What do you think of when you hear the word snack? Do you immediately think “junk food”? Goldfish crackers? Something from a box or bag that has little or no nutritional value? What do you consider to be healthy snacks for kids?
How We Think About Snacks
Snacks can be great ways to get additional nutrition into your kids, but it’s important to think of them almost as meals. They don’t have to be used just as a time to get something small or something you wouldn’t serve at a meal into your kids. They can be ways to get nutrients into your kids that they might not get during meal times.
Schedule snacks, too!
Depending on your child’s age, you want to plan for 2-3 snacks each day. Babies that are just starting to eat at 6 months don’t need snacks yet. By the time your kid hits one year, though, snacks are important to help them last between meals. Whether that means they need 2 or 3 snacks a day will depend on your child.
Between Meal Snacks
You want to schedule snacks at a time far enough from the next meal that the snack will fill up your child but still leave them coming to the table hungry. Ravenous kids have a hard time focusing. You don’t want them stuffed because they won’t feel like eating, then. Scheduling snacks midway between meals is usually a good bet.
Don’t Wait for your Child to Get Hungry
Having a laid back attitude about snacks can backfire. Waiting for your kid to tell you they’re hungry can spell disaster. Plan snacks like you would a meal, and stick to a time when you give them a snack every day. This provides structure for your child and can eliminate their desire for drive-by snacking of foods that provide little nutritional value.
Having snacks every day at, for example, 10 and 2 between meals can help both you and your child plan for them. Your child will know snacks are coming and can be taught to wait for the next snack or meal. You know that you need to have snacks to eat at the beginning of the day or week, and when it comes time for them you can be ready with a nutritious snack instead of grabbing things last minute from the cupboard.
Snacks Aren’t Rewards
Resist the urge to treat snacks as rewards for eating a meal. Many times we think that if a child doesn’t finish their dinner, they shouldn’t get a bedtime snack.
If we change our thinking to using a bedtime snack as a fail safe if they don’t like their dinner, it can take the pressure off of meal times. Kids are not physiologically built to go from dinner at 5 or 5:30 all the way to breakfast the next morning, and they really need a bedtime snack. When a child doesn’t like dinner, if both you and he know that there is a snack coming before bedtime, the desperation of making sure that dinner is eaten can go away.
I know this is completely opposite from what most parents are used to, and how they grew up themselves. Keep in mind, though, that your snacks should be something nutritious. It doesn’t mean that your bedtime snack needs to be exciting and enticing enough to skip dinner so they can eat it.
If a bedtime snack is something that always occurs, it isn’t a treat your child is holding out for. It’s just another normal time to eat. It takes the pressure off you to make sure they eat dinner so they don’t wake up in the middle of the night hungry. It takes the pressure off of your kid to eat just because, even if they aren’t feeling like it. They know there is always another time coming to satisfy their hunger if they feel it later. Believe it or not, this can lead them to be more adventurous at the dinner table, not less!
What Should I Serve?
So now you’re on board with 2-3 snacks a day that are scheduled, including one after dinner. What do you serve? You want to think about snacks as a combination of protein and carbohydrate. Think cheese and crackers, vegetables and hummus, cookies and milk.
Yes, cookies and milk can be a good snack! The milk, or some other form of protein, is key to make the snack one that will help them to last between meals. Just cookies won’t cut it. This can be a great afternoon snack, and if you do it regularly and don’t make a big production out of it, cookies will lose some of their allure and just become another delicious snack option. Healthy snacks for kids are more about the completeness of the snack, not what the food is.
Snacks are a must for kids! Schedule them 2-3 times a day, and stick to your schedule. Don’t wait for your kid to get hungry to give them a snack. Make sure one of your snacks is before bed to take the pressure off of eating a big dinner. Serve snacks that are a good combination of protein and carbohydrate to ensure they have staying power.