September 9, 2014

Healthy Snacks: Alternatives for Low-Income Families

Joyce Smith

Joyce Smith

Community Relations Coordinator

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Joyce Smith (center) with community members at a back-to-school event, August 2014.

Joyce Smith (center) with coordinators at a back-to-school event, August 2014.

“Wow, this is good,” said one nine-year-old girl to another. “I thought I wasn’t going to like that stuff.”

The other little girl nodded in agreement. When they asked, “What is this stuff?” I told them, “Healthy snacks” and thanked them.

Then I enjoyed watching them eat the samples of healthy snacks I’d prepared: apples sprinkled with cinnamon, vanilla yogurt with sliced bananas, celery spread with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log). I told them that the apples with cinnamon is like eating pie without crust, the yogurt and banana was pudding with fruit, and ants on a log made celery taste good—and that these snacks were better for them than candy, chips, cookies, and soda.

I was participating in a back-to-school event for schoolchildren and their families, and my assignment was to help low-income children and their parents with ideas for healthier snacking. I had been invited by a community group that knew about the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future through its Eat Right Live Well campaign at the Food Depot supermarket in Southwest Baltimore.

Several young mothers whose children were enjoying the physical activities and events came over and asked me if they could try a sample of the “healthy snacks.” After they finished the samples, I asked them what they thought, and their feedback was both honest and positive. When I asked them if they would give their children those snacks, and one of them said, “I do not let my children eat sweets and sugary treats, now I have some other ideas for their snacks and treats.”

Another mom, who was pregnant and diagnosed with pregnancy-related diabetes, liked the snacks as well, and I advised her to ask her doctor if she could eat apples and cinnamon, and if any of the “healthy snacks” were restricted from her diet. A third mom, not as young as the others and with a young baby in a stroller, wanted to learn more about healthy eating, so she could feed her baby more nourishing snacks, food, and meals.

At the end of our discussion, I gave each mother a sheet with ideas for healthy snacks and told them that the Food Depot in Southwest Baltimore, the supermarket where they did most of their grocery shopping, had a dietitian and nutritionist on staff, Ms. Sheryl Hoehner. I told them they should find out when Sheryl is there to talk with them and to collect information from her at her station in the front of the market.

Children and families living in low-income communities that are classified as food deserts are affected by their a lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as by the low availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in their neighborhood stores. In addition, some shoppers believe that they cannot afford to purchase fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables—and there are other barriers to healthier eating, too. Many people have not learned that snacks can be healthy and nutritious, while also being somewhat sweet. During this event, however, I think some people who sampled the “healthy snacks” learned that they have choices about what types of snack they have access to and can enjoy.

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