Using Snacks to Get Your Child to Eat Healthier
Using Snacks to Get Your Child to Eat Healthier

How many times do you and your children snack each day?

  • Morning break at school or work
  • After school
  • Before dinner
  • After dinner

If you picked 2 or 3 then you’re about average. Research shows we are eating more often and more total calories each day than 30 years ago. Snacks can provide up to 1/3 of your child’s daily calories, so make the most of these eating opportunities by thinking of snacks as mini-meals.  Snacks should include 2-3 foods from the food groups to be well-balanced and satisfy hunger.

Stock your refrigerator and pantry with nutrient-rich foods and limit the extra foods, like sweets, you have on hand. Younger kids may be happy with a container of yogurt or a plate of sliced banana and peanut butter. Older children can be famished after-school and easily eat a large bowl of cereal.

It is also a good idea to keep snack time in the kitchen rather than in front of the television or while doing other activities. By focusing on the snack itself, you can help children avoid mindless eating. Try these suggestions to make snacks healthier mini-meals.

Healthy SnackGive ‘em something to drink. People often mistake hunger for thirst. In warm weather and for active children the need for fluids increases. Serve a tall glass of ice water either plain or flavored with lemon or a glass of milk. If they're still hungry, give them a snack.

Dinner for snack. If after-school activities are in the middle of the usual dinner hours serve a full meal before the activity and offer a snack before bed. If you don’t have time to cook, warm up last night’s leftovers or a make-ahead meal from the freezer.

Trust your gut instinct. With the increasing availability of food and beverages it’s important for kids to learn what it feels like to be hungry and full. These internal cues should determine when they eat, not always the clock or availability. Instead of offering snacks to keep little ones preoccupied, find something else they could do in the car or store.

Using scents make sense. Encourage kids to consume snacks from the food groups rather than extra foods with minimal nutrients. The smell of oatmeal cookies or muffins baking will draw kids into the kitchen in no time flat. Even the aroma of an easy Bagel Pizza toasting will signal that it’s time to wash hands and have a snack that is nutritious and tastes great.

Kids’ Choice. With little ones you can set something out and often they will eat it, but older children want to have more of a say in what they put into their mouths. Leave out a bowl of fruit and stock healthy choices in the refrigerator and pantry.

As a parent I know I’ve got to be creative and not get stuck in a rut when serving snacks at home. If you focus on creating well-balanced snacks from several food groups and listen to your child’s hunger cues to help you teach children to make good food choices.

1. Piernas P, Popkin BM. Trends in snacking among U.S. children. Health Aff. March 2010, vol. 29 no. 3 398-404. 

2. O'Reilly GA, Cook L, Spruijt-Metz D, Black DS. Mindfulness-based interventions for obesity-related eating behaviours: a literature review. Obes Rev. 2014 Jun;15(6):453-61. 


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