Hands up who has a child who prefers eating snacks to regular meals? Kids often prefer to graze on unhealthy snack options, leaving them full up and not interested in the healthy dinner that you've spent ages preparing.

Kids snacking through out the day is a problem that we can all relate to.

In this 10 minute video, Dr. Orlena Kerek explains why many kids prefer to eat snacks and what we can do about it.

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Why Do Kids Prefer Snacks To Regular Meals?

I think when we think about this problem, there are two main aspects that are really worth delving into a little bit more.

A little boy happily eating a regular meal at the table. #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting  #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler

What Exactly is a "Snack"?

The first is, what do we mean by “snack”?

When we talk about snacks, we are often talking about biscuits, cookies, and cakes.

What we’re really saying is, children prefer sweet and sugary things to vegetables.

Related: How to Stop Kids Nagging for Snacks

Problem 1: Most Children Prefer Sugary Treats to Vegetables

I think everybody knows that children prefer sweets and sugary things to vegetables. That is perfectly normal!

Problem 2: Kids Eating Between Meal Times

I think the other big issue we’re talking about is children snacking in between meal times.

Even if you give a child something relatively healthy, like an apple, half an hour before meal time it can really take the edge of their hunger.

This results in them not wanting to eat their healthy meal.

How to Stop Kids Preferring Snacks to Regular Meals

There are two things that I advise we look at. The first one is to rethink the word “snack”. The second one is to think about a healthy eating routine. The two of these together are the foundation of healthy eating and how we get children to eat healthily.

Solution 1: Establish a Healthy Eating Routine

This is basically your eating routine and it needs to fit in to your family routine, your family way of living.

For most people it goes something like this: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.>

Obviously, it has to work around all those activities that you are doing every single day.

Young Kids Need to Eat More Frequently Than Older Kids

Young children particularly need to be offered food every 2 to 3 hours.

As children get older, they can stretch that time and we find as adults that we can go for relatively long periods of time without eating.

It's better to be eating small bits frequently than have one giant meal and not eat for a long period of time. 

(If you get over hungry, you often find that you over eat to compensate. Often you'll find yourself overeating on things that are quick and easy which are often packaged foods and the less healthy options.)

Offer Healthy Food Options, Allow them to Control What they Eat out of the Options

What you want to be doing at these snack times is offering your children healthy food options and allowing them to eat what they want to eat.

They don’t get to just ask for biscuits and cookies the whole time.

You are in charge of what it is that they can choose from.

Related: Transform Your Child into a Healthy Eater

Children Get Used to a Healthy Eating Routine

That is the first step. Once you get used to this routine, you will find that your children naturally fall into the habit. Instead of nagging for a snack, they will ask what is for snack. Or if they say I’m hungry, then you say snack is in half an hour.

The times don’t have to be exact, but you have a window of opportunity.

For example, if they’re complaining about being really hungry just before dinner, you can say dinner is in half an hour.

A little girl toddler happily eating a meal of vegetables at a high chair. #toddler #fussyeater #fussytoddler #toddlerwonteat #pickyeater #parenting #positiveparenting  #healthykids #preschooler #parenting #parentingtoddler

If Kids Need Emergency Food Let them Have Vegetables

As a side note, if my children are absolutely starving and I can see they aren’t managing because they haven’t eaten, then I would offer them the vegetable portion, or some chopped up vegetables – say some chopped up carrots or celery or something like that.

Something where I think, “You know what, if you’ve eaten that and you don’t eat any of your dinner then I’m perfectly happy with that.”

Solution 2. Rethink the Word "Snack"

We want to be looking at the food that they eat over the entire day. This brings me on to the second point, which is rethinking snacks and what snacks are.

The food that we offer our children should really be healthy food options and often snack food is really treat food and not snack food.

Good healthy snacks are fruit and vegetables and yogurt. Yogurt – unsweetened full fat yogurt makes a fabulous snack and you can pair it with dried fruit, fresh fruit, or fruit puree.

Snacks Are Mini Meals, with Bits from Each Food Group

What you really want to be thinking about is snacks as mini-meals, so you’re offering a little bit of everything and really think protein as well.

You are moving away from snacks as sweet things that kids like.

If You Offer Too Many Treats, Kids Will Save Themselves Up

Kids are clever. They know that if you offer them free reign of the cookie jar for snack time, they will save themselves up for an entire day to eat that rather than eating regularly throughout the daytime.

Children know what their preferred food is and you don’t have to give it to them the whole time.

Start to see snacks as healthy eating opportunities as well.

Presenting Healthy Foods At Regular Times

This system, the healthy eating routine and presenting healthy foods that aren’t just cookies and cake the whole time has a two-fold effect.

Children feel comfortable in their routine, adults feel comfortable in their routine

Healthy Eating Throughout the Day Takes the Pressure of Dinner

If your child has been eating healthily throughout the daytime, you don’t then feel “Oh my goodness, they haven’t eaten anything healthy.”

Healthy eating throughout the day really takes the pressure off dinner time.

When you sit there at dinner time and think,

“My child has eaten carrot sticks and other healthy foods throughout the day.”

You don’t think,

 “Oh my goodness! You have to eat that broccoli, because otherwise you haven’t had any good food all day!”

You know that they have been eating good food and if they say they aren’t hungry, it’s probably because they aren’t hungry.

Healthy Eating Routine And Healthy Food Options for Kids

Once you have established your healthy eating routine and are offering healthy food options to kids, you'll find that healthy eating just falls into place.

It won't mean that your kids won't prefer sugary sweet things to regular meals but they will be eating enough of the good stuff for you not to worry.

They'll be eating treats in moderation which will leave them hungry for their meals.

Further Resources

Snack Guide. Sign up for the snack guide

Toddler Cheat Sheet. If you're having problems feeding your toddler, grab the "Feeding Toddlers Cheat Sheet".




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