When it comes to selecting the right snack for her two children, Daraneenuch "Top" Pothipiti said it is like planting trees.
"For a tree to grow healthily, we usually feed it several types of fertilisers. Giving food and snacks to our children is pretty much the same," said the personality and celebrity mum.
But to Daraneenuch, giving her children a proper snack is not just about her going to the supermarket, reading snack labels and picking some good ones for her boys. For the mother of two, it's also about battling persuasive commercials that too often convince her sons to beg her for those tempting treats.
"Many times we see television commercials presenting colourful and mouthwatering snacks. But after we buy them we realise that they have no nutritional value at all," said Daraneenuch.
For modern parents, making the right snack choice for their children is not as simple as in the old days.
With a much wider variety of snacks available on supermarket shelves, it has become a real challenge for parents to identify which one is a truly healthy choice for their loved ones.
According to pharmacist and nutritionist Thaweesap Luangnateethep, when it comes to the issue of children's snacks, the biggest difficulty facing mums and dads is in terms of the huge difference between parents' understanding about snacks and children's preference.
"Speaking of children's snacks, most parents are usually concerned about the fact that there are healthy and unhealthy types. Of course, there are good and bad snacks. But I think the more important issue is regarding children's different needs. Parents need to evaluate their own children and see what kind of snack they need," explained Thaweesap.
Overweight children or those prone to developing obesity, he added, should specially watch out for high-calorie snacks such as packets of fried, crispy nibbles widely popular among children as well as sugary beverages including carbonated and fruit drinks.
One dubious fact about those small packets of fried, crispy snacks, said the nutritionist, is that they hardly make you feel full despite their high fat content and calories. As a result, those who like to tuck into such crispy treats usually find themselves unable to stop eating them. And such behaviour leads to too much calorie and fat intake.
Sugary drinks are also a significant health threat among overweight children as they are easily and quickly absorbed.
"You may notice that you can keep sipping a glass of sugary beverage all day long without feeling quenched," Thaweesap said. "So instead of giving children a glass of juice, I would recommend the fruits themselves as a snack because they are a good source of vitamins and fibre."
Some recommended options are fruits that contain low sugar such as papayas, apples, pomelos and oranges. Fruits with high sugar level such as grapes, ripe mangos, pineapples and longans ideally should not be served as snacks.
Children's snacks should definitely not be too sweet. One snack serving should not contain more than 12 grammes of sugar, or the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar. Serving sugary snacks to children might have an impact on their health in the long run.
"It is crucial that the sugar level in children's snacks be strictly controlled. This is because if children start eating sweet foods when young, they will grow up addicted to sweet flavours and their food will become sweeter and sweeter. And this leads not only to obesity but also diabetes," said the nutritionist, adding that children actually receive sugar intake from their main meals.
Colour additives are another subject parents should take into account when selecting snacks. While colour is an important property that adds to eating pleasure, some snack manufacturers opt for artificial colour additives instead of those made from natural products as artificial colouring is apparently cheaper than its natural counterpart.
Thailand's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has actually approved the use of both natural and artificial colouring in snacks but both must be used in an appropriate amount.
But the question is: How can we, as consumers, be certain that such colour additives, especially artificial ones, are harmless? Thaweesap said that the first thing to look for is whether or not the snacks are produced by trustworthy manufacturers and, second, whether they come with proper food labels.
"The safest way is to avoid snacks that are too colourful altogether," the pharmacist suggested. Flavour enhancers and food preservatives are two important things that must not be overlooked.
Yet according to Thaweesap, most snacks sold in supermarkets are carefully screened and approved by the FDA.
"If consumers see the FDA logo on products they decide to purchase, I think they are pretty safe to some extent," he said.
When to snack is as important as what to snack on. According to Thaweesap, children should be allowed to have light snacks only between main meals, not right before or after meals.
If children eat snacks before a meal, their body will receive energy from the treats and this will curb their appetite and stop them from consuming a proper amount of food they are supposed to eat in the main meal.
"A number of parents misunderstand snacks. Many of them think that snacks lead to obesity. In fact, snacks are important. Delicious bites can be used as an incentive for children when they behave. At the same time, they give energy to children between meals. So when children beg you for snacks, do not just turn their request down or keep them away from all kinds of snacks altogether.
"Check the nutritional value of the snacks first and then decide whether or not your children should be eating them. Remember, light meals also mean something. They help children with their growth and development."
Good snacks, as far as Daraneenuch is concerned, have absolutely nothing to do with price.
"That you are what you eat is very true," she said. "I see some of my son's friends who always eat low-quality food. And they get sick very often. So do not think snacks are not important. Before buying snacks, parents need to study the products carefully, read the labels, look at the snacks' colour and so forth. And for me, good snacks do not necessarily have to be expensive.
"Rather, good snacks should be not only tasty but should also benefit the health of our children."
These days a myriad of snacks are available on supermarket shelves and such variety usually causes headaches for concerned parents who want to choose the right bite for their children.
The Royal College of Paediatricians of Thailand has issued some recommendations on the proper level of energy from sweets and snacks for children aged six to 12. In order to keep them properly nourished, one serving should provide no more than 10% of a child's daily energy needs. In other words, while children aged six to 12 need 1,600 kilocalories from food intake per day, each light meal should consequently not give them more than 160 kilocalories. This nutrition information can be found on food labels of snacks that come from reliable manufacturers. And snacks should be served only twice a day.
Studying the food label carefully is one effective way to learn more about the snacks you opt for. Reading the label, parents are provided with a list of nutritional information including how much energy your children will receive from the treats. This can, in a way, help them decide whether the snacks are good for their children. Studying the label also enables parents to spot some ingredients that their children could be allergic to.
Life took a supermarket tour and randomly picked up some popular snacks. Here is information regarding how much energy one will receive from one serving of the selected bites.
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan