Kids love snacks! And rightly so; they require the extra fuel to grow strong and healthy. As parents, it is our job to make sure that snacks are not just empty calories and/or an excuse for excessive amounts of junk food. They should be an opportunity to provide our little ones with the essential nutrients they need for their growing energy demands whilst promoting lifelong, healthy habits.
Are you making the most of snack time for your children?
Sit down snacks
In order to avoid children eating continuously throughout the day, thus ruining their appetite, plan sit down snacks. Snack-time should be viewed as a mini meal rather than a chance to have a treat and as such, they should not be consumed on the go. Children should sit as they would for a meal, with minimal distractions. This will encourage them to engage with and think more about the food they are eating.
Planning snacks in to your child’s daily routine means you can avoid grabbing ‘convenience’ options whilst reassuring them that it won’t be long until the next food offering if their tummies begin to rumble.
Time them so that they have enough time to get hungry for the next meal, ideally 2 hours before, and aim to stick to one mid morning and one mid afternoon. This type of routine will get them in to the habit of appreciating meal times and can help avoid fussy eaters. It can help discourage little ones from walking away form the dinner table having eaten very little then coming back 10 minutes later for a biscuit!
Having a regular snack routine can help avoid children mindlessly eating in between meals. They will therefore be sufficiently hungry and more open to new foods.
What should snacks consist of?
To try and fill your child’s ‘nutrition gap’ mid morning or afternoon, aim to include protein and carbohydrates whenever possible. This will help sustain them longer. Try to also include fibre in the form of vegetables or fruit and vary these to make sure you offer a range of nutrients.
Snack time is also a great way to introduce new foods and don’t give up….just because your child didn’t want to try that new vegetable or hummus this time doesn’t mean they wont at some point in the future! Research has shown that it can take children up to 15 times to see a new food before they eventually try it so repeat exposure is important. Equally, don’t force your child. If they don’t want it on this occasion, respect that and reassure them that it wont be long until the next mealtime.
Snack time can also be the perfect opportunity for a ‘treat’, they don’t always have to be homemade or super nutritious. The key is to make sure your children take time to appreciate them as part of a wholesome, balanced diet; this will underpin healthy, lifelong eating behaviours.
Of course, I am not advocating junk food at every twist and turn but a few biscuits will do no harm, especially if you offer them with some fruit and a nice cold glass of milk – my kids love dunking their cookies in!
Providing a well balanced, nutritious snack will avoid energy slumps and encourage healthy eating habits.
Making healthy snacks fun
Research has shown that children are more likely to try foods that appeal to them. Unfortunately, however, 27% of British parents report that they struggle to find exciting recipes to tempt their children and over half have given up on trying to get them to eat their ‘5 a day’! These are worrying statistics that appear to be fuelling the mass market for overly processed foods.
Whilst I don’t advocate that parents create ‘forbidden’ foods, there is evidence that this usually backfires, healthy, nutritious food can be great fun!
Here are my top ‘go to’ snacks that are creative and nutritious as well as being quick and easy to prepare.
Crispy frozen banana
Cut a banana in to 4 chunks, coat it with Greek yogurt, roll it in some rice crispies. Serve immediately or freeze for later (let it thaw a little after freezing).
These little balls of energy are a great boost for kids (and adults)! Get the recipe here.
Take a wholemeal pitta and top it with whatever veggies you like (I used broccoli, peppers and tomatoes for a colourful variety). Top with cheese, grill for a few minutes then serve.
Chicken and avocado toast
Toast some slices of sourdough bread, top with smashed avocado and some sliced, cooked chicken. Add a squeeze of lime and voila!
Fruit and cheese kebabs
Kids love different shapes so these really appeal. Take a small cookie cutter and cut out some cheese and fruit shapes (most fruits will work well). Thread them on a skewer and serve.
Take some frozen fruit (I used pineapple and banana), add some Greek yogurt and a touch of honey then whizz in a blender until smooth. Put them in individual containers and freeze.
These are a really simple and fun snack that can be adapted according to your child’s preferences. You can also get them involved – see how I involved my son Luca here.
Cookies and milk
Cookies don’t have to be overly processed or full of sugar! Here is my recipe for yummy cherry, oaty cookies that are great with a glass of milk.
Carrot hummus and homemade tortilla crisps
Adding carrot to humus is a great way of increasing the fibre content and adding a hint of sweetness. Boil a large, chopped carrot until tender, mash and then stir in to a pot of humus. Serve with some homemade tortilla chips (I made mine by cutting tortilla wraps in to triangles and baking for 10 minutes – super simple)!
Cinnamon apple delight
Thinly slice some apple slices and put them in a baking dish. Top generously with oats, ground almonds and cinnamon then bake until crispy. Serve warm with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Greek yogurt topped with fruit and nuts
Spoon some Greek yogurt in to a bowl, add some fruit of your choice (I use frozen raspberries and blackberries; my kids see this a real treat) then sprinkle with chopped nuts. You can also add a drizzle of honey.
There are, of course, many more options and variations that you could try but I hope these ideas are enough to get you started. Get in to the routine and say goodbye to frustrating meal times forever.
This was brought to you by Rebecca Flannery, Evidence Based Nutritionist.