As a parent or caregiver, the health of your child is probably pretty important. When your kiddos are constantly asking for snacks, it can be a challenge to say the least. Then you question whether kids need to snack at all? This article will address 5 tips to offer fueling snacks for kids.
How do I get my kiddos to eat healthier snacks, not just the sugar filled junk foods they keep asking about? This is a common struggle. If this sounds like your house, please know that you are not alone. One of the best ways to help children develop healthy habits and healthy bodies is to provide a variety of food for them starting at a young age.
Do Kids Need Snacks?
Yes! But, I prefer to call them mini meals. Children need mini meals in order to maintain healthy energy levels. Think about after school when they ate an early lunch and are now ravenous. They raid the pantry looking for anything they can find. I suggest having an area set up in the pantry and refrigerator designated for after school.
In general, I recommend 3 meals and 2 mini meals daily for younger children. As kids get older, 1-2 mini meals per day may be enough. Routine and environment are an important part of mini meals. Starting at a younger age, have your child sit at the table for all meals and mini meals. Focus on the taste of foods without other distractions. As kids get older, keep the food in the kitchen and preferably at the table. Separate electronics from a fueling time.
What is a Healthy Mini Meal?
Healthy snacks, or mini meals can have different meanings between you and your child(ren). I prefer to focus on mini meals that are low in added sugar, and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Starting at a young age can lead to better choices in social settings. And, it cultivates healthy habits into adulthood.
Not all mini meals are created equal. If it were only up to them, goldfish, doritos, cookies and other sugary foods may be top choices. So, offer a few choices that may include a smaller portion of these choices, but add another food group like yogurt, fruit, vegetables or nuts/seeds to provide more nutrition and keep their stomachs full a little longer. In turn, this can reduce grazing and they come to the dinner table with an appetite and interest in eating your home cooked meal.
Practice these 5 tips to offer fueling Mini Meals to kids.
Tip 1: Pair Two foods
Encourage a combination of 2-3 food groups that promote satiety to get through the next 2-3 hours. Include a color of the rainbow to add an appealing appearance. Along with variety throughout the day.
A few mini meal pairings include:
- banana and peanut butter
- tortilla chips with guacamole or salsa
- yogurt with fruit and chopped nuts or seeds
- cheese stick with whole wheat crackers
- english muffin pizza
- Trail mix with nuts/seeds, cereal and raisins
Offering more than one food to a child gently exposes a “picky” eater to different foods. But, keep the pressure off. They are in charge of how much, just allow them to experience new foods.
Ease into these combinations by offering a food they are used to with a new food. Then gradually advance into more variety of foods.
Tip 2: Vary Presentation
Kids like routine throughout the day, including eating times. That said, they will eventually like variety of foods. Yes! Even “picky” eaters can expand their variety as they continue to be exposed to new foods. The key is time and patience without ongoing pressure.
Foods offered in different ways may peak interest. For example, think about carrots. They offer a crunchy snack. Or cooked for a softer texture. Or roasted, which brings out a natural sweetness. They can also be pureed in soups.
I often think of my daughter at a young age. She didn’t like protein foods, including chicken, meat or fish. Then one day, my husband offered her some (skinless) chicken wing and she gobbled it up. I realized at that time, I liked dark meat growing up too. Different ways to present a food could enhance the flavor and texture of food.
Tip 3: Keep the Portions Small
When working on new foods, or combining new foods together, keep the portions small. Reduce the portion of the favorite snack food to allow room for a new addition to a mini meal.
The closer a mini meal is to a family meal, offer small portions to fill the stomach, but still encourage an appetite for the next meal.
For school aged kids, appetites are usually bigger after school. This can be a good opportunity to offer a new food or mini meal combination.
Tip 4: Compare
You know what’s fun and low pressure? Exploring!
Instead of forcing your child(ren) to “just take a bite,” make a new food feel fun. This will reduce the food battles in the long run and everyone will be happier.
Try buying a few different kinds of the same food. Try 3-4 different apples. Or green and red grapes. One afternoon, offer a few of each kind for a taste test. Ask your child to describe the color, size, smell and then taste. Ask questions like “is it sweet or sour?” “Is it juicy or crisp?” And then end with asking which one they liked. Offer to add that to the grocery rotation.
Tip 5: Involve your Child(ren)
The more you involve kids in the decision, the better. It leads to an increased sense of autonomy in their choices. Start with staple foods they love. “Do you want goldfish or chips?” Then expand from there “Do you want apple or banana? Do you want cheese or peanut butter with…?”
This can then expand beyond the mini meals and into the bigger meals. Then add some helping hands in the preparation.
Being a parent with a kitchen that includes many options can be difficult. Rotate choices weekly. Practice these 5 tips to offer fueling snacks for kids. Over time, you will notice more variety in their choices and enjoyment in food. Looking for additional ideas to increase variety and reduce grazing on junk food, let’s talk about how I can help nourish your family. Reach out below to connect and find out how we could partner together for you personal families needs and lifestyle.