Welcome to Kids Nutrition Advice, a weekly series where our resident registered pediatric dietitian, Ayelet Goldhaber, answers common questions parents have about feeding their children. Goldhaber specializes in pediatric and family nutrition. Have a question you want answered? Send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The wrong way to snack: grazing
The most problematic snacking issue I come across is what I call “grazing.” Yup, just like how a cow grazes on grass all day long, some kids are unintentionally encouraged to do the same, but with snacks. I often find kids are munching on snacks throughout the day without even realizing it. This means less time to get hungry between meals, which leads to less interest in food, and a tougher time getting in more nutritionally sound foods during the day.
The right way to snack: meal and snack schedules
To avoid these issues, I recommend sticking to a meal and snack schedule each day. This allows the adults to plan ahead, and kids love to be able to anticipate when their next snack and meal will be. It’s a win-win.
Here’s an example of a typical school age child’s schedule:
- 8am - Breakfast
- 10am - Snack
- 12pm - Lunch
- 3pm - Snack
- 5:30pm - Dinner
In the later part of the day kids tend to start unwinding and may need a snack to help boost energy to get through the remainder of the day. If you are finding this later afternoon snack is running into, or is replacing dinner, consider moving dinner time up and introducing an evening or before bed snack instead.
Treating snacktime more like mealtime
Packaged snacks like dried fruit, veggie chips and popcorn should always be portioned out and served in a bowl or on a plate when possible. This helps establish expectations consistent with meal time, i.e bringing dishes to the kitchen when finished, washing hands before eating, staying seated at the table, etc. It sets the standard for a start and finish to the snack and helps to avoid grazing.
If your child is asking for a specific snack food at meal time, offer to serve it alongside the meals. For example, a few peanut butter puffs on the plate with your usual protein, veggies and starch are OK.
What to look for in your child's snack
When looking for snack options, I tend to go for things with as few simple ingredients as possible. If you can’t understand the ingredient list, avoid it.
Aim for foods with 2 grams or less of added sugar. Sugary foods will cause a spike in blood sugar, followed by a sudden crash, leaving little ones still hungry and moody.
While snack time is always a good time for fresh fruit and vegetables, having some on the go back ups is essential to keeping tiny tummies in check. A great option is freeze dried fruit or fruit jerky, kale or beet chips.
For a more hungry kiddo with time before the next meal, look for snacks with good sources of fiber and healthy fats. Think avocado oil, cheese, popcorn, and grain based products. When in doubt, a small portion of leftover protein and veggies from the night before makes a great between meal hold over.
Here are some snack ideas:
- Cheddar cheese and turkey roll up with a fun toothpick
- Full fat yogurt with raisins and freeze dried strawberries
- Natural popcorn with sprinkled parmesan
- Steamed pear mash with nut butter – this is a favorite in my house. I steam sliced pear and apples together, then fork mash with added almond butter and cinnamon, it’s delicious!
Ayelet Goldhaber is a registered pediatric dietitian and mother of two who holds a master's degree in clinical nutrition from New York University. She completed her clinical rotations at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and is currently part of the Pediatric Gastroenterology Team at a prominent children’s hospital in New York City.
Want more information about this topic? Get in touch with Ayelet here.