Back to school...back to sugar? As a former junior high cheerleading coach, I've seen firsthand the multitude of sugary snacks teens choose for after school eating- and as a Registered Dietitian, I know we have lots of room to improve! In fact, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Committee shared that nutrients including potassium, calcium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E are of concern for children (plus folate and iron for adolescent girls!). So, yes, LOTS of opportunity to improve!
But, common "fruit" snacks simply do not deliver on the important nutrition, unlike their name would have you believe. In fact, from "fruit" rolls to "fruit" snacks, some food products hide behind the name of "fruit" and contain little to no fruit at all (like this Fruit Roll-Up, which was recently added to the Health Hall of Shame...its flavor may be "Strawberry Sensation" but it contains ZERO strawberries!)
Look, I get that if you want to enjoy sugar on occasion -- or even serve it to your children -- you can do so in a balanced fashion. But when a package would have you believe that you are getting fruit (or at least some fruit), but instead eating something far from it, that's just not right.
So, when it comes to "fruit snacks" here are some of my top recommendations to help you stock your kitchen shelves...and their backpacks!
CHOOSE WHOLE FRUIT MOST OFTEN FOR A HEALTHIER FRUIT SNACK
Simply put, when it comes to selecting the top choice for a healthy fruit snack, say YES to whole fruits more often! Whole fruits are portable and packable, full of good-for-you nutrition, and can be easily served alongside any meal or snack. Crowd favorites like apples and bananas pair wonderfully with nut butters (make mini peanut butter sandwiches with apple/pear slices, or dip banana coins into almond butter) and exciting additions - and certainly worthy mainstays - like kiwi and blackberries are great when served alone, with a handful of nuts/seeds, or as a topper on oatmeals, yogurts, and salads. For children: ask your child which fruit he likes best or use the "this or that" technique (say, "would you like strawberries or pineapple with lunch?") to decide which to pack in his lunchbox. For teens: have plenty of produce available for them to select.
FREEZE A FRUIT SMOOTHIE AND PACK IT FOR SCHOOL
Make a fruit smoothies, store it in the freezer in a freezable jar (like these!), and pack in the lunchbox makes for a thawed smoothie by lunchtime. If your child likes fruit smoothies at home, certainly consider sweetly sippable smoothies for school time lunches or after school snacks!
TIPS FOR CANNED/JARRED FRUIT
When it comes to selecting canned or jarred fruit, the better option with the least amount of added sugars are fruits packed in water followed by fruits packed within their own juices. If you see fruit packed in light or heavy syrup, it means that an added sugar is part of the mix.
WHEN SELECTING FRUIT SNACKS, FRUIT STRIPS, FRUIT ROLLS, FRUIT TAPE AND OTHER PACKAGED FRUITS
Must your child have a "classic" fruit snack, fruit roll, fruit strips, or fruit tape? Check the ingredients label to see if 1) fruit is included (hint: it should be!) and if 2) fruit is the first ingredient (yep, you want this too!). Despite a multitude of fruit snacks whose first ingredient is some type of syrup or sugar, these from Stretch Island, Annie's Homegrown, and Simple Truth Organic are items to say YES to more often as compared to others!
What are your favorite back-to-school fruit snacks? Do your students love a certain type of fruit or food combination? As always, share your thoughts (or questions!) with me in the comments below!