Most children I know love to snack. And their parents love to offer snacks when the grizzles start. But are we breeding a generation of grazers?
Snacks play an important role in managing kids’ hunger and boosting nutrition levels. They are also a key part of maintaining energy levels and preventing them from becoming “hangry”, but what parents don’t realise is this dependence on all-day grazing can cause issues for years to come. Children who snack all day often lack the ability to self regulate, choose wholesome meals, and most importantly, the energy to get through the kindergarten or school day when they can no longer eat when they want to eat.
I believe too many snacks is a huge contributor to creating a fussy eater in the toddler years. Why would a child who has been offered snacks all day long feel like eating a wholesome dinner? Or when they know that if they don’t eat their plate of greens, they will get more beige or sugary snack?
When asked for advice on fussy eaters, I always ask the parents to list everything the child has eaten throughout the last 72 hours. On almost every occasion the problem is clear, the child is offered too many snacks and they simply do not have the appetite (or interest) to consume balanced meals at lunch or dinner.
I am not saying No to all snacks as if the right foods are offered at the right times, snacks are essential in managing kids’ hunger, maintaining concentration at kinder or school and boosting nutrition. A well-timed snack can even out spikes in hunger and provide energy boosts for older children, but I do encourage you to choose wisely.
Too often, I see parents relying on packaged/processed foods for snacks. My motto is if it comes in a small pack, it’s probably not healthy and shouldn’t be offered on a regular basis.
The best snacks are nutritious — low in sugar, fat, and salt. Fresh fruit and vegetables and foods that contain whole grains and protein are also good choices. I love the initiative of brain food at schools; a vegetable or fruit snack offered in the morning.
It’s not just about what you offer as a snack — it’s how much you serve and when. Pay attention to sizes and timing of snacks (particularly in the afternoon) so they don’t interfere with a child’s appetite for the next scheduled meal.
Please don’t think I am encouraging you to starve your children (far from it), but those like us who are allowed to graze all day long often have a hard time figuring out when they’re truly hungry — one key to maintaining a healthy weight in childhood and later in life.
I encourage you all to stick loosely to a structured meal and snack schedule similar to what you would do for yourself. By offering small healthy snacks and larger nutritious meals at the same time each day, your children’s bodies will adapt and fuel their bodies accordingly.
Good Luck and here are a couple of interesting articles if you are interested in reading more.