So before I get into three strategies to improve snack time and finally cage the hunger monster, let’s first look at why snacks are important for children.
- Kids need to re-fuel energy for activities. All the running, crawling, climbing, and playing kids do burn a lot of energy (or calories). Snacks keep their energy levels up.
- Kids’ stomachs are small—snacks help get the calories and nutrients needed for healthy growth. Snack time is a good time for kids to enjoy foods they might not get at other meals: fruits, additional vegetables, nuts (note: choking hazard for <4 years old; offer finely chopped or as a nut butter), yogurts, etc.
- Snacks satisfy a growing appetite and improve mood between meals. Planned snacks (vs. grazing) teach kids to listen to their hunger-satiety/fullness signals. Learning this at a young age can lead to better eating habits throughout their life.
1. Create a mealtime/snack structure that works for your family.
Here’s what my almost-three-year-old’s mealtime structure looks like:
9:30 AM — Snack
12:00 PM — Lunch
3:00 PM — Snack
6:00 PM — Supper
7:30 PM — Bedtime!
2. Plan ahead for a hungry tummy.
Planning ahead may seem like a lot of work, but you’ll thank yourself later. Your kids will be happier on outings along with your chequebooks.
3. Offer balanced snacks.
The next tip is to think of snacks as “mini-meals.” While it’s alright to give designed-for-kids snacks (e.g. Goldfish) occasionally at snack time, try to serve snacks made with whole foods more often. Whole foods are nutrient dense foods that have limited (or no) processing and refining before being eaten. They usually contain less added sugar, salt or preservatives as well.
Lastly, follow this simple formula for balanced, satisfying snacks:
Other examples of balanced snacks:
- Yogurt with banana and granola
- Vegetable soup with cheese cubes
- Quesadilla (whole grain tortilla + pureed black beans + cheese)
- Apples or crackers with nut/seed butter