Eating little and often is good for you. The thing is, we don't want the large h2g2 Community to get any... er... larger. So, for this collaborative entry, we asked the h2g2 Community to put their brilliant minds to work, thinking about snacks other than the usual chocolate bars and crisps (or, for those in the USA, 'chips'). And yet perhaps this only applies to adults - what about children? What constitutes a healthy snack for a kid? Here's what you had to say...
Some Healthy Eating Myths
Let's begin with an example of reverse psychology. The following are examples of the kind of self-delusion many 'salad-dodgers' struggle with every day. Please be sympathetic - it's not easy being exposed to temptations like chocolate and cake every day:
Anything eaten with lettuce acquires the same calorie and fat content as lettuce.
Cake cut in to slices and consumed bit by bit has less calories than eating the whole cake at once.
Food consumed in darkness causes no weight gain because the calories can't see you.
Any food consumed with a group of other people contains less calories also (talking during eating burns up calories!)
It's important also to chew your food thoroughly, as the exercise of chewing burns calories. I reckon that if I walk to the take-away for my kebab (burning still more calories) and chew it really thoroughly - and have lettuce on it I should actually have a net loss of calories. Obviously.
If we're going to improve our diets, then we can start by modifying what we already eat - and that includes take-away or 'fast' food. Surprisingly, one of the UK's most popular take-away meals does offer a pretty healthy meal for children. Because of the high fat content in fish and chips, it's not advisable to have it every day, but children do need a small amount of fat in their diet to help them grow. The fish itself contains protein and, if you get the fish from a chip shop, the batter's ingredients (which include milk and eggs) also contains protein as well as calcium and other vitamins. The chips are a good way of sneaking carbohydrates and vitamin C into your child's diet too!
Incidentally, on the subject of fish, nuts or wholemeal pitta-bread can make a nice addition to a basic fish dish. Try them with mackerel (either in tins or in its smoked form) with some salad and maybe some horseradish sauce. Both of these are quite high in fat but the fish option is full of Omega-3 fatty acids, so this is nice. If you prefer, replace the mackerel with sardines, or with tuna fish, which is high in protein.
If you go to the kebab shop, avoid the doner kebab - that big 'elephant leg' of meat is made up of bits of meat stuck together with fat. Chicken kebabs are recommended as an alternative (though try to avoid the temptation of smothering it in chilli sauce!).
If you have an Indian take-away nearby, onion bhajis are fantastic, despite being deep fried, but healthier alternatives are prawn crackers or poppadoms (grilled instead of fried) topped with mango chutney, lime pickle or raithas.
If you fancy an alternative to chips, either as a starter or side dish to a main course, you could do worse than consider potato wedges. They're fairly easy to cook. Simply peel the potatoes, chop them in eight pieces (lengthwise) and put them in the oven for about 15 minutes at 200°C. Don't forget to apply salt, pepper and, if you fancy, paprika spice beforehand. If you put the potato pieces on oven foil or paper, you don't even have to grease up the baking tray, thus ending up with a truly fat-free but delicious snack.
Whether it's written 'hummus', 'hommos', 'hummous' or 'hoummos' (but not, we're reliably informed, 'humus', which means dirt), houmous is a perfect dip for parties or quick snacks. It's made up of cooked chickpeas, with a dash of garlic and, if you choose, tahini (a good source of calcium). It's delicious on pitta bread, rice cakes or on toast (no butter or margarine though!), and some Researchers recommend cucumber crudités or raw carrot - a marvellous combination of creaminess and crunchiness.
Green Veggies and Lots of Fruit!
Now we head into what, for some of us, will be unfamiliar territory. As children, most of us refuse to believe it, but the best way to a healthy lifestyle is to make sure you get enough vegetables and fruit into your diet, such as raw green veggies as snacks (celery, green peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, broccoli) and a mixture of fruit (apples, oranges, cantaloupe, peaches, bananas, etc). Red peppers are good for vitamin C (they contain more vit-C than oranges).
A Researcher writes:
Being both obsessed by snacks (because I'm a lazy cook) and my figure I like making a big bowl of fruit salad and helping myself whenever I feel the urge for something to eat between meals. But don't leave it stewing too long; it goes squidgy, then mouldy, and then possibly alcoholic.
Blended fruit drinks - also known as 'Smoothies' - have, in the last few years, become a popular 'trendy' lunchtime alternative to beer and pub grub. Here is a basic recipe:
- 4 tablespoons low-fat bio yoghurt.
- Some fruit-juice (apple is good).
- Some fresh ginger (optional).
- Some soft fruit (bananas, mangoes, kiwis, papayas, cucumbers, that sort of thing).
Put all of the ingredients into a blender, and blend. This all takes 10 minutes (including the all-important washing up afterwards) and tastes very nice. If you want extra carbohydrates and fibre, you can put oatmeal in there. Add some whey-based protein powder to the mix and it becomes a good addition to a weight-gain diet (especially if you're in training or recovering after a bout of ill health).
Fruit and Fibre
Fig rolls are not too bad if you become fixated on biscuits. Dried-up figs and apricots are better for you than custard creams, and they have lots of fibre in them.
Dried fruit - such as mango, prunes and apricots - are favourites among the Community. Dried banana is a controversial one; some believe it to be evil incarnate, others think it's divine. But as one Researcher puts it:
I'm not sure if any of these are actually healthy, but they're not chocolate so, in my mind, they're practically calorie free
Well, to put your minds at rest, fruit has sugar in it, and sugars are molecules with a lot of stored energy in them, so they do have calories - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Calories are just a measurement of energy, and it's important to get energy from your food. Relative to some other things, fruit is a pretty healthy way to get calories.
Warning - one downside of excessive fruit consumption is flatulence - beware.
Of course, another essential part of any diet is roughage. Roughage - or fibre - is good for the bowels. It does, however, also cause a bit of flatulence (it seems that's just a hazard of a healthy diet). Naturally, roughage and fresh fruit is good for people but too much roughage, especially in the form of dried fruit, is not supposed to be good for children or their parents, who end up having to clean the toilet bowl and seat!
Lots of Snacks v Big Meals
Many studies have shown that it is more sensible to eat lots of small snacks (no matter what, they don't even have be 'healthy') throughout the day instead of the conventional three big meals (breakfast, lunch, evening meal/supper). A Researcher explains:
The sensation of hunger is caused by low sugar levels in the blood and by a mechanic detection of stomach-emptiness. This adds to the psychological effects of appetite. In modern days (and in the Western world) the offer of food exceeds by far what would be necessary to maintain a healthy body. As a consequence people get obese. This is not healthy. Keeping the sugar levels and the stomach emptiness at medium levels balances the cycle, reducing the overall gain of weight.
Another aspect: After a big meal people feel tired. This is normal. The body goes into growth and maintenance mode. The brain is switched to stand-by. Consequences: First adults redirect the growth part into emergency-fat-reserves (which was good for the Cro-Magnon people). Second, one does not normally have the time to take a proper siesta. This is not healthy and stresses the body.
Opulent meals with siesta-time are nice one a month, for the rest it is sensible to keep a 5-6 snacks-a-day diet. People under this diet feel less stressed, less hungry and do not gain as much weight.
A further advantage to snacking is that it helps us maintain the body's natural levels of insulin. Keeping blood insulin levels as constant as possible means constant metabolic rate and energy. The best way of doing this is to have regular small snacks of similar amounts of protein and carbohydrate (by weight) with about 20% of the total in fats (not animal fat, and less than half of the total in dairy fat), depending of course on your own physical/medical condition.
Eating healthily doesn't mean you have to deprive yourself. Although peanut butter is regarded as being a high calorie product, it's possible to eat this wonderful stuff as part of a healthy diet, in moderation.
One Researcher conducted a study of how peanut butter measures up against a so-called 'Low Fat' spread:
|50% fat spread (per 100g)||Peanut butter (per 100g)|
|calories 454||calories 615|
|protein 0.2g||protein 21.5g|
|carbohydrate 0.9g||carbohydrate 11.7g|
|fat 50g (saturates 15.2g)||fat 53.6g (saturates 10.2g)|
|fibre nil||fibre 6.2g|
|sodium 0.89g||sodium 0.4g|
So, although the peanut butter is higher in calories compared to a low-fat spread, it does a lot better against the spread in all other nutritional areas (plus, you can use it to make a rather good satay sauce!).
One serving suggestion is 'ants on a log' - peanut butter spread into the groove on a stick of celery, with raisins sprinkled along the peanut butter. You can use natural (unsalted, unsweetened) peanut butter, and it tastes just as good. Almond butter works too, apparently.
Easily made by kids in the microwave and full of fibre too. If you're feeling ambitious, just buy a pack of popping corn kernels rather than the microwave ones. You can make the popcorn in a non-stick saucepan (with a lid!) or one of those hot air popcorn makers with no added fat at all. Once it's cooked, add a little salt to taste (although it's quite nice plain as well).
Great between slices of (wholemeal) bread for a carbohydrate boost, bananas are a natural snack that you don't have to wash to remove chemicals before you eat it. One Researcher tells of his aunt, who gave him dried bananas and told him they were dried up snakes... which is one way of ensuring your children don't eat anything.
If you're struggling with a lack of willpower, this next section might not help you in your battle. You see, chocolate can be good for you, as the best quality chocolate contains antioxidants. The possible negative with chocolate is its oxalic acid content, which is believed to render any calcium in the digestive tract at the time useless to the body. But generally, if you're trying to enjoy a healthier lifestyle, and if you think you can resist the temptation to binge, a little chocolate shouldn't do you too much harm.
Some further suggestions for snacking healthily:
Natural yoghurt mixed with chopped cucumber or tomato (or both), a little salt and pepper and mixed herbs. Yummy!
Sugar snap peas in the pod.
Carob beans - it's too different to imitate chocolate well, but if you just think of it as carob, it's nice. Carob ice cream is yummy.
Bags of crunchy salad (lettuce or rocket) from supermarkets. You can eat them like crisps (chips), straight from the bag.
Sweetcorn kernels in a bowl, cold or microwaved. Healthy as is, or melt some salted butter on and live a little.
Last Bits of Advice
The secret to healthy eating would appear to be moderation and balance. Balance snacks of any kind with stuff that is good for you. However, the emotional benefits of having something that you are genuinely going to enjoy shouldn't be discounted.
Avoid mayonnaise at all costs.
...and make sure you drink eight glasses of water a day - no matter what you eat!