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Decoding 'Fruit' Snacks

Many snack foods marketed for kids claim to be "made with real fruit" or to provide other nutritional benefits associated with fresh fruits. But many of them are made with little more than sugary corn syrup with a dash of fruit juice and have little nutritional value.

Brandeis says the FDA requires that all food labels list the percentage of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron the food provides. By reading that part of the label, parents can get a good idea of how closely a "fruit snack" resembles the real thing.

"Look on the food labels and see if they are getting any vitamins or minerals from that product," Brandeis tells WebMD. "If they see a bunch of zeros or really low numbers you can probably think to yourself that it's not as healthy as it seems."

Brandeis says foods with more than 10% RDA of those vitamins or minerals are considered a good source of these nutrients and those with greater than 20% are excellent sources.

Mixing Makes Better Snacks

Experts say one of the most common problems in children's snacking habits is eating too much of one kind of food, like crackers or cookies.

Rather than offer just one food item as a snack, Brandeis says the goal in healthy snacking should be to combine at least two food groups, like a protein and a carbohydrate. Not only will a combo snack pack more nutrients into kids' diets, but it will be more filling and tide them over until their next meal, which is the whole point of snacking anyway.

Examples of kid-friendly healthy snack combinations include:

  • Sandwiches made with meats or peanut butter
  • Crunchy vegetable sticks with low-fat ranch dip
  • Hummus and pita wedges
  • Yogurt parfait with low-fat yogurt and fruit
  • Slice of leftover pizza
  • Fruit smoothie made in a blender with fresh fruit, yogurt, and juice
  • Sliced tomato with mozzarella cheese
  • Melon cubes with a slice of turkey
  • Hard-boiled egg with a slice of whole-wheat bread
  • Low-fat yogurt with berries and almonds
  • "Light" microwave popcorn with grated parmesan cheese
  • Bowl of cereal with milk
  • Banana slices with peanut butter

Brandeis says simply adding 1% or skim milk to cereal and cookies or peanut butter to snack items like crackers and fruit is an easy way to add calcium and protein to an otherwise carbohydrate-only snack.

Parents should also choose high-fiber carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads, woven-wheat crackers, and cereals over refined carbohydrates such as white bread and saltines.

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