My son and I were out and about when “snack time” came upon us. I opened our trusty grab bag to find a petrified orange, a trap of stale pretzels and an empty sippy-cup. Yikes! Since that day I promised to keep the bag stocked with some healthy packaged snacks that would hold up in the bag, ready to be eaten when we needed them.
Obviously, cheese sticks, yogurt, and fresh fruit don't do well hanging out in a bag meant for a rainy day. You need something in a sealed package that doesn't need refrigeration to serve as part of your grab bag of emergency snacks. This means finding natural and nutritious snacks that come in a package.
Packaged foods are convenient to stash in the glove box, a diaper bag or a desk drawer. Foods in a package can be as healthy, natural and nutritious as fresh foods. Let me help you spot the best choices by showing you what to look out for on a food label:
Ingredients – Check the ingredients on the back of a snack food package from your pantry. Does it have ingredients you recognize as healthy or that you may even have on your shelf for cooking? If you see Blue 1, Red 40 or artificial flavorings, back away now. Artificial colors, flavors and non-natural preservatives are not ingredients you need in your food or body, nor do they have any nutritional value.
Other ingredients that are also a total turn-off are partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup. Partially hydrogenated oils come with trans fat as a byproduct that has no nutritional place in a recipe.
Does the package claim the food inside is natural? When it comes to labeling, you will find the term “natural” to be quite subjective. The best way to back up a natural claim is to see if it is closely followed by the word organic. Finding organic ingredients on a package is the fastest way to identify a food that is made with ingredients that have not been grown through genetic engineering or with dangerous pesticides or fertilizers.
Serving Size – Check the serving size, so you know what portion is being referred to. It may say one serving, but perhaps there are two in the package and you are certain they will both be munched down together.
Calories – Snacks should be moderate in calories, providing 150 to 200 calories per snack.
Calories from Fat – Generally, you want 30 percent of calories in kids' foods to come from fat. Plug this simple equation into your mobile phone calculator to determine fat percentages: Calories from fat divided by total calories equals the percent of calories from fat.
Fiber – Kids need fiber to keep the digestive tract clean. Kids should snack on foods with three grams of fiber or more per serving, which can be found in whole grains such as oats and whole wheat flour.
Sugar – On a food label, this refers to both added sugars (like organic cane juice) and naturally occurring sugars (like lactose in milk). Be sure to weigh the balance of sugar to the other nutrients provided in the food. Ideally, a snack should be less than 35 percent of its total weight in sugar.
Percent Daily Values (DV) – The “%DV” makes it easy to see which foods are higher or lower in nutrients. When you are comparing similar foods, be sure you are comparing similar serving sizes, too.
Sodium – Kids typically need only 1,200 milligrams of sodium per day. But, on average, they consume more than twice that – 2,800 milligrams each day – according to the Institute of Medicine.
Tara DelloIacono Thies, RD, is the children's nutritionist at ClifBar & Company.