Kids love snack foods and snacking. Parents? Not so much. They can’t ignore the grocery aisles full of sugary, food color-enhanced, packaged snacks. Or the athletic fields that offer treats of chocolate-covered granola bars and sports drinks. From unhealthy options at every corner to numerous snacking occasions, snacking can feel out of control.
The statistics on snacking are sobering. Studies show that snacks make up roughly 23 to 27% of kids’ daily nutritional intake. U.S. kids snack anywhere from 2 to 10 times a day, averaging the nutritional equivalent of a fourth meal. What they snack on adds much of the sugar, fat and salt we see in their typical diets.
Parents understand that snacks have the power to drag a child’s diet down the unhealthy rabbit hole. And this is unsettling.
But what if we could harness the best of snacks and snacking? What if we could make snacks work for children, not against them?
It’s possible. Especially if you focus on the strength of what a snack can offer your child. Snacks can be an effective way to meet your child’s nutritional needs, balance his overall diet, and regulate his appetite.
Let’s dive deeper.
Snacks Fill Nutrient Gaps in the Diet
No child eats perfectly. They are on the learning curve of eating, discovering their food preferences and dislikes. Eating can be sporadic, monotonous and unbalanced. Take the preschooler who is on a food jag, or the grade-schooler who takes the same lunch to school every day, for example. Many parents would call them “picky.” Their eating patterns place them at a higher risk for missing important nutrients in their diets.
Yet, nutritious snacks have the power to provide quality nutrients, like calcium, protein, and vitamin C, closing the gap and creating food balance. Use snacks strategically to cover your nutritional “bases.” For example, if kids don’t get enough fruit or vegetables at mealtime, they can be offered as part of a snack. If getting enough fiber is a challenge, choose snacks that deliver a source, such as whole grain granola or blueberries.
Snacks Stave Off Hunger
Have you ever noticed how a child responds to a single snack food like fishy-shaped crackers? Either they eat them and are hungry soon afterward, or they eat a lot of them just to feel satisfied. In the end, kids tend to be over-hungry or overeating.
Certain nutrients in foods such as protein, fat and fiber are effective in helping kids feel fuller longer. Fiber, protein and fat digest slowly and empty from the stomach at a slower rate than carbohydrate, for instance. This means kids stay fuller longer after eating a snack containing these nutrients.
The key is to offer more than one food group for a snack, and provide smaller portions than you would at mealtime. A “mini-meal,” if you will. Mini-meals have two or more food groups that pack a punch of filling nutrients. For example, our blueberry granola bites offer fiber, protein and other important nutrients, filling your child up and closing the nutrient gaps. And, what’s better? No more screams of “I’m hungry!”
Snacks Add Variety
A varied diet equals a nutrient-rich diet. One of the goals of feeding kids is to introduce them to a wide range of foods and add variety to the diet over time. When parents offer the same snacks day in and day out, they miss an opportunity to enhance the balance and variety of their child’s diet. Parents and kids get stuck serving and eating the same snacks again and again.
It’s Time to Harness the Power of Snacks
The truth is, kids do well when they snack on nutrient-rich, wholesome snacks. They enhance their daily eating patterns and diet quality, keeping kids growing well, regulating their appetite and eating, and helping them develop good snacking habits.
Let’s make snacks a win for children!
These combinations of nutrient-rich foods may offer your child more variety, keep him full and satisfied, and minimize nutrient deficits:
- Sunnie Hummus Dipper
- Yogurt stick and strawberries
- Peanut butter on whole wheat toast
- Sunnie Blueberries and Granola Bites
- Low sugar cereal and milk
- Sunnie Taco Dipper
- Sunnie Pizza Dipper
What’s your favorite snack to give to your child?
By Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Sunnie Advisor and Author, The Smart Mom’s Guide to Healthy Snacking