My daughter's preschool requests that parents take turns providing a community snack each day. I want to provide something nourishing, but also fun, so that all of the kids enjoy the snack. What are the best foods to give children, ages 3-5, during mid-morning? What are the foods to stay away from? How can I make snack-time both fun and healthy? Thank you!
I appreciate your question particularly since I am the mother of a 5 year old and have given a lot of thought to nourishing snack ideas that preschoolers will enjoy.
In my experience, I have found that preschool children are more likely to eat the snack when the food is presented in an appealing manner. For example, cut food into a variety of shapes, and utilize different textures and colors. My daughter likes broccoli trees and cucumber rings. She also likes to make cups out of cucumbers and use them as dipping bowls. Children at this age enjoy having dips with their food. Try using cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of cheese, nitrate-free lunch meat or sandwiches. Most importantly, have fun by getting your own child involved in creative snack preparation.
As for foods to avoid, stay away from refined carbohydrates and highly processed foods such as sweets and baked goods. In addition, I recommend sticking to whole foods and avoiding snacks that contain food colorings, preservatives and artificial flavors. You can begin by reading food labels and avoiding the color/number combination such as Red 40 and Yellow 5 since these are synthetic food dyes. To that end, a British study published in the Lancet medical journal in September of 2007 found that certain artificial colorings and preservatives commonly found in sweets and beverages can increase hyperactivity in children. The September 2007 study was the 3rd in 4 years completed to compare the effects of food colors and preservatives on a child's behavior.
Additionally, I recommend buying certain fruits and vegetables organic or from local farmer’s markets, since children eat more fruits and vegetables for their size than adults, and studies show that children are four times more sensitive to pesticides in foods than adults. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce the following fruits and vegetables contain the highest concentration of pesticides:
* Grapes, imported
* Sweet Bell peppers
With all of that in mind, here are some of my favorite healthy snack ideas:
* Cut-up apples with Cinnamon or Almond Butter to dip
* Berries in muffin liners
* Celery with Almond Butter and Raisins
* Fruit salad with yogurt dip
* Melon Balls served in a lettuce leaf with plain yogurt dip
* Raw Vegetables such as snap peas, red peppers, baby tomatoes, broccoli trees, and cucumber rings with dip (hummus, yogurt or a vinaigrette dressing)
* Sweet Vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, acorn and butternut squash) cut into chunks, sprinkle with cinnamon and bake
* Mini sandwiches: sprouted whole grain bread with a few choices of sandwich fillings such as sliced Cucumber, Avocado, Cheese, Almond Butter (use cookie cutters to make interesting shapes)
* Homemade Trail Mix: Almonds, Pumpkin Seeds, Walnuts, Sesame Seeds and Dried Unsweetened Cranberries
* Veggie Pancakes (use cookie cutters to make interesting shapes)