To snack or not to snack?
For littlies, snacking is especially important, due to the size of their stomachs and their rapid rate of growth during childhood. Leaving large gaps between meals can also lead to erratic blood sugar levels, leaving little ones lethargic and irritable or over hungry for their next meal. When well planned, healthy snacks can help children to meet their nutrition requirements. And despite what many parents believe, correct portions provided at appropriate times between the main meals won’t ruin appetites and cause them to refuse what is being served at the following meal.
One thing to keep in mind is that there is a huge difference between a snack and a ‘snack food’. The definition of snack is ‘A small amount of food eaten between meals’, however a lot of the foods marketed as ‘snack foods’, particularly those aimed at children are not ‘every day’ foods. Healthy snacking comes predominantly from wholefoods, with minimal processing and packet foods, which are often loaded with salt, sugar and saturated fats, lack protein, vitamins and minerals.
How to help your kids to snack well
It is important for children to be able to recognise the feelings of mild hunger so that they are able to establish the feeling of fullness to maintain a healthy weight throughout life. An established meal and snack routine can help with this and be more effective than allowing constant grazing throughout the day. Children who have large snacks in between meals or are grazers are also more likely to show signs of food fussiness due to a lack of appetite at meals, decreasing the likelihood of trying new foods or consuming less enjoyed foods, such as vegetables. For toddlers, aiming for 4-5 small, nutritious meals per day rather than specified meals and snacks may work well and for school aged kids, 1-2 snacks are usually sufficient, with one snack usually consumed at a school snack break and a small snack after school.
A lot of parent’s battle with afternoon tea interfering with children’s appetite for dinner and find that afternoon snacking will result in a decreased food intake, while on the other hand avoiding snacks completely in the afternoon can lead to a disgruntled and ‘trying’ tot by the time dinner is served. Bringing the dinner meal forward to 4-5pm, whether it be what is on the menu for the whole family or a portion of leftovers from the night before, can be a good way to ensure your littlie eats a nutritious dinner each night and becomes familiar with family flavours. Regardless of whether serving a meal or a snack, try to get your child to sit down at the table or breakfast bar rather than eating in front of the television so that they are able to eat without distractions.
Examples of snacks
When choosing snacks, try looking at your child’s overall food intake and base their food snack on something that may be able to fill a possible nutrient gap. For example, if your little one is light on vegetables, some steamed vegetable sticks with hommus, a vegetable based soup or some avocado on toast could work well, while if they aren’t eating a lot of protein, some baked beans or zucchini slice may be a great option.
Vegetable based snacks
- Corn on the cob
- Avocado based dip with grainy crackers
- Vegetable sticks and cheese cubes or hommus
Protein based snacks
- Zucchini slice
- Boiled eggs
- Mini meat balls
- Baked beans
- Fruit and nut balls
Dairy based snacks
- Sliced apple and cheese
Fruit based snacks
- Plain fresh or frozen fruit
- Blended frozen banana ‘ice cream’
- Fruit kebab with yoghurt dipping sauce
Grain based snacks
- Homemade wholemeal muffins
- French toast
- Mini pikelets
- Toddler tapas – create a share plate for a few littlies with some chopped fruit, cheese cubes, a few vegetable sticks or steamed vegetable slices, wedges of egg, grainy crackers and a vegetable based dip or hommus. They can then choose which of the foods from the plate they would like to have and hopefully try something new.
- Leftovers are often one of the most overlooked snacks, however a great and nutritious option. You can use parts of last night’s meal to make a snack, for example, use some Bolognese mince on a small piece of toast or some leftover pasta topped with a few cherry tomatoes and a sprinkle of cheese.
Treat foods / snacks – where do these belong?
Discretionary foods are those which don’t belong in the core food groups and if offered at all, should only be included in small amounts on odd occasions, such as birthdays.
These include cakes, biscuits, chips and yoghurt coated muesli bars and while they may seem convenient, these condition little taste buds to look for salty or sugary foods and can lead to food fussiness. Be mindful that a lot of sweetened drinks, including soft drink, cordial and flavoured milk can also contain a similar energy content to a snack, whilst being nutrient poor and containing a whole days’ worth of sugar. Pair snacks with a glass of water or a glass of plain milk on occasion.
One of the main concerns of these foods is the sugar content, with the most recent sugar guidelines, released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggesting that no more than 10% of the total daily energy come from sugar, with a reduction to below 5% even more beneficial. This equates to around ideally less than 4 up to a maximum of 8 teaspoons for a 3 year old. Many snack foods are also high in sodium (salt), which can be a strain on immature kidneys, with the recommended daily intake (RDI) for a 1-3 year old toddler sitting at 200-400mg/day.
Popular snacks – how much sugar / salt is in that?
- Yoghurt/chocolate coated muesli bar (2-3 teaspoons sugar)
- Mini packet of savoury biscuits (65% of the median RDI for sodium)
- 45g packet original chips (85% of the median RDI for sodium)
- Fruit puree twist bar – (3.5 teaspoons sugar)
- Small cupcake with icing – (4 teaspoons sugar)
- Pop top bottle, no added sugar fruit juice – (5.5 teaspoons sugar)
- Cup of instant noodles – (3.5 x the median RDI for sodium)
- 375mL can soft drink (10 teaspoons sugar)