(RxWiki News) Kids can be picky eaters, which can make it hard to choose healthy snack options. But keeping kids healthy and happy can be done together.
Healthier snacks that satisfy the taste buds can help young ones cut the calories, according to a recently published study.
So eating a healthier snack can be done without kids totally rebelling, the researchers said.
"Pick a healthy but satisfying snack."
Researchers, led by Brian Wansink, PhD, from the Food and Brand Laboratory at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, aimed to find whether children consumed fewer calories when offered a nutrient-dense versus a non-nutrient dense snack.
The study included over 200 children entering the third through sixth grades. Each was randomly assigned to eat one of four snacks as much as they want while watching TV: potato chips, cheese, vegetables only, or cheese and vegetables together.
Within the groups, 45 kids had just the potato chips, 36 had cheese only, 59 had vegetables only, and 43 had the combo snack.
Researchers measured how satisfied the kids were with their snacks before and after they were allowed to eat them and when they were full. They also tracked kids' body mass index, which accounts their height and weight together, as well as their gender.
The parents also answered a 20-item questionnaire covering their mealtime habits and their sense of family time at the table.
The researchers found that the kids ate 72 percent fewer calories when eating a combined snack compared to eating potato chips only.
Those kids ate significantly fewer calories to feel full than those who ate the chips by themselves.
This was especially true for kids who were more overweight or obese and those from families that aren't as involved. Among the group, 38 of the kids were considered overweight and 43 obese.
"There is no magic food or ingredient that will end childhood obesity, but learning to substitute certain foods — such as choosing a combination snack of vegetables and cheese instead of potato chips or sweets — can be an effective tool to induce children to reduce their caloric intake while snacking," Dr. Wansink said in a press release.
"What's cool is this worked best for the heaviest, pickiest kids. It's fun to eat and it makes snack time last longer."
Children said they felt just as satisfied after eating the vegetable-and-cheese snack as they did after eating the chips, according to the researchers.
"It makes sense that the vegetable and cheese snack was more satisfying since it has protein, fat and fiber that fills you up quicker, which tends to make people eat less," said dailyRx Contributing Expert Letitia Warren, RD, CSP, clinical dietitian at DMC Children's Hospital of Michigan, part of the Detroit Medical Center. "The study probably used the TV to help distract the kids away from what they were eating," says Warren. "One of the habits we tell families is not to eat in front of the TV because the focus is what is on TV not what is going into our mouths."
To optimize healthy eating with kids, Warren suggests reinforcing to parents to take inventory of what foods are in the house and discuss portion sizes as well as where snacks fit in to the day with meals.
The authors note they did not look at why the more nutritious foods led to fewer calories being consumed compared to those with fewer nutrients. Future research should see how different snack combinations work and test the mental and physiological reasons why they work.
The study, published online December 17 in the journal Pediatrics, was funded by Bel Brands USA and the Cornell Food and Brand Laboratory.