Does it seem like it’s always snack time? Extracurricular eating abounds. Nearly every after school activity from drama to scouts to soccer to German club involves some type of snacking. Even when kids are at home, many graze throughout the day enjoying a never-ending snack time. Does this mean that kids are eating more than they used to?
National surveys suggest kids’ snacking has nearly doubled since the ’70s. Thirty years ago, kids ate roughly 250 calories a day between meals. That jumped to more than 400 calories in the ’90s and now to about 500 snack calories per day. Unfortunately, the extra snacking has contributed to overweight kids and obesity.
Snacking is Healthy
So is snacking bad for children? Definitely not! Snacks can help your kids stay focused at school and on homework, give them needed nutrients and keep the hunger monster at bay, explains Tennessee-based registered dietitian and child nutrition expert Jill Castle, MS, RD. Leave non-nutritious food alone, however.
“The definition of snack needs to be redefined,” she says.
To lots of kids and teens, a snack is a bag of chips, some cookies or some other nutrient-challenged food. Think of snacks as a mini-meal instead, she encourages. Offer your kids a snack containing protein and fiber, so the snacks are filling, sustaining and add to the quality of the diet. An ounce of pistachios fits the bill with 6 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, about the same as an ounce of turkey breast and a small apple.
Snack time is a great time for your kids to enjoy fruits, nuts (for children under the age of 4, nuts may be a choking hazard unless they are finely chopped), vegetables, yogurt and other foods they’re not getting at their regular meals, says registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Malena Perdomo, MS, RD, CDE. These foods are ideal to help children re-fuel between meals and satisfy a growing appetite. The best snacking strategy is to be prepared, she adds. Parents should “plan ahead for that hungry tummy.”
Be a Smart Snacker
- The following guidelines will make you and your family smart snackers:
- Expect smaller children to eat smaller portions. Young children may need more frequent snacks than older kids because little ones have smaller stomachs that hold less.
- Offer meals and snacks at predictable times. State the kitchen is closed at other times.
- To make sure your kids eat at mealtimes, don’t offer snacks too close to a meal.
- Discourage mindless munching. Expect your children to sit down to eat their snacks without the distraction of the television, computers and video games.
- Offer nutrient-dense foods that are otherwise lacking in the diet and will improve your child’s nutrient intake.
Courtesy of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information on healthy eating for your family, visit EatRight.org.
Healthy Snacks for Kids
Snacking is a major pastime for many kids—and that’s not necessarily bad. Nutritious snacking can help your child curb hunger throughout the day, as well as provide energy and important nutrients. Find out how to make healthy snacks for kids.
- Keep junk food out of the house.Your child won’t clamor for cookies, candy bars or chips if you don’t keep them on hand. Set a good example by choosing healthy snacks yourself.
- Go for the grain.Whole-grain foods—such as whole-grain pretzels or tortillas and high-fiber, whole-grain cereals—provide energy with some staying power.
- Mix and match.Serve baby carrots or other raw veggies with fat-free ranch dressing or hummus. Dip graham cracker sticks or fresh fruit in fat-free yogurt. Spread peanut butter on celery, apples or bananas.
- Broaden the menu.Offer out-of-the-usual fare, such as avocado, pineapple, cranberries, red or yellow peppers, or mangoes. Have kids choose a few foods and mix them together for a colorful snack.
- Revisit breakfast.Serve breakfast foods as healthy snacks for kids in the afternoon. Consider dried cereal mixed with dried fruit and nuts or microwaveable oatmeal made with low-fat milk and mixed with unsweetened applesauce and cinnamon.
- Sweeten it up.Healthy snacks for kids don’t have to be bland. To satisfy your child’s sweet tooth, offer lower fat puddings and frozen yogurt or frozen fruit bars. Make smoothies with milk, plain yogurt, and fresh or frozen fruit.
- Have fun.Use a cookie cutter to make shapes out of low-fat cheese slices, whole-grain bread or whole-grain tortillas. Make fruit kebabs or show your child how to eat diced fruit with chopsticks. Make a tower out of whole-grain crackers, spell words with pretzel sticks, or make funny faces on a plate using different types of fruit.
- Promote independence.Keep a selection of ready-to-eat veggies in the refrigerator. Leave fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter. Store low-sugar, whole-grain cereal, and fruit canned or packaged in its own juice in an easily accessible cabinet. Don’t be fooled by labeling gimmicks.Foods marketed as low-fat or fat-free can still be high in calories and sodium. Likewise, foods touted as cholesterol-free can still be high in fat, saturated fat and sugar. Check nutrition labels to find out the whole story.
- Designate a snacking zone.Restrict snacking to certain areas, such as the kitchen, and avoid connecting eating with screen time. You’ll save your child countless calories from mindless munching. If your child needs to snack on the go, offer a banana, string cheese, yogurt sticks, cereal bars, carrot sticks or other drip-free items.
By Jill Weisenberger