Unhealthy Snacks in Schools

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Today's children snack an average of three times per day, according to an article published in "USA Today." Popular snacks like potato chips and cookies, which contain loads of sugar, calories and fat, may contribute to the rising rates of childhood obesity. Many schools offer these unhealthy snacks, making them easily accessible to your children.

Types of Unhealthy Snacks

As students progress from elementary school to high school, the school environment becomes less healthy. While only 17 percent of elementary schools have vending machines on campus, more than 96 percent of high schools are equipped with vending machines, according to a 2008 study titled "School Food Environments and Policies in U.S. Public Schools." These vending machines may offer soda, cookies, candy bars, chips, fruit snacks, sugary granola bars and chocolate-covered nuts.

In addition to the unhealthy snacks in the vending machines, many schools also offer unhealthy snacks in the a la carte line at lunch. These unhealthy snacks may include freshly-baked cookies, brownies, sugary cereals, fruit juice cocktail, whole milk and French fries.

Banning Unhealthy Snacks

Fortunately, many school districts are coming to the realization that unhealthy snacks in schools contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic. As a result, schools are working with health professionals to ban unhealthy snacks in schools. Some schools are removing unhealthy foods, like chips and candy bars, from vending machines, while others are removing vending machines altogether. Other schools are removing unhealthy options from the a la carte line at lunch.

In addition to some schools' independent decisions to ban certain snacks, the USDA has implemented a ban on selling foods with limited nutritional value. This ban applies to soft drinks, chewing gum and candies made from mostly sugar, which include hard candy, licorice, jelly candy and candy coated popcorn, but does not apply to some popular unhealthy snacks, such as candy bars, potato chips, soda and cookies.

Packing Healthy Snacks

If your children have their own snacks, they may be less likely to choose the unhealthy snacks offered at school. Each night before you go to bed or each morning while you're preparing lunch, pack a few healthy snacks in your kids' backpacks. You may opt for cut up vegetables with a container of creamy dressing on the side, a snack bag full of air-popped popcorn flavored with ranch seasoning mix, apple slices with yogurt or whole grain crackers with a cheese stick. Packing a whole apple, peach, pear or banana is also an easy way to sneak in some healthy snacks. Encourage your children to eat these foods over the unhealthy snacks at school.

Eating Behaviors

While you can't watch over your children during the school day to make sure they do not grab an unhealthy snack, you can provide them with the knowledge and the right foods to make healthy decisions. According to an article published in "USA Today," kids tend to eat what their parents eat. Therefore it is imperative that you model healthy snacking behaviors at home. Reach for cut-up vegetables and light creamy dressing rather than a bag of potato chips. If you snack in front of the TV, choose a bowl of fruit, rather than a couple cookies.

Snack at appropriate times as well. While it is important to get some nourishment between meals through snacks, do not let snacking take the place of meals. Plan at-home snacks so that they do not interfere with dinner.