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Dietician has food for thought

Registered dietician Andrea Nikolai fields questions from third-grade students at Northeast Elementary School. (Submitted Photo)

Washington Pediatrics’ registered dietitian, Andrea Nikolai, visited Northeast Elementary School recently to discuss healthful snacks with three third-grade classes.

The students learned about healthful snacks from each of the food groups, benefits of healthful fats and proteins in snacks and how nuts could work as a healthful snack. At the end of the presentation, bags of pistachios were distributed.

Nikolai also visited two third-grade classes at S.W. Snowden Elementary School in Aurora to discuss healthful snacking. Nikolai is a Kids Eat Right campaign volunteer for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and was awarded a healthful snacking mini-grant to do the presentations.

“I really enjoyed being able to go into the community to work with the kids and hear their questions generated from the presentation,” Nikolai said. “We were able to discuss everything from the size and purpose of a healthy snack to which foods have the nutrients to help them feel good all day long.”

The interactive discussion began with a discussion about how healthful snacks may be found in each food group. Then, it explored nuts as a healthful snack and what their nutrients can do for students. Students learned how foods with healthful fats can be good for their skin and how foods with protein can help build strong muscles and hold them over until mealtime. Portions were also addressed, as healthful fats are needed, but care must be taken not to get too much.

“A serving of most nuts is about one-quarter cup, or a small handful,” Nikolai told the students. “A benefit of pistachios is that a serving happens to be more: 49 nuts. Almonds and walnuts are also great options, but the servings are smaller, 23 and 14 nuts. It is important to get a variety of foods, and the same can be said for nuts; they each have different benefits.

“The purpose of a snack is to hold you over between meals and can be thought of as a ‘mini-meal.’ Sometimes kids come home from school famished and end up having a meal instead of a snack, which can lead to poor dinnertime eating habits.

Often kids will decrease their consumption of the vegetables and fruits at the meal, causing them to miss out on the important benefits these offer for disease prevention and maintaining a healthy weight.”

In Beaufort County, 33 percent of children from 2 through 18 years old are overweight or obese; 41 percent of those are 5 through 11 years old.

“We see consequences of childhood overweight and obesity every day at Washington Pediatrics,” Nikolai said. “The doctors and staff have been extremely supportive in measures to combat this chronic disease.”