There’s no doubt that young children need snacks. But what to serve at snacktime (and when, and how much) is a common question that HAPPYFAMILY Nutrition Advisor Amy Marlow hears from parents. According to Amy, healthy and wholesome snacks don’t have to be a puzzle.
1. Please detail the most common challenges you hear from parents/clients regarding snacking, especially when it comes to getting children to eat healthy snacks? (whether it be scheduling or time gripes, money concerns, kid palate issues, etc.)
Parents of school-aged children often complain about the difficulty in finding healthy snacks that can compete with the junky snacks their kids see at school, on TV, at the store, and at others’ homes. They often worry about repetition and wonder if it’s “bad” to let their child have the same snacks day after day. Many parents are also concerned that their child seems to be “hungry” for snacks all the time.
2. What are your best snacking strategies for addressing these challenges?
One strategy to address many eating concerns is good role modeling. Select healthy snacks and enjoy them in front of your children. It’s also important to set boundaries with snacks. Don’t allow the child to make the selections at the grocery store, instead, give them healthy options to choose from.
To avoid over-snacking, set a snack-time just as you set meal times and then stick to it. Allowing your child to snack all the time will only ruin their appetite for meals and start a vicious cycle of filling up on snacks at the expense of healthy meals.
3. What are your best recommendations for nutritious snack options that kids will love, and why?
Great snack products / standbys to rely on
Fresh fruit of course – keep carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, jicama, and other vegetables sliced in a container in the refrigerator. This is especially good for after school/before dinner when kids are hungriest.
More go-to snacks
- HAPPYSQUEEZE smoothies (a new organic fruit smoothie product from HAPPYFAMILY)
- Whole wheat pretzels, organic cheese sticks and slices
- Unsweetened dry cereal, unsalted nuts and dried fruit – try combining all three to make a healthy trail-mix!
- Homemade whole grain pancakes which can be easily kept on-hand in the freezer
Sweet options (and when or how is it best to incorporate sweet snack options, like sweet candies?)
Sweets have their place, and in my opinion, many children will just get obsessed with them if over-restricted. Allow some of the snacks in your home to be sweet. Give your children healthy sweets such as frozen grapes and homemade fruit popsicles, as well as the occasional ice cream, all-natural or homemade cookies, fruit leathers or fruit snacks. Try to avoid setting a precedent that every evening snack is a sweet, but if you have a sweet treat in the house every so often, and control the portion size, this is a healthy way to teach moderation.
Snacks that get kids involved in the prep
Two great snacks to make with your children are muffins and smoothies. There are plenty of muffin recipes made with nutrient-packed ingredients like fruit purees, oats, wheat germ, whole grain flours, and dried or fresh fruit. Let young kids mix the ingredients, and older children can measure the ingredients and pour the mixture into the muffin tins. To control portion size, use mini-muffin tins instead of full size. Don’t forget to make extra – they freeze well and are a quick snack anytime!
Smoothies can easily be made at home with yogurt, fresh and frozen fruit, milk and ice. Kids can get involved by choosing the ingredients, putting them in the blender, and turning it on. Another tip is to freeze smoothies in popsicle molds for a healthy frozen dessert.
Other snacking ideas
Parents should think about “real” food as being great potential for snacks, like sandwiches, quesadillas, pancakes and pizza bagels. Turn snack-time into a mini-meal instead of relying on less nutrient dense snack foods. This is a good strategy for two types of snackers – the active tween or teen who is truly ravenous all the time and the young child who tends not to eat enough at meal times.
4. What about recommendations for how to incorporate seasonal produce into children’s snacking schedule?
Eating seasonally is great, and when you eat seasonally, it’s a treat when your favorites appear in the house each year. My children get excited in the winter when we have grapefruits in the fridge.
- Winter – grapefruit slices, pears
- Spring – strawberries, snap peas
- Summer – mixed berry fruit salad, peaches
- Fall – apples (and take the children apple-picking!), pumpkins
5. Your best snack recommendations based on age?
In general, most healthy snacks are appropriate for any age group, however the portion sizes will change as children get older.
- Squeezable fruit/vegetable purees like HAPPYTOT Pouches from HAPPYFAMILY. They contain the supergrain Salba that provides fiber and omega-3s – nutrients that are hard to get into a preschooler sometimes.
- Crunchy snacks, like HAPPYMUNCHIES from HAPPYFAMILY, are great. They’re low in sodium and have added choline which helps brain development. Whole grain crackers and dry, unsweetened cereals are good alternatives too.
- Small whole fruit like apples, plums and small pears. Preschoolers feel grown up when biting into a whole apple or plum
- Vegetable sticks to dip in hummus, bean dip or other healthy dip
- Organic cheese sticks
- Fresh fruit and fruit salad
- Vegetable sticks or slices served with or without a healthy dip like hummus, bean dip or low fat ranch
- Organic yogurt drinks or squeezable yogurts
- Homemade granola or trail mix, or choose one that is low in added sugar
- Cheese and crackers
- Fresh fruit
- Trail mix (good for on-the-go)
- Small sandwiches or wraps
- Low fat yogurt
6. Do you recommend mixing up snack options for children? If so, how many options do you suggest parents have on hand for any given week—or how often do you recommend switching up the options so kids don’t get bored and parents get varied nutrients into the equation?
Too many choices can be overwhelming for young kids. Give preschool and elementary children two or three choices of snacks. Older kids can manage more choices. If a child is stuck on a particular snack for several days in a row, don’t worry. Kids like repetition. One tip to help remedy this is to buy a variation of foods each week, so children don’t get too stuck on one food.
7. In your opinion, is snacking a great way for parents to introduce new foods to children? Why or why not? And is there any trick to introducing new healthy foods to younger children to make them more willing to accept and love it?
It’s about being a role model and making your home a no-pressure zone when it comes to food. Show your children that you enjoy the new food. Offer it to them in a non-threatening way and allow them to decide if they will try it. If they don’t accept it the first time around, offer it to them again a few weeks later. Snack time is a great time to try new foods, although it’s often easier to introduce a new food at meal time when there are other options on their plates. It’s less pressure for a child who is skeptical of a new food.
8. Please explain why it’s so important to get children to adopt healthy eating habits early in life and the possible future implications.
Eating habits are just that – habits. The best way to set up a child for a lifetime of healthy eating is to get them into the habit early through the provision of healthy foods in and out of the home. Physiologically, a key time for developing healthy food preferences is before age three, as that’s when the child’s taste buds are learning to accept and enjoy flavors.