After-school snacks or snacking while watching TV are common staples of childhood. But the type of snack can make a difference in how many calories the children end up eating.
A recent study compared potato chips, cheese, vegetables and the combination of cheese and vegetables. The results revealed that a cheese and vegetables snack led children to take in fewer calories than eating potato chips.
This might seem obvious, but the children also felt fuller sooner when eating the cheese and vegetables than when they ate the potato chips. And the overweight children were even more likely to show these results.
The study, led by Brian Wansink, PhD, from the Food and Brand Laboratory at Cornell University, aimed to find out whether children ate fewer calories with different types of snack foods. The researchers recruited 201 children who were entering the third, fourth, fifth or sixth grade and divided them into four groups.
All four groups watched 45-minute television programs, but each group was provided with different snacks. One group was given only potato chips, one was given only cheese, one was given only vegetables and one was given cheese and vegetables.
The children were allowed to eat the snacks freely while watching TV, and their level of fullness was measured before they started snacks, in the middle of the TV program and 20 minutes after they finished snacking.
The parents of the children also filled out surveys about their family environment.
The researchers found that children ate 72 percent fewer calories when they had the vegetables and cheese combination snack compared to just having potato chips.
The children snacking on the cheese and vegetables also ate less before they felt satisfied compared to those eating the potato chips.
These results were stronger among the children who were overweight or obese.
"The combination snack of vegetables and cheese can be an effective means for children to reduce caloric intake while snacking," the researchers wrote.
They pointed out that making the right choices for children's snacking may help reduce overweight or obesity risk.
"For parents, eliminating snacking altogether is impractical and, in some cases, can backfire," the researchers wrote. "However, parents could potentially replace some non-nutrient dense snacks [such as potato chips] with high-nutrient dense snacks such as a cheese and vegetable combination with less fear of backlash than if non-nutrient dense snacks were removed altogether."
The study was published December 17 in the journal Pediatrics. The data collection for research was funded by Bel Brands USA and the Cornell Food and Brand Laboratory. The authors indicated no conflicts of interest.