Article: Re-inventing snacks

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Dear Timaree: What happens when a quesadilla crashes into a pizza?

According to Mrs. Bradley’s second grade class at Reese Elementary School, “You get a pizza-dilla!”

In honor of  National Heart Disease Awareness Month in February, and in anticipation of National Nutrition Month in March, I spent part of a morning in my son’s class last week. We talked about MyPyramid, chose goals for good health, tasted new foods and made healthful snacks.

The kids were very excited to learn by doing, although a few expressed doubts at the beginning. “I only eat sauce and cheese on my pizza,” “I don’t think that I will like those (edamame),” “I haven’t ever tried that (kiwi/icy grapes).” However, once they realized that this was an opportunity to experiment, my skeptics stepped up to the challenge, and the cooking demonstration tables.

All of the students helped create “pizza-dillas,” made with whole grain tortillas filled with all kinds of veggies. As the tortillas browned on the griddle, the kids’ excitement grew. As soon as I moved the “pizza-dillas” onto my cutting board, they were vying for their wedge, and as they started eating, I heard, “I can’t believe this!” “It is so good!” “Wow, the pineapple gives it just a little sweetness!” “Can we have another slice?” “I didn’t think that I’d like all of those vegetables together!”

Since children are developing by leaps and bounds, both physically and mentally, their nutritional needs are high. However, children also have relatively small stomachs, so nutritious snacks in between meals can play a vital role in providing the raw materials needed to grow strong and healthy and support their immune system.

Unfortunately, the concept of snack foods in our country has become synonymous with junk food and treats filled with unhealthy fats and added sugars. Not only are these foods a waste of empty calories, they are also displacing better food choices.

We need to perform an extreme makeover on the snack foods we offer our kids, as childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing and kids are now suffering from “adult” diseases like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, while being undernourished when it comes to vital nutrients (because their diets are low in vegetables, fruits and fiber-rich legumes and whole grains). Research also shows how difficult it can be for kids to concentrate and learn when they are not getting enough nutrient-dense foods.

Many parents assume that kids won’t want to try new foods, but most kids are quite adventurous when the environment is right. The importance of being a good role model can’t be overemphasized, as kids listen to some of what you say, but tend to watch every move you make.

Involve kids in the whole process of shopping and cooking – they need these life skills. Making a healthful snack should be a no-brainer, not a brain teaser.

Back in class, I could hear the kids at the tasting table across the room say, “I was scared to try it, but it is yummy!” “I love crunchy apples and peanut butter!” “It is neat how those beans just pop out of their shell and into your mouth!”

So, let’s take advantage of every opportunity to make a good nutrition choice and help our families be stronger and healthier than ever. Here’s to reinventing the snack recess; perhaps we can forsake soda, chips, cookies, fruit chews and cupcakes for edamame, dried fruit and nuts, sliced veggies and bean dip, homemade trail mix, assemble-your-own stuffed pitas and “cracker-wiches”, with whole grain crackers, nut butter, banana/apple slices. Our kids are counting on us to show them how to make great choices.

Pizza-dillas

Whole-grain tortillas
Tomato sauce (your favorite)
Grated carrot
Baby spinach
Diced zucchini
Chopped broccoli
Diced pineapple
Diced olives

By cutting up the toppings small enough, each bite will provide a perfect combination of flavors. Spread a few tablespoons of tomato sauce on half of a whole grain tortilla, then layer with all of the toppings. Even if you are skeptical about the combination, try it; you just might be pleasantly surprised. Cook in a dry pan or griddle until golden brown on each side. Slice into pizza shaped wedges and enjoy as soon as they are cool enough to eat.

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, does corporate wellness work, as well as professional speaking engagements and teaches hands-on cooking/nutrition classes.

My article was published in the Lodi News Sentinel on March 2, 2011, title: Re-invent children’s snacks by replacing junk food with fun and healthy choices.

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