Uses and abuses of snack foods in child health

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Snack foods, though regarded as unhealthy, are widely eaten by children, particularly those with eating and feeding difficulties. This article outlines the ways in which paediatricians have traditionally made use of snack foods as incentives and then reviews the key nutritional and practical characteristics of commonly eaten snack foods, to allow practitioners to evaluate their role in the child's diet. Generally savoury snacks are preferable to sweet, while dry foods are preferable to drinks or semiliquid desserts. Many ostensibly healthy snacks are also rich in sugar or fat. Eaten in addition to other meals, snack foods may lead to obesity or else displace family foods, but the instant appeal of snack foods can be exploited to introduce young children to otherwise aversive sensations and tastes and can prove a useful path towards a more diverse future diet. If a reasonable variety of snack foods are taken, this will still form a fairly balanced, if non-ideal, diet.

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