"Don't eat that, you'll spoil your appetite." If only you had a dollar for every time you heard that growing up.
But if the right foods are offered at the right times, snacks can play an important role in managing kids' hunger and boosting nutrition. A well-timed snack can even out spikes in hunger and provide a much-needed energy boost between meals.
Snacks can keep younger children from getting so hungry that they become cranky, and they can keep older kids from overeating at larger meals. And for picky eaters of all ages, snacks can be added insurance that they're getting the necessary nutrients.
This doesn't mean that giving your child a cupcake half an hour before dinner is suddenly a good idea. The best snacks are nutritious — low in sugar, fat, and salt. Fresh fruit and vegetables and foods that contain whole grains and protein are also good choices.
But it's not just about what you offer as a snack — it's how much you serve and when. Pay attention to portion sizes and timing of snacks so they don't interfere with a child's appetite for the next scheduled meal.
Kids who are allowed to graze all day long often have a hard time figuring out when they're truly hungry — one key to maintaining a healthy weight in childhood and later in life. A structured meal and snack schedule is one solution. You offer the meals and snacks at the same times each day, and your kids can decide what they want to eat and how much.
Snacks and Toddlers
Toddlers may not eat much at a sitting and they often get hungry before the next meal. At this age, kids may need to eat five or six times a day — three meals and two to three snacks.
There are two common "snack pitfalls" to avoid with toddlers because once done, they can be hard to undo:
- using sweets to reward good behavior, which sends the message that desserts are somehow better or more valuable than other foods, and can start a pattern of unhealthy eating
- pacifying kids with a snack just before a meal, which can decrease their hunger and make them less willing to try new foods at the table
Scheduled snacks served at the same times every day give kids a sense of control and also establish that snacks are available only at certain times. Offer two or three nutritious options and let kids choose. Try:
- low-sugar, whole-grain breakfast cereals
- cut-up fruit (if pieces are small and soft enough to avoid choking)
- graham crackers
- cheese slices cut into fun shapes
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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