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We’ve got a special treat for you today.
We recently interviewed Allison J. Stowell MS, RD, CDN, who is a Registered Dietician and part of the Guiding Stars team. Guiding Stars is a new website that gives you an objective food-rating system which uses a scientific algorithm to show you which foods are most nutritious. From their About Page: "The more nutritional value a food has, the more Guiding Stars it receives. If a food doesn’t receive a star – it means it doesn’t meet our rigorous criteria."
We asked Allison to tell us about Guiding Stars and to give us a few insider tips for healthy snacks for the summer and for taking on long car rides with kids.
LISTEN TO THE AUDIO RECORDING OF THE INTERVIEW HERE:
READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE INTERVIEW HERE:
Lauren: Hi I’m Lauren from The Healthy Snack Blog and today I have with me Allison Stowell, a registered dietician on behalf of Guiding Stars. Allison, hi.
Allison: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Lauren: You’re welcome, thank you for taking the time to come talk today. So I want to talk to you about healthy snacks for travelling which is definitely an important issue because kids get cranky enough as it is on long car trips and then on top of that if they’re hungry it’s going to be a lot worse for everybody and you also don’t want the adults to get hungry and the person driving, you want everyone to have a lot of energy and be excited for their destination. So first let’s start with some general, what are important considerations to keep in mind when deciding on healthy snacks to bring with you?
Allison: Yes, again I definitely appreciate what you’re saying, undoubtedly having good snacks on hand can make or break any experience, particularly a long car ride with children. I think one of the things that is most important to first consider when putting together a healthy snack is that it’s balanced. It’s very easy to find a snack that’s going to have carbohydrates in it or some sugar component to it because so many snacks begin as, you know granola bar or crackers or something that innately has some sugar to it. But the part that we really want to look for is protein because that’s what’s going to sustain us, sustain our children and keep them from continuing to ask “What else did you pack, what else did you pack.”
Lauren: Can you explain the Guiding Star’s Rating Program?
Allison: Yeah of course. So the Guiding Star’s Rating Program helps shoppers in the grocery store shop fast but shop healthfully at the same time and also keep their dollar in mind so that they’re spending their money on foods that they know that they want to feed their family that are going to nourish them. It’s based on science that looks at and rates all the foods that are presented to you in the store and then based on that rating can identify which foods are going to give you the most nutrition. And when you’re actually looking at the labels it’s very easy to identify because there’s a star rating and as you go from 1 to 2 to 3 Guiding Stars you’re getting more vitamins and minerals and fiber and whole grains and less of the unhealthy fats that we’re trying to avoid like saturated fat and trans fat and cholesterol, less fat itself, and less added sugar. So it’s very helpful when you’re in the store and you’re looking at a category, say for example granola bars like I mentioned earlier, it’s very easy to identify which are earning stars and then know that you’re picking out the best one out of that category for your family. And it’s important to know that if your local store doesn’t have a Guiding Stars in it that the website, guidingstars.com, has a great food finder where you can enter foods that you have and see how they scale against their competitors and whether they earn stars or not.
Lauren: That’s really helpful, that’s great because it’s a little overwhelming when you’re in the supermarket and there’s so many brands and you’re standing there reading nutrition labels, comparing and trying to figure out should I be worried about all the sugar in this one and this, that and the other. It’s nice to have a system that makes it easy for you.
Allison: Yeah undoubtedly. Especially at the end of a long day or something like that when you’re in a rush.
Lauren: Yeah and you’re really hungry and you just want to get your food and just go home.
Allison: Yeah exactly.
Lauren: So can you recommend some travel snacks that are great for summer and that would rate well with the Guiding Stars system?
Allison: Yeah of course. Things that are prepackaged that you could find in the store very easily would be things like nuts, which are so simple and easy to pack and don’t require refrigeration. That’s great. Other things like Kashi granola bars. They have a high protein content, those granola bars, and they’re made with wholesome ingredients and they are Guiding Star rated. Something as simple as peanut butter on whole wheat bread is going to earn Guiding Stars and then they’re a really easy thing to pack as well.
Lauren: Yeah and it won’t be too messy because it’s contained in a sandwich.
Lauren: What other considerations do you have to keep in mind when you’re planning snacks for the car? Like we talked about it being messy but you don’t want anything that’s messy. What other things do you have to keep in mind, besides it being healthy, you need it to be travel friendly.
Allison: Yeah, definitely and especially in the summer time food safety is always a concern, but there’s no question that in the summer when you’re in a hot car that concern is definitely higher. So if it’s anything that you ordinarily would refrigerate in your home, I highly recommend bringing a cooler pack and some good ice packs in there to keep it cold in the car as well. And that counts for yogurt, which are a nice protein for our children so we want to keep those refrigerated. Cheese sticks, anything cream-based really. And then of course even if you’re packing fruit, depending on if you have the space it will preserve it longer and keep it more refreshing if you have it cold.
Lauren: That’s true. And I guess even if the apple slices turn a little bit brown that doesn’t mean its gone bad, right. Though it won’t be very appetizing for the kids.
Allison: Yeah of course. There’s actually pre-sliced apple slices now in your produce sections of most grocery stores that are nothing that you can taste or notice but they do keep them from going brown and that’s a definite go to in my house. Just to be able to pair that with some cheese or something like that is a good tool.
Lauren: That’s a good idea. Then you don’t have to go to all the trouble of slicing the apples and then packing them up in little bags for the trip. I know for me I have a hard enough time deciding what to wear, and bring. I have to pack my suitcase and then packing your kids clothes. I think remembering to pack snacks at the last minute can be the last thing on your mind.
Lauren: And then for things that don’t need to be refrigerated there’s still some stuff that, although it doesn’t need to be refrigerated can still get kind of messy or sticky. Like the granola bars, like the ones with chocolate coatings can get pretty messy. Are there any specific kinds that you recommend that you think are a little neater for cars?
Allison: Yeah, definitely. I appreciate what you’re saying. Well certainly I think, I try to avoid with the trail mix, with trail mixes that I pack or granola bars that I pack or anything, I try to avoid chocolate coatings or mini chocolate chips in them or anything that can fall apart like that. The good news is, kid’s cereal for example, the more healthful cereals and the better for you cereals are not sticky because they’re not sugar coated. That kind of works for you in both ways. Even something like raisins, or when you bring fruit, if that’s a concern for some people. There’s some great freeze dried options now. There’s a brand, Brother’s All Natural, that’s even packaging them individual packaging if that’s helpful to some parents, that have freeze dried pineapple crisps and pears and apples and those are so dry and they’re very simple and easy and clean to eat in the car without too much concern. The same thing would go for juice, which is just another reason to encourage water, which is what we really want our kids drinking more of anyways.
Lauren: That’s true, you don’t want to get dehydrated on a long trip too. Then again you don’t want them to drink too much because then you’ll be stopping every five minutes.
Allison: That’s right.
Lauren: I’m really mean in the car, I don’t want anyone to ever stop. I’m like ‘let’s wait until we get there for lunch, let’s wait’ because part of the fun is having lunch at the destination. But I guess if you’re really hungry ahead of time you can stop. But what if you don’t pack snacks? Is there anything you can get, something on the road at a gas station or is there something you can recommend that you can buy on the run.
Allison: Yeah absolutely. I think that even the little marts at gas stations have done a lot to provide interesting options in there. You can pick up yogurt at those establishments, you can get trail mix, you can get granola bars. You certainly can find yourself; you can make some bad choices there as well. But there’s a lot of things that you can pick up that are going to be not so bad for you choices. You know at the end of the day what’s most important is the balance you create for your family from the beginning to the end. And you’re going to always do the best you can in the moment. And I think what matters most is just a quick look-over of the nutrition label if you can if you’re in those places or looking for brands that you recognize in the store, and certainly with granola bars and yogurts you’re likely to be able to do that in those places.
Lauren: That’s a good thing to keep in mind because I feel like if you’re in a long car ride and you see a Dunkin Donuts drive thru you might be tempted to say ‘oh it’s the only thing I’m going to find so I guess I can indulge in something’ but if you just remember that the gas station probably will have some stuff too, not just those nasty packaged Danishes and stuff but they’ll probably have all the regular brands of granola bars probably or some brands of yogurt.
Allison: Yeah sure. Many of them, especially if they’re in touristy areas, maybe they’ll even have some grocery items there like small jars of peanut butter and some things like that. And when you do end up at fast food places or things like that, it’s worth checking out the menu and seeing what you can pick and choose and how you can maybe make the best of whatever situation you’re in. I think they’re trying to do a better job, some of them fall short.
Lauren: What should you keep in mind when you’re trying to figure out portion size in the packaging? I guess if you’re in the gas station you have to get whatever they have but if you pack it yourself you have a little more control over how much to bring. So what should you keep in mind with that?
Allison: Yeah that’s a great question. I personally have a two year old and a five year old and I know that just because I think it’s meal time doesn’t always correlate with what their little bellies are telling them, and when they’re hungry. And that’s just day to day and a car ride is definitely even a bigger example of that because they’re napping, they’re up, they’re bored, whatever is going on. And as it relates the to snacks I feel that as long as you’re packing a good variety and incorporating some protein and you feel generally good about a lot of what you’re giving them, I think that you could mimic portions that scale between a smaller amount for things that you would at home not give them as much of, but if you’re packing a peanut butter sandwich or things like that I would just give them a good amount. Worst case scenario they’re feeling full and satisfied and they’re not needing anymore. I think that it depends on what you’re packing and I think its okay to let them guide you in that. That’s something I try to do no matter where I am with my children, is let their stomach, because I’m trying so hard to let children of all ages maintain that ability to listen to their stomach and if their stomach is truely telling them that they’re hungry, let them eat as much as they feel is appropriate. Does that make sense? Do you feel that way?
Lauren: Yeah that’s a good point because kids need to start learning on their own to make their own decisions about how hungry they are and when to eat. I like the reminder to have protein in the snacks too because then that makes you full faster without overeating as much, as if you didn’t have protein. Sometimes in a long car ride I’ll just bring a huge bag or pretzels because I’ll think ‘this will last for the whole trip, until we get to the hotel room’ but then if you’re just driving you keep picking at the bag and keep eating, keep reaching your hand in there and you never even get full because it’s just pretzels, or you get full and you get hungry half an hour later. So if just five seconds before your trip to put some pretzels in a Ziploc bag and then bring a squeeze pack of peanut butter or almond butter or something and have some protein too then you feel full faster and it wouldn’t be, you wouldn’t feel as bad eating a huge bag of pretzels before vacation.
Allison: Right, absolutely. That’s a good rule of thumb that I try to remind people of no matter where they are. Because if you’re just having something with just a carbohydrate in it, and pretzels are such a great example of something that just gives you that carbohydrate energy, you’re actually encouraging hunger more than you’re encouraging fullness because you’re going to digest it pretty quickly and then be looking for something else. I agree, I think that even as adults we could definitely start finding ourselves doing that boredom eating in the car, what else are you going to do. Taking those pretzels out of the bag, pre-portioning them for yourself and maybe turning it into more of a trail mix or something is a good idea.
Lauren: Yeah that’s a good idea, putting it into trail mix. The other problem I find is that sometimes you’re tempted to eat all of your kid’s leftovers when they have little bits here and there. You’re like ‘oh I’ll finish this granola bar that they didn’t finish’.
Allison: Yeah I know, I know it’s so tempting. You know, even for me, I think about this kind of stuff a lot as you can imagine and I’m pretty tuned in but even for me when I’m going on a car ride, or just certain times on vacation, depending on where I’m going. If everything is feeling very different than what I’m used to, even I keep a food log on those trips. A little bit at least, not to the point that I’m writing down every single thing but it’s helpful to keep a sense of what you’re doing because if you feel like you just grab half of your kids food every time they finish, you’re going to want to know that you did that by the end of the day. It’s good feedback for yourself to realize that that’s a habit you’re in.
Lauren: Yeah I like that, that’s a really good idea. And then if you don’t do all that extra snacking mindlessly then you won’t feel as bad for those treats you really want to have on occasion. Like who doesn’t want to go to the shop and get an ice cream bar and indulge a little. So if you’re not doing all that mindless eating I feel like you won’t be as guilty for the deserts you do want to have.
Allison: Absolutely, mindful eating and conscious eating, and all that, that’s a big part of the work I do because I think that that’s a big problem for a lot of people. That will be another topic for another day; we’ll have to have another conversation about that. I think that’s something a lot of people relate to.
Lauren: Yeah that’s definitely a big issue for a lot of people. But just keep in mind before your trip, to keep in mind snacks. Add it to your packing list. People always think about clothes and sun tan lotion and this and that but they forget to anticipate how hungry they’re going to get on a long car ride. So you gave us a lot of good ideas for that, so thank you very much.
Allison: Very good, have a good evening.
Lauren: Thank you, you too.