Where is it written that kids want to snack on just junk food?
Researchers at Cornell University found that when it comes to satisfying a snack craving, the majority of kids are actually just as happy with cheese and fresh veggies as they are with potato chips.
That’s good news for kids, who end up consuming fewer — as well as healthier — calories when they nibble on cheese and vegetables, and for Bel Brands, maker of those bite-sized red wax spheres or wedges of cheese. Bel sponsored the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.
To assess kids’ palates, researchers invited 201 children between the ages of 7 and 10 to gather at a location in Chicago where they were allowed to watch television. While they watched, they were invited to snack on unlimited amounts of one of four types of foods to which they were assigned: potato chips, vegetables, cheese, or vegetables and cheese.
“We gave them more than they could ever eat,” says Brian Wansink, director of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, which researches solutions to over-eating. “If they wanted 19 bags of chips, they could have 19 bags of chips.”
At three different points, researchers measured the children’s satiety levels — how full they felt. They found that kids who ate the combo veggie/cheese snack ate significantly less than the chips group but reported feeling just as happy and satisfied afterward. The outcome was even stronger for heavier kids.
They also consumed 72% fewer calories, which is heartening to Wansink, whose research is focused on helping to address a goal of the White House’s Let’s Move campaign — getting kids to eat healthier foods.
“We wanted to offer a solution to the problem of snacking,” says Wansink, author of the forthcoming book Slim by Design: Eating Solutions for Everyday Life. “It takes a long time to eat vegetables and cheese compared to chips. Chips you can just inhale. It’s kind of hard to inhale cheese and raw vegetables.”
Wansink also speculates that the combination of cheese and veggies was more interesting than just chips, cheese or vegetables alone. Kids enjoyed opening the mini-cheeses and the variety of textures, which ranged from the dense and chewy cheese that was teamed with the crunchy vegetables. Taken together, the physical novelty of the cheeses and the range of tastes and textures may have provided a more satisfaction from the eating experience than mindlessly crunching on chips.
But as encouraging as the results are regarding how satisfying cheese and vegetables can be, cheese does have a drawback. While it is packed with protein, calcium and other nutrients, it also contains saturated fat. So if you’re considering adding cheese to your children’s snack rotation, make sure not to offer them a cheese platter but small portions of cheese. Nutritionists say that servings of about 60 calories each may be just right for snacking.