Are you raising a smart snacker? In today’s world, kids are snacking more than ever. There are unhealthy snacks at every turn– after school, at sporting practices and events, parties, church, and in the classroom.
More snack availability means more choices and more eating.
It’s downright challenging to raise a smart snacker.
In fact, a 2010 study evaluated snacking trends in US children and found a sobering trend: kids are likely to eat 3 snacks per day, totaling 27% (or 168 calories per day) of daily calorie intake, with desserts and sugar-sweetened beverages as the most commonly eaten snacks.
On the flip side, we know kids do better with eating when they have snacks during the day. With a snack or two, they get a better blend of nutrients, get closer to matching their nutritional needs, and have a better shot at warding off over-eating.
Smart snacking is one of the most challenging aspects of raising healthy eaters.
So, what are the secrets to raising a smart snacker?
The real deal is not to fear snacks, but rather embrace them as a means to help children eat healthier…and take charge.
The Secrets of the Smart Snacker
Kids can eat the right foods, in healthy combinations and amounts without overdoing it.
Use Healthy Snacks to Fill the Gap
The main idea behind eating a snack is to make up for foods that have been missed throughout the day or during mealtime.
In other words, they use snacks as “nutritional gap fillers.”
For example, if your child hasn’t had veggies all day and it’s time for an after-school snack, plan one that includes veggies.
You’ll get closer to the daily vegetable servings, meet nutrient and fiber needs, and downplay too much veggie pressure at the dinner meal.
Likewise, if your child shrugs off milk in the morning, offer it at snack time.
A smart snackers knows the goal: Use snacks as a strategic nutritional boost throughout the day.
I use this list of snack ideas for kids for inspiration all the time!
A Smart Snacker Pays Attention to Time
Having an eating schedule for meals and snacks helps children stay on track with eating.
Young toddlers need to eat every 2-3 hours as they have small tummies and need “topping off” throughout the day to meet their overall nutrient and calorie needs.
Young children and school-age kids need to eat every 3-4 hours and teens every 4-5 hours (similar to adults).
When long stretches between eating times occur, kids (and adults!) can get hangry, or very hungry, and reach for less than desirable foods, or eat too much.
Smart snackers eat their snacks at predictable times throughout the day.
Healthy Snackers Pack in Protein (or Fiber or Healthy Fat)
Eating a little protein with a snack helps satisfy the appetite by helping to keep blood sugar stable and hunger at bay.
Protein, fiber and healthy fats give substance to a snack’s staying power, which means your little snacker will be satisfied longer.
You don’t have to overdo it, though.
Small amounts such as a glass of milk, a handful of nuts, a slice of deli meat or a dollop of hummus added to raw veggies, fresh fruit, crackers or cereal increases snack satisfaction, helping your child last until the next meal.
Be a Smart Eater: Get Out of the Box
Yes, it’s easy and fast to offer convenient items, but these can be inconvenient to your child’s health. As a stand-alone snack, these foods may fall short on satisfaction, nutrition and reasonable portions.
Instead, go for wholesome, real food snacks.
Use a Plan for Sweets and Treats
No need to be healthy ALL the time—have a little fun too. Pick a special day for sweets like candy or ice cream or salty, fried foods like chips (I call these Fun Foods and use the 90-10 Rule to balance them in a healthy diet).
For us, Friday after school is a Fun Food snack day. We have all sorts of things including ice cream, frozen yogurt, baked cookies or homemade sundaes.
It’s easier to be a smart snacker and eat healthy snacks during the week when kids know Fun Food can be had at other times.
Sit Down, Enjoy & Be a Mindful Eater
Many kids eat snacks on the go and it can be a recipe for mindless eating. To really raise a smart snacker, you want your child to be mindful with eating.
If possible, get children to sit down for snacks (kitchen table, picnic table, or under a tree), and remember 10-15 minutes is all it takes.
Put these tips in place and not only will you be modeling healthy snacking behaviors, your child will have a better chance at picking up on the secret to healthy snacking.
What are your secrets to raising a smart snacker? Tell me in the comments below!
Need more help with planning snacks, or inspiration and fresh ideas? Check out my E-book below:
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: April 2, 2013
Updated on: August 14, 2019