The snacks we feed our kids can make or break their healthy eating. Kids are clever cookies and will happily spurn your healthy spinach lunch and save themselves us for the golden opportunity to eat an entire packet of cookies (getting far more than their daily calorie requirement!)
On the other hand, if you're smart with your snacks, your kids will eat healthy food throughout the day. When you get to dinner you won't be worried about whether or not they eat their vegetables because they've been eating healthy food all day.
Plus, if you give them healthy and tasty snacks, they won't even realise that they're eating "healthy food", it will just be "tasty food" for them.
Today Sally from Real Mom Nutrition is going to help us get smart about our snacking tactics!
Sally from Real Mom Nutrition is a registered dietitian. She’s a mom of two boys.
She started her blog because when she had kids and realized how difficult it could be at times to feed them in a healthy way, she went online to try to find information and felt what she was seeing painted a little bit too rosy of a picture of everything.
People really weren't showing the dark underside of how difficult it can be.
She started her blog to pull back the curtain and show people that even if you have initials after your name doesn't mean that everything always goes well. It doesn't mean your kids won't be picky and it doesn't mean that there won’t be challenges.
In her blog she shares the successes but also share the failures and everything in between in feeding her family.
She shares her insights in how to give our kids snacks the right way.
Snacking is very popular from adults, kids and everybody in between here in the US. The frequency which Americans eat has increased so we've eat more frequently than ever before. But in some cultures they don't so is it absolutely necessary?
I don't think it is because you see people in other cultures have successful diets without snacks.
But on the other hand, it's really nice for kids because they have small bellies and most of them have a very short attention spans at the table. So it's nice to be able to feed them in between those structured meal times.
You have to know your child because every child is different.
I would never tell a parent that you have to feed your child every two hours or every four hours. You really need to figure out your child's appetite and also make sure they have a good appetite at mealtime.
Sometimes kids at the at the meal table may be tired at dinner or that they just don’t have a focus at mealtimes so it's nice to be able to get some of those nutrients and foods in between those times.
I think snacks could be really helpful especially if done the right way. But as we see from research and by just like looking around, you can see what kids are snacking on and how frequently is not always healthy.
A lot of parents get frustrated at mealtime because their kids don't want what is served especially a dinner time. It could be that kids are just done for the day. I realized that when my second son was about two or three years old, I came to the conclusion one night that dinner is just not his meal because he's just done for the day at six o'clock and so I really can't expect much of him at that time.
But sometimes kids are coming to the table and their bellies are already full with snacks and so when you set a plate of food that's a lot more difficult than gold fish, cheese cubes or yogurt, they don’t want it because they don't have an appetite.
So absolutely snacks can interfere with dinner times.
With dinner time you want to keep that buffer of no snacks within the hour or an hour and a half before meal time.
Lots of parents will say “My kids are like climbing the cupboards to get to food when I’m in the middle of preparing dinner and it's really stressful”
If you're making veggies ready for dinner, you can give then some from the cutting board. In my house we have a no snacks except veggies in the hour before dinner. So if we eat it at six thirty anywhere from five to five thirty, my kids can have whatever vegetable they want in the fridge.
I want to encourage them to eat vegetables and veggies aren’t typically going to fill them up to the point where they're not going to want their dinner and if they come to the table and they don't eat the vegetables at their plate, it’s fine because they already had some as snacks.
You're dulling their craving just enough that they can wait for the dinner and not have a breakdown because they're so hungry. Plus it gives them something to nibble on and distract from the fact that dinner isn't quite ready at that moment.
It shouldn't feel like some kind of punishment to your kids that they can't have yogurt at that time or they have to eat the veggies. Make it fun! Arrange some veggies on a tray at the beginning of the week and keep it in the fridge. When your kids ask for a snack, bring it out with some dip and make it enjoyable.
Keep in mind that kids eat with their eyes, and you want to present it in a way that makes the vegetables appealing.
Make it something that you would want to eat as well.
The first one is the frequency. There has been research done on this showing that we are eating more frequently than ever before in history.
It’s almost just constant eating through the day where two snacks bleed into meals. With kids that could be a real problem because they don't come to the table hungry. There's no incentive to try anything new.
So when they don't have that hunger because they've been nibbling all day, they're just going to say no to the food and they’re going to be labeled as picky by their parents.
It’s nice to have some structure around that like a mid-morning snack and mid-afternoon snack.
When your children come to you right after a meal for instance and say that they’re hungry again, you can say “Let's go read a book or let's play a game we'll have snack in an hour.”
Sometimes kids just like grownups mindlessly snacking out of boredom. You redirect them to doing something else because it's not really about hunger.
The second mistake I see is too much snacking on the go.
I remember when my kids were really little, I would carry a big bag of, you know all kinds of things but of course I’ve had lots of snacks in it. I was so worried that we would be somewhere in public and I won't be caught without a banana and they have a melt down at the library or whatever it was. So I kept all the snacks with me.
Then I realized they were snacking because I need to buy more time at the store, I needed to distract them in the car. I realized that I was feeding my kids when they're not even hungry.
Research shows that when we're mindlessly eating we don't really register what we're doing and we don't feel that fullness. We don't want to teach that to our kids because it's such a dangerous pattern to get into. We don't want them carrying that through to adulthood.
I know it's not realistic to say to always sit at the table whenever your kids have a snack but as often as possible don’t give them snacks in the car. Wait till you get to your destination and enjoy something. Ask yourself before you give them snacks, are they really hungry or are they just doing it out of habit or you’re doing it to distract them.
We talked about having a snack before meal time, I think that’s number three.
And last is mixing up the concept of a treat and a snack. I blame the snack food industry on this one for this one because when we go to the store and we see the foods that are labeled snack or marketed as a snack, they are treats!
They’re the package food made with the white flour, sugar and sodium and they’re dyed and in fun shapes. That’s what we have been told is a snack. Parents often reach for those package things at snack time because they feel like that's what a snack is.
I get asked by parents a lot if I can come up with a list of fun snacks. Snacks are just meal food just maybe served in a different way, in a smaller portion. But they're not a whole other class of foods separate from the meal foods.
The snack is not the food it's sort of the occasion. It's, the eating occasion when we get a little something between a meal to quell our hunger.
One of the things you can offer is dinner leftovers. You can re-purpose those for breakfast or lunch but you could also re-purpose them for snacks.
I recommend having a snack platter which is really just a bunch of random foods on a plate arranged.
So it could be a little bit chicken from last night and a little bit of hummus and some crackers and some fruit. You can even have a little bit of sweets on there too. You could have chopped up fruit and a little bit of melted chocolate to dip it.
It’s sort of the same concept of like a bento lunch box where you have all these little compartments and you could put all these weird things in it but somehow it looks pretty because of all the compartments. It’s the same idea with the snack platter. You can just pull out whatever you have and arrange them on a plate. Your child is getting a really wide variety of foods and textures and tastes.
I heard this great tip from the girls at Super Healthy Kids and they were saying to serve foods that your kids aren't necessarily wild about when their friends are over because if their friends like them it may give them the positive peer pressure.
Let’s say your child doesn’t like tomatoes and maybe their friend really loves tomatoes. They see the friend eating them and they’ll think “Well now I want to try them.”
I think it's a fun way to expose kids to lots of different foods and for them to get the message that a snack is not a packaged cookie or cracker. A snack is meat and vegetables. It looks like dinner so when they get to the meal, they're now used to eating those foods.
People want me to create all these like fun snack ideas for them but they really have all they need in the refrigerator. It’s just a matter of presenting it to them.
You could put the familiar accepted foods next to something that's slightly more challenging or slightly a little bit outside the comfort zone. It makes the food seem friendlier and less threatening when they are presented like that.
We had this problem with my younger son where he didn't want to eat dinner back when he was a toddler preschooler. He just didn't want to eat dinner. He’d take one bite and that was it. Then half an hour later, he would come to us asking for food.
So we started saving his dinner plate and we would wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator. When he came to us hungry, we would say “We saved your plate and it looks like you're ready to eat now.” Then we would warm it up and give it to him. It wasn't presented as a punishment.
At first he was not happy about this because he wanted something else. He wanted yogurt or something easier. But then he just got used to it and he would sit down and dig into a spaghetti or whatever it was that was served in dinner. This is a compassionate way to deal with that phase.
Recently, I had a parent come up to me and say “I have this teenager who eats all of his meal and seconds and still wants a bedtime snack. What should I do?”
Feed the kid. You have a child eating their dinner and it's still hungry, maybe they are going through a growth spurt. You need to honor that hunger.
However, make sure that the bedtime snack isn't kind of like a sugar fest. Sometimes we associate bedtime snack with sweets.
Also make sure they're not being rewarded for not finishing their dinner by giving the bedtime snack.
Some kids will be like “I'm not going to eat this plate of food because I know I'm going to get Graham crackers in half an hour.”
My colleague Dina Rose recommended giving pretty boring bedtime snack. Something that your child is not going to be like “I can't wait for that bedtime snack!” Maybe a little bit of cottage cheese or maybe a glass of milk or something that if they are hungry it fills their belly but it's not something they're going to purposely skipped dinner for to get to. It's not the fun thing that they're going to get.
Related: Healthy Snacks for Toddlers
Toddlers go through this phase of wanting to skip dinner and as parents, we should accept that this is just a phase. It’s not going to last forever.
If you have a lifestyle that lets you serve dinner to your kids earlier, let’s say at 4 PM, then that will be great. That’s when a lot of kids are really hungry and you could get them that meal and maybe you sit with them and you nibble on things. You can eat a bigger dinner later if you're not ready to eat dinner at four.
I write about this a ton on my blog and I get these emails from parents saying “I didn't really know what you were talking about until my child started soccer and now snacks are everywhere!”
It could be really frustrating if parents are really used to having that control of what their kids eat and then all of a sudden the outside world is feeding all of these snacks.
I feel like it's our responsibility to create a healthy food environment for our kids whenever we can. Some parents will say “You just need to say no to your kids. You just need to tell them they can't have the snack at soccer or they can't have the juice at preschool” and personally I think that that makes it way too hard on parents.
There are unhealthy food offerings at every turn out in the world and I feel like when we have these environments for kids, it is our responsibility to try to make those as healthy as possible.
There are so many activities and you'd think why are there snacks here? We’re gathering for an hour or two hours, do we really need a snack? I think sometimes we give kids a snack just out of habit, sort of a knee jerk reaction because that's the way it's always been done.
So bringing the issue up to the powers, whether that's a principal or camp director or preschool teacher, can really make a huge impact.
Related: How to Stop Kids Nagging for Snacks
In my blog, I also try to give parents the words to start the conversation because so often parents don't want to be that parent who rocks the boat.
I really want to empower parents to feel like they can start the conversation. They don't have to be impolite about it, they don't have to be perceived as the wet blanket because chances are, there are also many other parents out there that feel the same way and they just haven't said anything.
I think it's always important to approach the person in charge politely and say “I have some concerns about the snacks that are served. Can we talk about it? How can I help?”
Bring your ideas and bring your willingness to help.
For instance, if your teacher is giving out candy as a reward for right answers, “Can I help you stock a prize box? Can I help buy stickers? What can I do?”
One of my pet peeves is the unhealthy team snacks during sport events like cupcakes, cookies and doughnuts. You could you go to the coach and say you can organize a sign up for fresh fruit or reach out to the team parents “What would you say about just not having a team snack and then nobody has to worry about providing anything?” You will have one last thing on your to do list. A lot of times parents will be on board with this idea.
Don’t be afraid to speak up. One parent can make a difference. One parent can get that conversation going and really create a positive change that's long lasting.
I had an experience of my child going to a day camp where they got a like a really sugary bar and a bottle of Gatorade every single day. It was a half day camp and I called the camp director and I said “I’m really happy with this but they don't need the sports drink. Could we talk about this? Could we do water?” And they said that they had heard from a couple other parents about it and the next year they eliminated the sports drinks completely. All kids had to bring their own snacks if they wanted them.
It really didn't take that much to open their eyes.
Parents are the most powerful when instead of judging what other people are doing, they help to make things different.
Camp directors or school principals want parents to be happy. They want their community to be happy. But that's not to say that they're going to bend every demand that a parent has. If you go to that person with a really reasonable concern, requests and offered to help, in most cases they're going to listen to you.
Sometimes there are budget constraints or reasons they have those foods. Maybe they can't store fresh fruit so parents need to brainstorm what they could do. There are different ways that you can compromise you but it does take effort on your part. You can't just complain. You need to be part of the solution as a parent.
In my eBook, I shared email templates and letter templates that parents could use to reach out to their coaches or camp director.
I also have talking points like when you go talk to the teacher with backup data. I’m trying to make it easy for people to create change.
I love the way that Sally has helped us get from unhealthy treats and "snacks" sabotaging our child's healthy eating to "looking at snacks as smaller meals" that complement our healthy dinners and teach kids healthy eating habits.
Here are the main points:
When you provide snacks in a smart way for your kids, you'll find that they are more hungry at dinner time and that they're learning healthy eating habits.
What is your favourite, healthy snack for kids?
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