“Can I have a snack?” How many times do you hear that question in a week? It’s the most normal thing in the world: we have shelves devoted to snack foods and a massive industry exists to produce them. For decades the world of nutrition and dietary advice has been telling us that more small meals in a day are good for us, and healthy snacks are a trend. But is it time to reconsider the role snacks play in our kids’ lives? Here are some questions being raised about the matter – look them over and tell us what you think.
Habit or Need?
Any busy parent dealing with young children relies on routine to keep chaos to a minimum, and snack-time is a vital part of the schedule. But are they even hungry? Sometimes just a drink and a distraction is enough to get a child to nap-time or to dinner. Nutritious and tasty meals are what they really need for healthy growth, so keep them eager for a balanced plate of food. This is not to say that hungry toddlers shouldn’t be given fresh fruit, yoghurt or a handful of nuts when they’re getting hungry (hungry-angry) or that anyone with blood-sugar issues should miss out on necessary top-ups, only that food is best applied to where it’s needed.
Hungry or Bored?
When older kids swing on the fridge door looking for something to eat, it probably has more to do with boredom than hunger. Okay, if your teenage son is going through a major growth-spurt, then don’t get between him and the bananas! When your teen is growing an inch a week keep healthy and tasty options around, and provide those great meals he/she needs. How do you know when a child is genuinely hungry? They’ll eat the fruit/healthy snack AND they’ll finish their meals.
Snacks vs. Meals
In truth, we often have to beg kids to finish a meal, but when last did you have to force them to eat a snack? And that’s the big clue: continuous snacking interferes with healthy mealtimes.
Where do children learn that popcorn is fun while savoury roasted chicken is hard work? The answer is simple: snacks and sweets are associated with fun, they’re seen as treats and sometimes we use them as rewards. For small children this is an easy habit to break - there are so many ways to reward them without using food: blowing bubbles, going for a swim, dressing up, telling a story, playing a short board or computer game, taking a bike-ride, giving them a crazy hair-do, letting them give YOU a crazy hair-do, doing a 2-minute dance-a-thon, singing their favourite song at the top of your voices, playing catch around the house or blowing up a couple of balloons for them to chase and pop - then finish any of these off with a hot or cold drink to keep everyone hydrated.
There it is: snacking doesn’t have to be an integral part of the day for kids. Send some healthy, low-calorie items to school for scheduled snack-times (fruit, carrot sticks, cucumber and other items that won’t overfill them) and cut back on snack-times over the weekend. There’s something big in it for them and for you: fabulous meal-times where they enjoy what you’ve put together for them. Bon appetit!
Read more: “I don’t let my kids snack..”