What's lacking in snacking? Simple. Recognition on the part of most parents that it's not an inherently bad behaviour. In fact, intermittent eating—snacking—is characteristic of young children.
“Young children should be eating every two to two and a half hours,” says children’s fitness expert Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio of Adelphi University. “So snacking is not only not bad, it’s important.”
The challenge is to meet those needs in a healthy way; to ensure that the frequent meals children demand consist of foods they should be eating. That’s not nearly as hard to do as many parents might think. Here are some tips:
- Be prepared for the snack attack: We adults tend to think in terms of eating three meals a day with fairly long intervals in between. Not children. They’re programmed to eat 4-5 smaller meals per day. So be prepared: Have handy and healthy snacks in the fridge ready to go.
- Balance those snacks: “Snack” foods have become synonymous with “junk” foods, in many people’s minds. That’s wrong: Children need to eat a variety of wholesome, healthy foods for their snacks: Veggie platters, yogurt mixers, finger sandwiches, fruit…these are all good snack choices. Indeed, there are many healthy snacks you can prepare easily…and some you can buy right off the grocer’s shelves.
- (Some) sweets for the sweet: Mix in sweet snacks sparingly throughout the week; once or twice will do
- Don’t get jangled by jags: So-called “food jags”—when a child seems to obsessively eat only one food, again and again—may seem a bit bizarre to adults, but it’s actually a fairly common behaviour among children, 2-6. “Let them run through the cycle of eating the same thing every day,” Dr. Virgilio recommends. “Bring back other foods in smaller increments, until they’re back to a normal, balanced diet.”
- Make snacking fun: Dress up the snacks with colour, designs and themes (especially on holidays or birthdays.)
And above all, keep ’em tasty, keep ’em healthy. There are healthy snack choices you can buy: Snack-sized applesauces, for example, or fruit-flavored yogurt in cup or drinkable form. But here are some suggestions for other, homemade snacks that will you only a few minutes to prepare and that your child will love:
Meet the snack attacks with these delicious, nutritious—and easy-to-prepare—mini-meals:
Apple Tuna Spread: Here’s an easy to make, healthy snack combining healthy foods that kids love. Take 6 ½-ounce can of drained tuna fish, one small, chopped apple, a quarter cup of vanilla yogurt, one teaspoon mustard and one teaspoon of honey—mix it all up well and then serve on a half piece of grain bread. (You can also use this as a dip, using celery and carrot sticks).
Hummdinger: Exposing children to healthy ethnic dishes is a great way to expand their repertoire of healthy foods. The dish here is hummus—a delicious, nutritious chickpea paste available in different flavors in most supermarkets. Serve with cut-up carrot sticks or celery that can be used for dipping.
Smoothylicious for One: Sometimes, kids can drink their snack: Mix a quarter cup of vanilla yogurt, half a banana, two-three medium strawberries six ounces of pineapple juice (add chopped ice for a frosty smoothie, if desired). Blend for one minute and then serve.
Nutty Nana: Peel a medium-sized banana, put peanut butter on top, then cut small pieces of marshmallow and put on top of the peanut butter. This snack has a little of everything: Protein (from the peanut butter), fiber, potassium, vitamins (from the banana)…and oh yes, good taste.
Trees In the Forest: There's no law saying that healthy snacking shouldn't be fun, original or creative. Here's an idea that will spark your children's imagination, as well as their taste buds: First prepare a dip, using a quarter cup of yogurt, a quarter cup of low-fat sour cream, two teaspoons of honey and two teaspoons of brown mustard. Pour into a serving dish: Then, place two peeled, cut carrots upright about a half-inch apart (These are the trunks of the “trees”). Next, take the florets (the dark green tops) of 2-3 pieces of broccoli and balance them between the two carrots (these are the “branches and leaves”). You can make several of these “trees” for your “forest.” To enjoy, pick off the florets and dip ’em into the sauce.
Cranberry Cooler: This is a healthy alternative to a carbonated cold beverage, that you can serve children with their snacks: Mix four ounces of Cranberry juice, three ounces of orange juice and two ounces of seltzer. It’s cold, delicious and a real thirst quencher.
Remember—these are healthy, easily made snacks with readily available ingredients. They’re well worth the modest investment of time, especially when you consider the payoff: The development of healthy snacking and eating habits for your child…habits that can last a lifetime!
Article by John Hanc, fitness writer for Newsday in New York and author of five books on fitness-related topics, with Dr. Stephen J. Virgilio, youth fitness expert and professor at Adelphi University in Garden Ctiy, New York.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.