Help! My child asks for snacks all day long and then refuses to eat their meals. Sound familiar? If so, don’t worry, you are not alone as this is probably one of the most common things I hear from parents on a regular basis.
The Truth About Snacking
It’s completely normal for kids to get hungry every 2-4 hours. Their little tummies (which are the size of a small fist) fill up quickly but as they burn off food quicky too they get hungry more often and so they need more opportunities to eat throughout the day.
Snacks can and should form part of a healthy, balanced diet. They provide nutrients such as iron and calcium as well as other vitamins and minerals essential for growth and development.
The right kind of snack provided at the right time, can have a positive impact on energy levels, mood, concentration and even behaviour. Keeping kids fuller for longer and with a better appetite when it comes to mealtimes.
Creating structure and routine around snack times is an excellent way of helping kids to learn self-regulation when it comes to their hunger and fullness.
The point is not to steer your child away from trusting his hunger cues. You want him to be intuitive and mindful when it comes to eating and communicate when he’s hungry or full. But you also want to give him the opportunity to become truly hungry–to know what that feels like–and then respond to it by eating until he’s comfortably full. This is self-regulation. Grazing throughout the day won’t give him that opportunity. It also creates a power struggle between parent and child when it comes to feeding and can disrupt daily activities and schedules.
Snacks As Mini Meals
When you offer snacks, do you provide a piece of fruit or a pancake. Cream crackers or a yogurt, a small biscuit or a cereal bar? These are typical snack foods which tend to be sweet and higher in sugar. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these foods but I encourage parents to look at snacks as mini meals and not a single item of food. Offering a combination of foods and as much variety as possible and using it as an opportunity to get extra fibre, vitamins and minerals into the diet as well as helping your child to get their 5-7 daily portions of fruit and vegetables. It is worth noting that sometimes dehydration can present as hunger, so it is important to keep them hydrated by offering drinks regularly throughout the day.
Schedule Your Snacks
One of the reasons parents let their kids snack when they want throughout the day is because they worry their little ones won’t get the nutrition they to thrive. This is totally understandable and as a parent I can relate to this. However, allowing kids to graze all day is often the reason kids don’t come to the dinner table hungry. And when they don’t come to the table hungry, they are a lot less likely to eat their meals. Mealtime stress and meltdowns are never too far away either.
Kids thrive on routine so providing a regular snack schedule can be very helpful for establishing structure and setting boundaries and will lead to happier, more stress-free snack times. A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and 1-2 hours before the next meal begins. If your child asks for snacks outside of these times, very gently but firmly remind your child that snack time is over and that the next meal or snack will be served soon.
Children in the UK are now amongst the biggest consumers of sugar in Europe, consuming close to 4 times the recommended daily amount. Common snack foods such as pancakes, crackers and shop bought cereal bars are very high in sugar and low in healthful fats and protein. Snacks of crackers and pancakes are fine every now and then but shouldn’t be consumed every day. I like to make every snack count by preparing super snacks that contain some protein and good quality fats (see snack ideas below). These types of snacks will keep kids feeling satisfied and help them feel fuller for longer. It is also a great way of ensuring your little ones meet their nutritional needs daily.
Have Fun With Snacks
Get your child involved in planning and prepping what snacks they are going to have throughout the week. Getting kids involved in the kitchen is an important aspect of helping a child develop a positive relationship with food. Have fun, let them explore and experiment and try new foods in a stress-free way. A bun tray is a great little tool to use for snack time. Place small portions of a range of foods in the bun tray and just watch that food disappear!! I hope you found this article helpful and if you are stuck for ideas, here are some of my kid’s favourite summertime snacks:
Carrot & celery sticks with soft cheese
Homemade Pancakes with fruit
Sliced peppers or cucumber with hummus
Homemade smoothies – with mix of vegetables and fruit
Trail mix – cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins and coconut flakes
Plain Greek yogurt with berries
Hard Boiled egg with piece of fruit
Chicken drumsticks with mayo or ranch dressing
Apple or Pear sliced with nut butter
Oat crackers with cheese