Snacking – what comes to mind? Carrot sticks? Granola bars? Chips? Yogurt? Maybe all of the above? Snacks can make up a large part of our calorie intake. Ensuring that our snacking choices are healthy is especially important for children, because dietary patterns and other lifestyle habits established in childhood can carry into adulthood. Despite this, little research has studied preschoolers’ snacking patterns.
Enter the Guelph Family Health Study (www.guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com), an Ontario-based study of families with young children, housed at the University of Guelph. The research team focuses on developing and testing ways to help families maintain healthy behaviours over many years. We recently looked at snacking patterns (frequency, quality and quantity) of fifty-two preschool-aged boys and girls. 96% of children in our study snacked daily, with snacks making up an average of one-third of their daily calorie intake. Children consumed an average of almost two and a half snacks each day, most frequently in the afternoon. The most common snacks were crackers, apples, soft cookies, yogurt and granola bars. 78% of boys’ snacks contained at least one food group from Canada’s Food Guide, compared with 63% of girls’ snacks. Girls consumed more sugary snacks than boys.
What does all of this mean? Guelph kids love to snack! While their snacks are OK from a nutritional standpoint, there is room for improvement. Girls’ snacks in particular could use a health boost. Apples and yogurt (especially yogurt with less sugar) are great – two thumbs up! However, not all granola bars are created equally. Look for ones that are low in sugar (<5 grams per serving) and that contain healthy ingredients, like nuts (just watch those allergies). As for the crackers and soft cookies? Not so much – these are typically high in salt or sugar and don’t contain a lot of nutrition. Examples of healthy snacks for kids of all ages can include hummus and veggie sticks, peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast or yogurt with low-sugar granola.
In addition to investigating snacking patterns of young children, the Guelph Family Health Study is also looking at other health behaviours of families including dietary intake, food purchasing habits, physical activity, sleep patterns, body composition, and much more! If you are interested in learning more about our findings, or interested in participating please visit our website below. To be eligible for the study, you need to have at least one child aged 1.5-6 years and live in the Guelph area. Visit www.guelphfamilyhealthstudy.com for more information.
Andrea Buchholz is a co-investigator of the Guelph Family Health Study, and a faculty member in the Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition at the University of Guelph. Joy Mackay is a dietetic intern, and was a student in the Applied Human Nutrition program and a research assistant for the Guelph Family Health Study.