snacking for kids

I often feel baffled by how often and how much my kids should be snacking, so I’m relieved registered dietitian and Honest Mum columnist Laura Clark has the answers. Over to Laura.

Over the years our snacking culture has really changed. Snackification is now considered a food trend in its own right – when, where, what and how are of great interest to the food industry as there is huge potential for growth and profit. The #freefrom market for example is set to be worth 673 million by 2020. Protein based products are also catching our interest (find out what protein means for you) and as consumers, we will always be drawn to products promoting themselves as naturally functional; although this has little scientific meaning, apparently we interpret it as being better for us. Marketing generally, will have a powerful affect over the snacks we chose.

But what about our children? Snacking choices and habits are largely influenced by the family in the early years, before they are let loose with means to purchase their own. What tack should we take and what can we do to help ensure good habits as they graduate to adulthood?

Interestingly, snacking for children has recently come under the spotlight with guidance released by Public Health England recommending no more than two 100 calorie snacks per day.

This guidance has been met with some criticism around fears that assigning calorie values to foods when it comes to our kids maybe unhelpful and potentially harmful if it fuels obsession around food and their calorie value.

I see what they were trying to do though and the messages that they wanted to get across.

Snacking has become a normal part of our eating habits. Frequently done on the hoof, a snack becomes synonymous with convenience. If there are gaps of around 3-4 hours between meals, then snacks can provide a useful opportunity to top up on nutrients. The healthiest combinations may not feel very transportable though especially for children but here are some things you could bear in mind within the realities of life!

My top tips for handling snacking.

If its before 12pm aim for fresh fruit – easy win to do it when kids are fresher and in a better mood dare I say?! A great habit to instil into them from an early age – not every snack has to be fruit but at least one snack a day should be and if you wait until the afternoon it’s likely to have been battered around in your bag all day!

Encourage consumption of snacks with minimal distractions. In my weaning workshops I remind parents we’re raising humans and not sheep. Whilst there is a place for snacking, little tummies get filled quickly and endless grazing between meals won’t help at the meal itself. This is the first thing to consider if your child appears fussy at meals. It could be because they just aren’t very hungry and think sitting at the table is therefore pointless.

If you’re wanting to fill them up for a longer period of time then protein or a combination of protein and carb is best (maybe with a bit of fibre too) for example oatcakes with peanut butter, peanut butter or cream cheese sandwich using one slice bread, yoghurt pouch, portion cheese, handful nuts (if they’re over 5), edamame beans or a mini pitta with an egg cup of hummus.

To tide them over till tea, interesting nibbles can help to keep them occupied but won’t fill them up too much. For example, handful pretzels, bread sticks, savoury popcorn, crackers, trial mixes with dry cereal, a sprinkling of dried fruit or seeds.

Be wary of using snacking as a way of providing entertainment. We’ve all done it because sometimes we need to get s**t done, or bribe them back into the buggy or get round that shop without them kicking off or stop them causing havoc in a very child unfriendly place – there are a lot of reasons! It’s a brilliant tactic and we’ll all continue to use it. However, just take a moment to think whether this always needs to be the go-to. Or could the portion be smaller? Or a little healthier? Otherwise potentially we’re just teaching them and their bodies that they need far more food than they actually do or that perhaps the answer to their boredom in the future is to simply reach for a snack?

Most of all, have a general awareness of the calorie content of the snack when it falls into more of the treat category. I’m not saying we have to share that with the children or make a big deal of it, but cookies containing over 300 calories in a soft play centre for example are largely inappropriate as are massive bags of crisps given at pick-up for them to munch absentmindedly all the way home.

We eat food not calories but sometimes a quick glance can be quite enlightening and for this reason I think the guide provided by Public Health England is useful and gives a little context. I always serve snacks in little bowls so it always looks more than it is.

I also try when possible to acknowledge yet ignore the Oscar winning performances in which they wail that they simply won’t survive the 22 minutes you’ve told them they have to wait until dinner.

This doesn’t however stop Sam climbing into the fridge sometimes (no the vegetable drawer is not designed to be used as a leg up!). Sometimes the moral high ground can be tough – and this can influence my own snacking habits as I seek solace – oh the irony.

For more advice on healthy snacking for children (and adults) please check out my trolley2tummy videos with Sam via my facebook page.

Keep up to date with Laura’s siteblogFBTwitter and Instagram.

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