Today’s kids are snacking more than ever. It’s hard to blame them. They’re bombarded with snacks at every turn– after school, sporting practices and events, parties, church, and in the classroom.
More snack availability means more eating. 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 heading off over-eating.
Snacking is one of the most challenging aspects of raising healthy eaters. So, what’s the secret?
The real secret is not to fear snacking, but rather embrace it as a means to help children eat healthier…and take charge.
Kids can eat the right foods, in healthy combinations and amounts without overdoing it. Here’s how:
Redefine the word snack.
The main idea behind a snack is to make up for foods that have been missed throughout the day or during mealtime. Use snacks as “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 veggie 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 snacktime. The goal is to use snacks as a strategic nutrition boost throughout the day. For some nutritious snack ideas, read here.
Snack with a sense of timing.
Having a structure with 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 very hungry and reach for less than desirable foods, or eat too much.
Pack in the protein (or fiber or healthy fat).
Eating a little protein with a snack helps satisfy the appetite by helping to keep blood sugars stable and hunger at bay. Protein, fiber and healthy fats give substance to a snack’s staying power. 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.
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.
Flex the flexibility muscle.
No need to be healthy ALL the time—have a little fun too. Pick a special day for Fun Food (sweets like candy or ice cream or salty, fried foods like chips). 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 down healthy snacks during the week when kids know Fun Food can be had at other times.
Sit down and enjoy.
Many kids eat snacks on the go and it can be a recipe for mindless eating. If possible, get children to sit down for snacks (kitchen table, picnic table, or under a tree), and remember 10-15 minutes to eat 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 new E-Guide below: