A Cornell University study published in the Dec. 17 online Pediatrics suggests that a combination snack of vegetables and cheese satisfied children’s appetites as much as a snack of potato chips and resulted in significantly lower intake of calories.
An epidemic of childhood obesity
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study, nearly 32 percent of American children are overweight or obese. One of the many factors thought to be associated with this alarming trend is increased snacking. Today children eat about three snacks a day while 30 years ago they ate only one.
In light of these statistics, researchers at Cornell University wanted to determine whether certain types of snacks would lead children to feel full while consuming fewer calories. In their study, 201 children in grades three through six were randomly given a plate of potato chips, a plate of vegetables, a plate of cheese or a plate with a combination of vegetables and cheese, and were allowed to snack freely while watching 45 minutes of television.
Children who ate the vegetable-and-cheese combo consumed on average 72 percent fewer calories than the potato-chip group, but reported the same sense of fullness. Of particular significance was the resulting reduction in calories by overweight and obese children. This group experienced a 76 percent reduction in calories consumed when they were given a snack of cheese and vegetables.
“Snack combos are fun to eat, and they take longer to eat than potato chips. This is why kids find them satisfying and why they eat so much less,” said lead author Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of marketing at Cornell’s Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, in a news release.
Keep the snacks, reduce the calories
Even the study’s authors, however, acknowledge that banning non-nutritional snacks entirely from a child’s diet may not be practical. What they do recommend is offering healthy snacks as an alternative or replacement.
The Cornell University Food and Brand Lab offers these suggestions for getting your kids to snack on healthier, low-calorie foods:
- Have more nutritious snacks available at home instead of eliminating snacks entirely.
- Substitute such healthy snacks as veggies and cheese in place of chips and sweets on a regular basis.
- Offer smaller quantities, but a greater variety of vegetables or fruit on a plate. Variety tends to stimulate consumption.
- Encourage your children to be mindful of internal cues and to stop eating when they feel full.
“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,” said Wansink.
“What’s cool is this worked best for the heaviest, pickiest kids. It’s fun to eat and makes snack time last longer,” he added.