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Cookies' place is crumbling to fruit as top kids' snack


Nanci Hellmich

USA Today

June 11, 2008

Parents are beginning to clean up their nutrition acts when it comes to the snacks they serve their children, new data show.

Fruit is the most common snack for children under 6, and cookies are second. In 1987, cookies ruled and fruit ranked second, according to findings from the NPD Group, a market research firm. And kids today:

Are less likely to consume carbonated soft drinks, ice cream, candy, cake and fruit juice as snacks than kids the same age did 20 years ago.

Are more likely to have fruit rolls and gummy pieces, yogurt, crackers, granola bars and bottled water.

"Moms generally feed their children similar foods to what they were given as children, but they are starting to make subtle changes," says Harry Balzer, a vice president for the NPD Group. "Slowly, mom is saying, 'I'm not giving my kids soft drinks and cookies as much as I was given them as a child. Instead I'm giving them water and yogurt.' "

The NPD Group, which tracks national eating trends, bases this data on food and beverage journals from 500 mothers in 1985-1987 and 600 mothers in 2005-2007. The women kept diaries for 14 days on all the foods and beverages their children under age 6 consumed.

Parents seem to be serving healthier products, which may partly explain why the number of overweight children is holding steady, Balzer says.

Recent government statistics show that 32% of children and teens ages 2 to 19 about 23 million were overweight or obese in 2003-2006 compared with 29% in 1999. The increase is not considered statistically significant.

"Women's weight has also stabilized, and since mothers are the primary food providers and role models, these two trends may be related," says Karen Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer for Weight Watchers. She says it's "a whole lot better" for parents to serve their children fruit or yogurt and water than soft drinks and cookies.

The types of snacks parents feed their young children is critical because studies suggest snacks account for about a quarter of a child's daily calories, and snacking behavior sets the pattern for lifelong eating habits, says Boston nutritionist Elizabeth Ward, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler. "Snacks present an enormous opportunity for good nutrition."

Although some parents may be doing a better job, there's still plenty of room for improvement, she says. Some of the top snacks on the current list are highly processed foods that are packed with sugar including some of the fruit rolls and pieces and some types of yogurt.

She recommends that parents completely change the way they think about eating between meals and only serve their kids the types of food they would offer at a meal.

Some of Ward's ideas: half a sandwich and a carton of 100% orange juice; bean dip and baby carrots; peanut butter on whole-grain crackers and a small glass of milk; or half a piece of pizza and small glass of milk.

"I know these are not what most parents are used to serving, but these snacks are a great way to teach kids how to eat healthfully when they are young and impressionable," she says. "If you get them in that groove, they won't be heading for the ice cream and cookies for snacks like we did in the '80s."




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