Learn how to read between the lines on a label to find healthy -- and tasty -- snacks.
Finding a healthy snack for kids may seem like finding a needle in a sugarcoated haystack, but experts say a few simple tricks can help parents sort through the hype.
Most snack foods marketed for kids tend to be loaded with fat and sugar, but by reading food labels before bringing potential snacks home, parents can help their kids make smart snacking decisions.
Experts say snack time actually can be an opportunity to supplement children's diets as well as calm hunger pangs between meals.
"It's a good time to give them what they are missing throughout the day, not to be repetitive," says Miami-based registered dietitian Claudia Gonzalez. "For example, if you had cereal and milk for breakfast, what's missing is fruit, so you can use snack time to complement the other meals."
But if fruit's a hard sell in your household, there are many other ways to find healthy snacks for kids.
Finding Hidden Fats
Snack foods are the main source of a type of artery-clogging fat known as trans fat in children's and adults' diets. Trans fats are known to increase the "bad" LDL cholesterol, which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The FDA recently announced that it will require food manufacturers to list the amount of trans fats that their products contain. Those new labeling requirements won't go into effect until 2006, but meanwhile, there are other ways to spot them on a food label.
"Trans fats are industrial fats that keep products shelf stable, so all your crackers, all your cookies, all your snack chips, all your little snack cakes, they're all going to have fat in them, and that fat is usually going to be a trans fat," says Rachel Brandeis, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
"The only way for parents to know that it's trans fat is to look on the ingredients and see the words 'partially hydrogenated oil.'"
Brandeis says the higher the words "partially hydrogenated oil" are on the ingredient list, the more of it is in the food because manufacturers are required to list the ingredients by weight.
Experts say there is no "safe limit" for trans fats, and people should eat as little of them as possible. In addition, the American Heart Association recommends limiting the combined amount of trans and saturated fats to less than 10% of total calories consumed daily.