group was the big winner as it not only satisfied them and provided over 70 percent fewer calories than the chips group but the cheese and variety of veggies together also provided the most robust combination of nutrients of all the snack groups. Cheese is an excellent source of calcium and protein, and veggies are vitamin, mineral, fiber, and phytochemical powerhouses. Since those ages 2 to 19 are not getting the recommended servings of dairy and veggies daily, offering these as a snack combo provides a calcium-rich, high fiber, and nutrient-rich alternative to a less nutritious snack daily.