Working healthy snacks into after-school programs

February 22, 2012

Nutritious snacks don’t have to bust budgets, Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers conclude in a new study that analyzed the cost of foods served in YMCA after-school programs in four U.S. cities. While the prices of individual healthy snacks are typically higher than those of their processed-food counterparts, the researchers found simple strategies made healthy snacks more affordable.

The study appears in the February 2012 issue of Preventing Chronic Disease.

“Price is frequently cited as a barrier to purchasing healthy foods,” said Rebecca Mozaffarian, project manager for the YMCA/Harvard program at HSPH and lead author. “We wanted to identify practical strategies for program staff to purchase and serve healthful after-school snacks without increases in price.”

The researchers, including senior author Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology and director of the HSPH Health Prevention Research Center, analyzed 1,294 snack menus from 32 YMCA programs. The menus were part of a national YMCA-driven initiative to promote nutrition and physical activity among children.

In addition to substituting water for juice, researchers offered a number of strategies to keep the cost of healthier snacks down:

  • Do not serve sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • Serve water every day.
  • Serve a fruit and/or low-priced vegetable (such as carrots or celery) every day.
  • Allocate price savings from replacing 100% juice with tap water towards purchasing and serving whole fruit because of its higher fiber content and effects on satiety.
  • Offer fresh fruits or vegetables over more expensive canned or frozen versions.
  • When serving grains (such as bread, crackers, and cereals), serve whole grains.
  • Avoid foods with trans fat.

“Price and healthfulness of snacks in 32 YMCA after-school programs in 4 US metropolitan areas, 2006-2008,” Mozaffarian, Rebecca S., Andry, Analisa, Lee, Rebekka M., Wiecha, Jean L., Gortmaker, Steven L., Preventing Chronic Disease: 2012;9:110097.

Funding for the study was provided by the Donald and Sue Pritzker Nutrition and Fitness Initiative and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the study

Read a U.S. News & World Report article

Learn more

HSPH Prevention Research Center: YMCA-Harvard Afterschool Food and Fitness Project

Food & Fun Afterschool: Information on the standards and free downloads like these sample snack menus

–Marge Dwyer

photo: iStockphoto/ktaylorg