Snacks can be healthy and kid-friendly too

By Pat Waring
MV Times
October 17th, 2013

Charter School workshop introduces fun, snack alternatives.

Snack time for the kids! The words bring visions of a kitchen feeding frenzy. Little hands opening refrigerator, freezer, and cabinet doors. Bags of chips being torn open, boxes of crackers or cookies ravaged. Microwave humming, ice cream melting, chocolate syrup pouring, Coke and root beer fizzing, sweet grape jelly, sweet granola bars, sweeter caramel popcorn. Yummy?  Sure, these snacks taste good, especially to the little ones tearing in from school or play with eating on their minds. Quick? Yes! Easy? Definitely! Enjoyable? You betcha! But are they good for those growing kids? Sorry!

Nutritionist Prudence Athearn Levy wants to show parents that healthy snacks can be just as tasty, easy, and affordable as those brightly packaged ones at the supermarket.

Ms. Levy owns Vineyard Nutrition with her husband, Josh Levy. Last Wednesday, they presented a workshop at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School in West Tisbury.

Ms. Levy, whose family owns Morning Glory Farm, grew up knowing just how delicious and fun healthy eating can be. Today, she is working to help other young families experience the same nutritious pleasures. Not surprisingly, she often emphasizes fresh produce in children’s snacks.

Parents often know those popular snacks in the gro- cery store aren’t all that healthy. But in the midst of advertising, deceptive labels, confusing information, and youngsters whining that they are starving, they have little idea of how to find snacks that are child-friendly and nutritious too.

Parents and school staff at the workshop shared that, despite having some good knowledge of nutrition, they find planning and providing good quality, tempting snacks to their kids a daunting task.

“I have to regulate sugar intake – they are cookie fans.” said a mother of two little girls. Another wanted to learn how to make healthy snacks fun. Many expressed a lack of confidence about what’s best to satisfy those ravenous but often picky youngsters.

“Let’s make it as easy as we can on ourselves.” was Ms. Levy’s strongest message. She stressed that there are plenty of readily available foods that can become perfect snacks in minutes.

What makes a good snack? Fiber and protein are the key elements, along with some healthy, unsaturated fat, “and always a fruit or vegetable,” Ms. Levy said. Think whole- wheat crackers, hummus, and an apple; baked corn chips, mozzarella sticks, applesauce; peanut butter on whole grain toast with a side of grapes. Mix up pumpkin or sunflower seeds, nuts, raisins or apricots, dark chocolate chips, and popcorn or whole grain “O’s” or popcorn for a quick and healthy “ trail mix.” Plain yogurt layered with granola and berries is as delicious as an ice-cream sundae and lots more nutritious.

Think of snacks as “mini- meals,” she advised, with variety and balanced nutrition. Last night’s leftovers can make good snacks. Children love anything frozen, like fruit chunks or juice and yo- gurt popsicles, and anything they can dip. She advised keeping good snacks on hand, saying, “kids will snack on what is easy and handy.”

Snacks are important for children because “their metabolisms are fast and their tummies are small,” said Ms. Levy. “You can’t expect kids to go more than three hours without food.”

“A good snack is a nutrition boost, not empty calories,” Ms. Levy stressed. She explained that fiber and protein are filling and metabolize slowly, whic helps stabilize blood sugar, energy levels, and mood. “They provide clean energy for kids to focus on learning and playing.”

Sugar metabolizes fast but is gone quickly, leaving the child hungry, tired, and grumpy. “Empty calories” are in food with low nutritional value that do not satisfy or provide energy. Ms. Levy  said studies show young chil- dren ages 4 though 10 ingest an average 21 teaspoons of added sugar daily. She urged reading labels to avoid excess sugar, and when cooking replacing it with natural sweeteners like maple syrup or honey.

Foods on the table were inspiring, and delicious when participants got to dig in. Fresh cheese, fruit, and veggies were threaded on skewers.

Ms. Levy blended kale, mango, coconut milk, yogurt and ice into a delectable green drink. She created crunchy candy-like Snack Balls by swirling sunflower seeds, rai- sins, coconut flakes and raw cacao in a food processor.

According to Ms. Levy, healthy snacks don’t have to be expensive, and can cost less than individual packages. Buy foods in large quantities, split up into plas- tic containers or bags.

Prepare snacks ahead of time, Ms. Levy advised. Take time on Sunday to make snacks for the busy week ahead. And get the kids involved in helping. Children should eat without distraction, she added, so they will be able to “listen to their bodies” and you’re giving them,” she said. “It sends the message that food does matter, you don’t just eat anything you see.”

Preparing and eating good food yourself teaches children about healthy eating, Ms. Levy said. “They watch you, they model what you do.” MVT

Their website contains recipes, tips and “Vineyard Family Cooking,” a free, download- able cookbook/nutrition guide. For more information visit


Snack balls


1  cup raw, unsalted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or nuts;

cup raisins or dates.

Optional: 2 Tbsp. peanut butter; ¼ tsp. cinnamon

(1–2 Tbsp. each): Ground or quick oats; Flaxseeds or chia seeds; Unsweetened coconut flakes; Raw cacao.

Rinse seeds or nuts and dried fruit in cool water. Blend all ingredients well in food processor. Shape into balls or bars.



Tropical green smoothie


1  cup frozen mango or peach chunks;

1   ripe banana, peeled;

2  cups loosely packed kale, washed, torn into small pieces, tough stems removed;

*1/2  cup plain yogurt;

1/4 cup water;

1/4 cup light coconut milk;

Up to 2 tsp. maple syrup (opt.); 2 ice cubes


*If using Greek yogurt you may need to add 1/4 cup more water. Combine all ingredients in blender.

Blend until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately.





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