What’s the most popular snack food in the United States?
What’s the number-one drink of choice among teens?
The answers probably won’t surprise you. “Potato chips and soda,” says Ann Svendsen, Director of Nutrition Services at Duval County Public Schools. “And it’s not diet soda they’re drinking; they choose regular soda – with caffeine and sugar. In fact, a lot of our young people have potato chips and soda for breakfast,” she added.
Many teens think if they eat less food, they won’t gain weight, says Svendsen. “They look at the single can of soda and the small bag of chips and say, ‘But I’m not eating very much!’ They don’t realize that the foods they are eating are loaded with fat and sugar and contain very little nutrition value.”
Where do most school kids buy their snack foods? At vending machines located on school property. Why can’t they simply change the kinds of snacks offered in these vending machines? “If we change all the snacks in the vending machines to healthier items,” said Svendsen, “the kids just go off school grounds to buy them at the neighborhood convenience store. Same with school lunches. If we only offer healthy foods, they go to a nearby fast food restaurant and get their burgers and fries. There has to be a middle ground. By adding items such as lean deli sandwiches, low-fat frozen yogurt, and low-fat chocolate milk to the menu, we’re giving them healthier choices that still appeal to them.”
Svendsen, along with the school nurses and teachers, tries to spread the word about good nutrition to the 255 schools in the Houston school district. “These kids are smart,” she explained. “They watch their grandparents die of heart attacks. Many of them are worried about what’s going to happen to them. When you take the time to explain the facts about good nutrition – that they should watch their fat intake and increase their intake of fruits and vegetables – many of them are willing to listen.”
Snack Attack Defense
What’s the best line of defense against a junk food snack attack at home? “Have a wide variety of foods that are accessible, easy to prepare, and that taste good,” says Mimi Kerr, cooking instructor and co-author of Young Chef’s Nutrition Guide and Cookbook. “It’s so easy to prepare fresh foods, fast – for instance, a warmed tortilla with cheese, lean cold cuts rolled and secured with a toothpick, and cut up fresh fruit that can be threaded onto skewers – these foods can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or as a snack.
“Because more moms are working outside the home now, kids are taking more responsibility for what they eat. And when it comes to preparing meals and snacks, they’re more interested in the decision-making process,” Kerr adds. “Kids these days are sharp. Once they are given a responsibility, along with some education and guidance, they become smart consumers.”