by Cora Rivard, N.D./Seasons Natural Healthcare, LLC- Derry, NH
Have you ever wondered why certain foods can make children more irritable, moody, or hyperactive after eating them? Occasionally there is a specific food intolerance, but much of the time it is due to high glycemic foods and drinks; this means that the spike in sugar levels creates an initial high, then a crash later as the body over adjusts for the quick spike. (Exhibit A: Ever been to a young child’s birthday party?)
I wanted to focus this article on healthy snacks that will support your children’s ability to focus and learn while at school, and support an “even” temperament. Plus, we need to support their little immune systems to help keep them protected from all the exciting new-school-year viruses that are now beginning to circulate through the school populations (did you know that sugary foods can temporarily overtax the immune system and reduce the body’s defenses for many hours afterwards?). And, they ideally need to be nut-free choices in many classrooms. Oh, and let’s keep it fast and simple, shall we?
Balancing a healthy supply of complex carbohydrates from whole grains, high power fruits and vegetables, and good sources of protein help keep your child consistently fueled throughout the day, without a crash in mood and focus. Serve them with water, or plain milk (skip the too-heavily-sweetened chocolate, strawberry (and I can’t believe this is even an option in elementary schools- coffee) milk flavors. See below:
- cubes of cheese with grapes and whole grain crackers
- slices of apple with dipping container of sunflower seed butter
- strips of baked or rotisserie chicken with pita, and carrot sticks
- “ants on a log”: celery sticks that your child can spread sunflower seed butter on, and then sprinkle with raisins*. (Due to the high glycemic value of dried fruit, particularly raisins, it is best not to offer raisins as a sole snack, but in combination with other healthy snacks to balance them out, they are very nutritious.)
- make your own yogurt: buy quarts of plain yogurt, add fresh fruit, pureed or whole, or apple sauce of your choice. You may sweeten with a touch of honey if needed. Pack in an insulated container for school snacks. For drinkable yogurt, simply throw these ingredients in a blender with small amounts of milk until you get the consistency that you desire. This is a much cheaper way to create yogurt and yogurt smoothies, and far more healthy than the sugary products in the store.
- Zucchini, carrot, and yogurt multigrain muffins recipe
- Homemade nut-free granola bars- you control how much sugar to add. Great option that can be made and portioned ahead of time. The following is a good example: Nut-free Healthy Granola Bars recipe
- edamame and cubes of cheese
- Pear and cheese pinwheels recipe
- carrot sticks and hummus
There are many great reusable packs to keep snacks cool- I am partial to the following foldable, freezer lunch bag which has served us well (lots more interesting colors and patterns on Amazon):
PackIt Freezable Lunch Bag with Zip Closure, Black
Snacks marketed as “healthy” that are surprisingly not very healthy:
Juice: Many juices are mixed with things like concentrated grape juice (which is just sugar) as well as corn syrup and artificial colorings. And even real juice from organic fruit is still very sugary and devoid of fiber and other nutrients once present in the whole fruit. Juice packs on the sugar and promotes cavities, just like soda. Whole fruit is always a better choice- by itself or within a smoothie.
“Diet” or processed and marketed “sugar free” offerings– these use a range of indigestible simple carbohydrates which interfere with focus, upset stomachs, and may cause people to over-consume at a later time.
*Raisins or dried cranberries (don’t use alone as the sole snack because they are high glycemic foods/sugary. However, they can be great as a flavoring added to something healthier- like granola bars or oatmeal)
Fruit rollups– sugar, no fiber
Processed yogurt and yogurt smoothie cups for kids- loaded with sugar!
“Snackables” and other similar processed foods- loaded with preservatives, artificial colorings, flavorings, sodium, sometimes MSG
Commercial granola bars and power bars-careful with these, some are good, but most are loaded with white sugar, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavorings.
Tuna fish salad– unfortunately, tuna contains enough mercury to make eating it more than on occasion unsafe for the average weight adult, and therefore I would suggest that it is just not even worth it for children or pregnant women to consume it anymore. Better choices are to make salmon or chicken salads for lunch or as a snack with whole grain crackers or pita bread.
As you already know, there is a whole lot of marketing aimed squarely at your child for unhealthy and heavily processed snack foods. For now, please consider taking control by preparing snacks from scratch and packing foods from home, for your children and for yourself. With a little planning, and the occasional preparation of “batch’ snacks and portioning ahead of time, it becomes a habit. And let your children get involved in preparations- you’ll be teaching them the nuts and bolts of putting together a healthy snack. You are your children’s best teacher- and maintaining their best health is one of the best gifts you can give!
For more information about my practice, or to schedule a complementary “meet and greet” consult online, please visit my website at: http://www.seasonsnatural.com
I am a specialist in naturopathic family healthcare, which involves an emphasis on drug-less, natural and supportive strategies to resolve common (and sometimes not-so-common) medical problems affecting children and adults. My philosophy is that this is not “alternative medicine,” but should instead be the standard of care as the first strategy employed for non-urgent health concerns before consideration of more invasive and risky procedures and medications.