Recent research on children’s snacking shows some stark statistics. All the more reason, said a University of Florida registered dietitian, to eat fruits and veggies rather than potato chips when it’s snack time.

February is National Snack Food Month, a time to recognize the benefits of healthy foods we eat between meals.

Nutritious snacks remain critical for children, according to a recent study. Research published in 2017 by University of North Carolina scientists, which covered the years 1977 to 2014, showed children’s salty snack intake doubled over the study period. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most of the population ages 1 year and older consumes more than the recommended limit of added sugars, saturated fats and sodium. Additionally, they consume less than the recommendation for vegetables and fruits.

Those numbers may be concerning to parents and child care providers trying to make sure kids eat healthy snacks, however, snack time can be a healthy eating occasion, said Kaley Mialki, a nutrition expert with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Encouraging healthy snacks can help children fill in nutrient gaps during the day, said Mialki, a youth programs specialist with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program (FNP). What’s the key to getting children to eat more fruits and vegetables for snacks? Have fun with the produce and keep it visible, she said.

“I think a lot of kids like dipping things,” Mialki said. “And a lot of kids like fun colors. So, if we can find a way to cut up colorful vegetables for children, store them in a convenient and easy-to-find place and have it with a type of salad dressing or dip that kids like, then they might be more likely to eat them.”

FNP offers free nutrition education in 40 Florida counties to people eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through UF/IFAS Extension.

Just like children, adults like to nosh. Mialki suggests adults plan their healthy snacks. She recommends you keep in mind how many calories you should be eating each day, she said. Daily caloric needs vary depending on your physical activity level, age, body size and composition, physical health and weight goals.

Mialki recommends speaking with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making major diet or lifestyle changes.

Lots of adults work long hours or spend a lot of time driving around for their jobs. For those folks, Mialki suggested planning and preparing healthy snacks before you leave home. That includes packing snacks in a cooler or bringing along snacks that won’t go bad in the vehicle.

“You also want to consider a snack that you’re actually going to eat,” Mialki said.

Choose more than one food group in the snack, so we’re getting a well-balanced snack.

For many adults, a snack consists of chips or a candy bar at a convenience store. Mialki said you can avoid those, as well, and get in and out of the store just as quickly.

“Look for fresh fruits and vegetables, which are available at many convenience stores,” she said. “You can also find fresh, low-fat or fat-free dairy, including varieties of yogurt, which are healthy for you. Dried fruit, nuts and seeds are other great options.”

Brad Buck, public relations specialist UF/IFAS Communications, University of Florida, can be reached at bradbuck@ufl.edu.