Confession: Our snack cupboard makes me cringe. It’s true, crackers and pre-packaged snack bars (in all shapes and sizes) are simple for the kids—especially the carboholic of the bunch—to serve themselves, but I’m no fool. I realize they’re full of empty calories and not the best growing-kid snack choices. But I’m in a rut. And my boys are constantly hungry given the stage of growth they’re in and the amount of energy they burn with their dedication to sports—everywhere from the lawn to the playground to some sort of official field/court.
So I turned to my lovely college friend, Anne, for some inspiration (the ideas she shares on her blog, Petite Nutrition, always look so colorful and delicious!). She’s a pro—literally and figuratively—when it comes to serving up simple, smart, satisfying snacks. Yes, she’s the mom of two kiddos, and also a registered dietician. So you can be sure when your kids indulge, this is the good stuff…
We live in a snack-y society! Snacks are available everywhere. Public transportation? Snacks. Kids hour-long sporting event? Snack bar. Play date? Snack. Movies? Movie snacks. Road trip? Roadie snacks. Is it necessary?
Snacks contribute more to children’s caloric intake than ever before. On average, snacks provide more than 27% of the total calories children consume (mostly in the form of desserts and sweetened beverages).¹ Children’s snack calories have more than doubled since 1978, whereas their meal calories have only decreased by about 4%.¹ Clearly, we are serious snackers!
They definitely have an important place, but snacks can also be a slippery slope. As parents, it can be difficult to know when snacks are needed and when they are not. It is also tricky to know what to offer. We want our kids to like the snacks we provide, but we also want them to boost their energy, focus, and contribute to their nutrition. How do you build that kind of snack?
The anatomy of a snack for school-aged children, contains:
- Protein and/or fat source
- Fruit or vegetable or legume
- 2+ food groups
- An appealing look
- Approximately 200-250 calories
Snacks don’t have to be fancy. Here are some simple snacktastic examples that are kid-approved:
Here are five tips to help you manage your children’s snack attacks:
- Know when snacks are needed: School children may need 1-3 snacks per day. Kids should not go for more than four hours without eating. For example, kids eat breakfast at 7:30am, school lunch is at 11:30am, so a snack is needed around 3:30pm.
- Schedule and be prepared: Eating on a schedule helps foster a child’s internal cues of hunger and satiety. The goal is for children to eat, feel satiated, go for a period of time, feel hungry and eat again. Eating in an unstructured way can disinhibit a child’s ability to self-regulate.
- Snacks shouldn’t meet meals: Snacks that get too close to the next meal can ruin it, so try to have snacks at least 2 hours before the next meal. If your child is un-distractible, and emphatically tells you she is starrrrrving and cannot wait for dinner (as mine does sometimes), try a bowl of raw vegetables or a small portion of dinner that is ready.
- Think outside of the snack box: Let’s reframe what a snack is. Try thinking of snacks as mini-meals since the type of snack does matter. One study showed that kids who ate food of higher satiety (such as vegetables and cheese) consumed up to 72% fewer calories before being satisfied than children who ate typical snack foods, such as potato chips¹…Move over goldfish!
- Model good snacking behavior: We cannot expect our kids to eat snackstastically if we graze our way through the day. I’ve caught myself nibbling right before dinner – oops! I try hard to live by my rules, and model the eating behaviors I want them to develop.
In our snacking world, many families with whom I work feel “snack stress.” Here are some common snack dilemmas (and solutions) that I hear over and over again:
Dilemma #1: My kid comes home from school famished, eats a huge snack (or grazes all afternoon), and eats little to no dinner.
- Look at breakfast and lunch and make sure your child is eating enough food he likes, including a protein source, whole grain, and at least a fruit or a vegetable at each meal.
- Portion-appropriate snacks are key. Instead of handing your kid a large bag of trail mix, pre-portion it into a little bag, and add an apple. Snacks need to be scheduled with a beginning and end, sitting at the table. The pantry shouldn’t be a serve-yourself-as-you-like operation.
Dilemma #2: My kid gets in the car and has to go immediately to lacrosse/baseball/tennis/violin.
Solution: Have portion-controlled, portable, non-perishable snacks ready to go.
Dilemma #3: My kid only wants sugary snacks.
- Sugary snacks can cause a quick spike in blood sugar, making kids feel good, followed by a low in blood sugar making kids feel grumpy/tired/starving. (I don’t know about you, but grumpy/tired/starving does not make for happy homework time!)
- If your child craves sweets, try adding a touch of Nutella to apples, or add a few mini chocolate chips to nuts, making it a small part of the snack. Skip the sugary beverages. Those calories are the worst when it comes to satiation. But plan sweet treats, so kids don’t feel restricted or become obsessed with sweets.
Have a snacktastic day!
¹ Webb D, Snacking Benefits. Todays Dietitian 2013;15(10):44.
BIO: Anne London, MS, RD is a pediatric registered dietitian who works with children and families to develop healthy eating habits for life. Anne graduated with honors from Brown University and worked in several business roles in New York City prior to earning her masters of science degree in Nutrition from Columbia University. She completed her clinical dietetic internship at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and was selected as the Outstanding Dietetic Intern by the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for the state. She has worked with children with a wide array of medical conditions and feeding disorders, and is certified in SOS approach to feeding therapy. Anne was raised in northern California where playing in a backyard filled with pomegranate, fig, lemon, persimmon and almond trees inspired her love of cooking and eating seasonal, fresh fruits and vegetables. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two children.
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