As a parent or caregiver, the health of your child is in your hands. And when your kiddos are asking for snacks multiple times a day, it can be a challenge to know what to do. Do kids need snacks at all?
How do I get my kiddos to eat healthier snacks, not just the sugary, processed snacks they keep asking about? This is a really common struggle – if this sounds like your house, please know that you’re not alone.
One of the best ways to help children develop healthy habits and healthy bodies is to provide healthy food for them when they are young.
In this article, we will discuss 5 ways that you can improve your child's snacking habits so they get the nutrition they need while still enjoying the snacks that you’re offering!
Do kids need snacks?
Children need snacks in order to maintain healthy energy levels and to get the nutrients their growing bodies need. In general, it's recommend that you offer your younger children three meals and three snacks daily. As kids get older, 1-2 snacks per day may be enough.
Many snacking staples out there are high in added sugar and not serving your child’s best health. That's why it is important for parents to cultivate healthy habits, even at snack time.
What does "balanced" mean?
There are many snack options for kids that you can feed your child, but it's important to know how to build a nourishing snack. It’s best to focus on snacks that are balanced in protein, fat, and carbohydrate as well as rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber (most of the time). A variety of foods should be involved including exposure to fruit and vegetables to make our snacks nutrient dense.
Before diving into our snacking tips, keep in mind that a healthy relationship with food STILL includes those "fun foods” like cookies, ice cream, or chips, yet in moderation. Working with a Registered Dietitian can help you develop a better relationship with food for you and your family if needed. There is absolutely no expectation to rule these foods out completely.
With these five tips, you'll have no problem leading your child better snacking habits! Cultivating healthy snacking habits now will promote eating our best in adulthood.
Tip 1: Pair Two Foods
For optimal nutrition and satisfaction, I recommend that you offer different foods groups when giving your kiddos snacks— we try to aim for pairing our carbohydrate choices with protein and fat. Not only does this give you the opportunity to make a more satisfying snack, but it also gives your child more variety throughout the day.
Some balanced food pairings follow--
Offering more than one food item is also helpful for gently exposing picky eaters to different foods that might be out of their comfort zone for now. Keep the pressure off (no forcing a bite) and just make the experience fun.
And if your children prefer the processed and packaged snacks that you’d like to get away from, offer the new foods with the packaged snack instead of taking the packaged snack away entirely.
Tip 2: Vary presentation
It takes anyone a while to get used to something that feels new. And for kids – especially our picky eaters – new can mean scary and uncomfortable!
Think about carrots. Baby carrots are one way to offer carrots to your kiddos as a snack, but there are other options, too!
You can also offer carrots as a pureed pouch with carrots in the mix, shredded carrots for a different texture, roasted carrots for a different flavor, and even peels of a large carrot (feel free to call them ribbons!).
Each time your child has a chance to get to know the food in a low-pressure environment, it helps to build their confidence and eventually try it (and maybe even like it!)
Tip 3: Keep the portions small
If you’re working on new foods, snack time is a great opportunity because if they don't eat much (or any) of the new food, dinner is right around the corner. By the time dinner is here, everyone tends to be more tired and less patient, so it can feel more difficult to make progress at that time.
When offering new foods at snack time, keep the portions of the new food small. For your child, it makes the experience less overwhelming.
And if age-appropriate, use toothpicks or other fun tools to serve the food. This keeps the experience more fun and playful for our kids, especially kids who can get overloaded with too much sensory information. One of our favorite ways to offer after-school snacks is to serve them in a muffin tray!
Tip 4: Have fun with it
You know what's fun and lower pressure? Exploring!
Instead of forcing your child to “just take a bite,” make the new food feel fun. This is lower pressure and more fun for everyone, not just your kiddo.
Try buying a few different varieties of a new food next time you're at the grocery store. For example, four or five different kinds of apples. And during an afternoon when you have some free time, ask your child to describe how the apples are different in terms of size, color, and smell.
Ask your child "which one smells the best?"
Next: cut very tiny slices of each type of apple and invite your child to try them. "Which apple is the sweetest? Most sour? Crunchiest?"
Have fun ranking and exploring: this is way more fun than commanding your child to try a bite!
Tip 5: Involve your child
The more that you're able to offer your child the opportunity to be involved, the better. For example, if you're shopping for balanced snacks at the grocery store, ask your child which two new snacks they want to try this week.
Next: You can also offer choices when it comes to how foods are prepared. For example, would your child like their apple sliced or diced? Would they like to eat it with a dip, like a nut butter or yogurt stirred with cinnamon as the dip?
Kids can do far more tasks in the kitchen than most parents would guess. Will it be slower and messier to get them involved? At first: yes! But with time, their skills will grow (and the mess will slowly diminish).
Your child is going to be more open-minded about foods that they've helped to prepare.
Being a parent in an environment with so many snack options can be very difficult. By partnering with a registered dietitian, you will learn how to conquer snack time with proven strategies to reach your health goals to nourish your family’s health…even at snack time!
Shield, Jo Ann. Kids Eat Right (2019, March 4). When Should My Kids Snack?
Jill Castle— The Nourished Child