By Bethany Whitemyer
Most children, and many adults, cannot stay full from meal to meal and are going to need a snack at some point mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Snacks can make up a big portion of a young child’s food for the day, so be sure to consider them as carefully as you do meals. When you look at snacks as mini-meals, you will avoid giving your child empty calories and you will promote healthy eating. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind about your children’s snacks:
We all know children are going to get hungry! Plan ahead so that you have the food you want your child to eat on hand. Packing snacks to take along with you on a day trip is more cost effective than having to grab something while you’re out and will help your family make better choices. When my family is on the go and we haven’t planned ahead, we often end up running into a fast food place or a convenience store for a snack and probably not eating as well as we usually do! Be mindful of the timing of snacks too. Offer a snack a few hours after breakfast or time your snacks on your lunch schedule. If you know that lunch is going to be at 1:00, offer a snack about 2 hours before lunch time. Watch out for the timing of afternoon snacks too. Plan them a couple of hours before dinner to improve your chances of having everyone hungry for dinner.
Some great snack worthy sources of protein are cheese cubes or slices, yogurt, cottage cheese, chicken or tuna salad, sunflower seed butter and hardboiled eggs. Adding any of these protein sources will help your child stay full longer and there’s a better likelihood of making it to your next meal without needing another snack.
Add Fruits and Vegetables
Your child should be eating at least one serving of a fruit or vegetable at every snack. If you’re reading this on a South Shore Organics page, you don’t need any convincing to add more fruits and vegetables to your family’s diet. Just don’t forget about adding them at snack times as well as mealtimes.
Watch Portion Size
Be aware of portion sizes by putting food into a bowl, a cup, or onto a plate. Don’t let your child eat crackers, pretzels, cereal, or chips out of a bag or box. It’s too easy to over-eat when you can’t see how much of something you start and end with. Kids don’t always have a great sense of appropriate serving sizes so you will need to help them see how much they’re eating. Check the label if you need more information about the serving size. If your child is hungry after eating a serving of one type of food (like crackers) offer them another snack from another category of food (like grapes, or a yogurt).
Build Healthy Eating Habits
Your children should be sitting down while they eat and drink. Eating and drinking while walking, running, or playing can cause choking and tooth damage (think of tripping while drinking from a water bottle). Limit distractions when you can so that he/she can focus on eating instead of on the TV or a game.
Be Aware of What Your Child is Drinking
Make sure that they’re not filling up on milk or juice at snack times. You want them to be hydrated, but not so full that they don’t eat a variety of foods.
Bethany Whitemyer is the Center Director at the Bright Horizons in Pembroke, MA. She and her family, husband David and sons Evan and Lucas, live in Rockland, MA.