Are your kids continuously hungry and constantly asking (perhaps whining) for more snacks? When my son, Liam, transitioned from nursing to requiring snacks, I felt that was him. He was always hungry. And, I’d find myself stuffing a quick snack into my purse as I left the house “just in case” the hunger monster emerged. I naively thought this “foolproof” method was the key to avoiding meltdowns. However, without planned, balanced snacks, children’s hangry mood swings start to run the show. And, on-the-go snacking often consists of designed-for-kids snacks (e.g. Goldfish-like crackers and fruit snacks) that usually contain all simple carbohydrates with limited micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), protein, and fibre. Without balancing simple carbs, you'll be greeting those familiar hunger pangs an hour later, much to every parent's dismay.
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.
So that being said, here are 3 strategies to improve your child's snack...
1. Create a mealtime/snack structure that works for your family.
This was a game-changer for me. Predictable mealtime structure helps plan eating opportunities at the same time every day. Young children thrive from the security structured mealtimes provide. While adults may get by eating on the run, kids should be sitting down to eat their meals. Kids also learn to listen to their body’s hunger-fullness signals and regulate their intake—which means less grazing and less moaning and groaning for food.
Here’s what my almost-three-year-old’s mealtime structure looks like:
7:00 AM — Breakfast
9:30 AM — Snack
12:00 PM — Lunch
3:00 PM — Snack
6:00 PM — Supper
7:30 PM — Bedtime!
The age of the child also matters. As younger children have smaller stomachs, they may need a evening snack depending on their sleep schedule. Older children may only require one afternoon snack.
2. Plan ahead for a hungry tummy.
So now that you have a mealtime/snack structure laid out, the next best strategy is to be prepared. This seems straightforward, but planning ahead ensures that snacks are balanced (see next strategy!) and are served at a table rather than on-the-go. When meals are seated, there’s less mindless snacking (leading to excessive snacking) as well as decreased risk for choking.
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.
I frequently get asked by other parents, “How do I know what foods are good for snack time?” My first tip is to offer a variety of foods from the five food groups throughout the day. A variety of foods equals a variety of nutrients. Try to include at least two food groups at each snack.
Check out choosemyplate.gov for more information on each of the food groups as well as approximately how much your kids (ages 2 & up) should be eating daily from each group.
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:
Here’s an example from Liam’s playdate at an indoor playground last week...
This snack contained vegetables (fibre) with hummus (fat and protein) and whole-wheat naan crackers (carbohydrates). Note the serving size in this picture is larger than my toddler would typically eat at a snack as I planned on sharing these portions with him. Liam ate about half of the container and was completely satisfied until lunch.
Other examples of balanced snacks:
Now I want to hear from you! Have you ever implemented a meal/snack time structure? How do you keep the hunger monster at bay? Share your go-to strategies and satisfying snack ideas below!
Hello, I'm Erin – a follower of Christ, wife, mama of two, and registered dietitian. Welcome to my blog where I write about intentional motherhood, intuitive eating, inspired discipleship, and whatever else I feel like!
Follow Erin on Instagram