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The Busy Families' Guide to Healthy Eating

The Brugo Family -- Upper Brookville, NY Snack Happy: The Challenges

The Brugos are no nutritional slackers. In recent years they've switched over from refined starches to healthier whole-grain foods like whole wheat couscous, quinoa, and brown rice. Rather than serving meals family-style, Jenny, 41, controls portion sizes by preparing everyone's dinner plates in the kitchen. What poses the biggest challenge for this family? Snacking. Given the chance, her husband, Christopher, 43, and their kids -- Lara, 16, Caroline, 13, and Graham, 10 -- will empty a box of cookies or bag of chips in one sitting. Jenny, who runs a drapery business from home, also needs a healthy yet portable snack to boost her energy while she drives the kids to and from their after-school activities. Graham's lack of variety is also a concern for Jenny. "He could live on tuna fish and cookies," she says.

The Solutions
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Cheryl Zibisky
Photo by Cheryl Zibisky

  • Micromanage the munchies. "By having nutritious snacks at the ready, Jenny can monitor portion sizes just as she does her family's meals," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and member of Family Circle's advisory board. Since the kids are inclined to grab the first thing they see, you can cut up fruit and serve it with individual bags of whole wheat pretzels or low-fat popcorn when they return from school. Another healthy nosh: sliced fresh vegetables with a calcium-rich dip made with Greek-style yogurt (a lighter but still-rich-tasting alternative to sour cream) and a sprinkling of onion or vegetable soup mix.
  • Think out of the box. Taub-Dix isn't one to advocate a sweet-free household -- if you don't have treats in your kitchen, your kids will be the first to line up for them at other kids' homes. But she's a believer in buying individual snack-size bags of cookies. "A lot of people argue that they're expensive, but you spend about the same in the end because you won't go through them as quickly," she says. When you're baking cookies from scratch, take out just enough dough to make a few cookies and freeze the rest for future use.
  • Raise the (energy) bar. A nutrition bar is a great grab-and-go snack for Jenny when she's shuttling the kids from the tennis courts to the lacrosse field, says Taub-Dix. But she needs to read labels carefully. "Some manufacturers focus on a single nutrient like protein or carbohydrates." Opt for a mix of 40 to 50 percent carbs, 15 to 20 percent protein and 20 to 30 percent fat -- with no trans fats and at least a couple of grams of fiber. "That ratio will provide a greater sense of satiety and keep blood sugar levels stable without upping her calorie tally by too much," she says.
  • Spice it up. While it's good that Graham eats at least one source of protein, a more varied diet would help ensure that his nutritional needs are being met, says Taub-Dix. Unfortunately, he doesn't really like red meat or chicken -- at least the way they've been served to him in the past. Her fix: Jazz up an otherwise plain turkey, chicken, or roast beef sandwich with tasty condiments and extras like pesto, pickles, sun-dried tomatoes, or avocado. Graham may be more receptive to other protein sources if they are dressed up with a bit more flavor.

The Feedback

Jenny's thrilled to have reined in the between-meal munching. "Now if I buy a large bag of cookies or box of whole wheat pretzels, I'll break it down into small sandwich bags before the kids can get their hands on it," she says. Having after-school snacks at the ready has also been a success. "I used to see them sit down with a knife and a hunk of cheese," says Jenny. "Now they've gotten used to individual-size portions and more variety."

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