Healthy Snack for Kids: Popcorn

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Nutrition: Health, Mealtime

This perennial favourite, whole grain treat is something that all family members love to snack on. Happily, it's quite nutritious, if you choose your popcorn wisely.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of white air popped popcorn holds a mere 31 calories, which hardly makes a dent in anyone's daily caloric needs. This means you could easily eat three cups of popcorn and still be under 100 calories. This amount also provides a whopping 3.6 grams of fibre due to the whole grains (yes, popcorn is classified as a grain item and because no nutrients have been removed and it is used entirely in its original form it is called a whole grain). Popcorn is low in fat, too.

The confusion over popcorn often lies with what kind is best for you. Air popped is the best option if you want healthy. Be aware of any 'toppings' added to it as the fat (in butter, margarine and olive oil) and salt can add up on your own free will. Some prefer to just sprinkle with spicy seasonings to give it a kick instead of adding any fat. On the other hand, the kind found in movie theatres, should be avoided. CPSI reports that the average medium-size bag of movie popcorn ranges between 590 - 760 calories, and can have three day's worth of saturated fat depending on the type of oil used. Some theatres use canola oil, which is much lower in saturated fat versus coconut oil, which causes concern to heart health. Don't forget about the salt, too, which is known to affect blood pressure. One large bucket at Empire Theater clocks in at 1480 milligrams of sodium and the daily recommendation is 1500 milligrams each day. Just think, consuming one bag of popcorn while watching a movie will load you with the maximum recommended sodium for one day, in addition to days' worth of artery clogging fat and probably the total calories of two daily meals.Your best bet is to take a pass on movie popcorn and make your own instead. If you are short on time, as many of us are, and you want to resort to the microwave version, read your labels. Many microwave popcorn brands have a great deal of fat and salt in them, too. Here are some things you can look for:
  • no hydrogenated oil
  • low in fat (less than 3 grams)
  • the least amount of saturated fat
  • less than 200mg of sodium
  • organic if possible
One of my picks is Orville Redenbacher's Smart Pop! as it contains no trans fat, 5 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and available in 100 calorie bags. It is low in fat and has only 0.5 grams of saturated fat in a 40 gram serving. Don't get me wrong, I pop my own as often as I can, but when I'm away from the kitchen, or travelling, I'll use the micro version.

With its punch of fibre and protein, it is sure to satisfy your appetite. And for those potato chip and cracker eaters and salt cravers - popcorn is a great alternative. Pop some at breakfast and pack small bags in your kids' lunches.

Karla Heintz is a Nutrition Educator and author of
Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parent's Guide to Children's Nutrition

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.