In our home, our children, ages 2 and 4, are not big eaters and daily snacks play an important role in providing them with the nourishment they need. Like all young children, they have a limited stomach capacity and often their caloric requirements are not met with the standard three meals a day.
Smart snacking can help meet these nutritional needs. Unfortunately, if snacking happens too often it can prevent my children from developing an appetite. Similarly, if they are snacking on empty calories, then an opportunity to provide nourishment is wasted.
This is why balance and keen observation is so important for snack time.
I’ve learned it is important to control what is offered as snacks and well as when and how they are handed out. A consistent snack routine, as opposed to grazing or sporadic binging, is an important solution to resolving harmful food habits- both in children and adults!
Here are suggestions for a healthy approach to snack time. They’ve proven to be helpful for my picky eaters, but remember that each child is unique, and the caloric requirements for each child may vary just as their metabolism differs.
Structure for Snack Time
- As much as possible, have a routine in place for how you offer snacks. Have children sit in a designated eating area, like they do at mealtimes, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be at the table. My kids head for the ‘kiddie table’ in the playroom, or outdoors to the back steps of the deck.
- Offer snacks 1-1/2 to 2 hours between meals. Here is our daily eating schedule for most days:
10:00 Morning Snack
3:00 Afternoon Snack (post nap)
- Have a beginning and an end to snack time. This can be a prayer, song, or simply thanking the chef–you!
Safety with Snacks
- Never hand off the food and dismiss your child. Snack time should be supervised like any other mealtime.
- Children should be seated, not running, climbing or shouting.
- Foods should be appropriate for the child’s age. Example: popcorn, raw carrots, whole grapes and nuts are not considered safe for toddlers.
- Food should never be offered when a child is in a car seat and the car is in motion.
Suggestions for Snacks
Try to think of a snack more as a small meal and less as the refined, processed items that have become de rigeur. Instead of scanning the pantry shelves for tortilla chips or crackers to hand out, open the crisper drawer of the fridge and offer your children something fresh instead.
Make a point of not keeping unhealthy snacks in the house. You child will accept it if you tell them ‘Mommy doesn’t have any’, but if they can see the Doritos or Bear Paws for themselves, you may end up with a struggle on your hands. I’ve recently discovered In Snax multigrain pita crisps, a much healthier alternative to regular chips, and I occasionally hand a bowl of them out when the kids are asking for chips. Let’s face it, when they see other kids eating junk all the time, it’s a challenge to keep them excited about celery sticks!
- Cottage cheese
- frozen yogurt popsicles
- yogurt (& granola)
- yogurt-based dips, for veggies
- toasted whole wheat bagel & cream cheese
- whole wheat bread or pita (with peanut butter or hummus)
- whole grain crackers (& cheese)
- homemade muffins or sweet breads
- pancakes, waffle
- oatmeal cookies
- granola bars
- carrot sticks
- celery sticks, with peanut butter, with cream cheese
- sliced cucumber
- broccoli or cauliflower florettes
- dried fruit, mango, apples, apricots, dates…
- stone fruit, sliced
- banana, kiwi
- apples & pears, sliced
- citrus fruit (clementines are easy to peel for little hands)
- melons, cubed
- hard boiled egg
- cold cuts: cold roast beef, turkey,
- cubed ham
- nuts and seeds
We’re always on the go, especially mid-morning, right when that bowl of oatmeal is wearing off. Here are some ideas for take-out snacks for the grocery store aisle or the doctor’s office, that won’t cause a mess in your purse.
Be sure to stash something in the car for emergency rations!
- Rice cakes
- Whole Grain Crackers
- Sesame Sticks
- Small, whole apple
- Carrot or celery sticks
- Granola bars
Want more ideas? Maryann has a great post on nutritious snack combinations for kids and I’m loving the finger food suggestions over at Simple Kids. Another good find is Cindy’s blog, Fix Me A Snack; I’m loving her Red Grapes with Nut Butter Yogurt Dip.
Everyone has a different approach to snacking. What’s yours?