Kids are obsessed with snacking. For whatever reason, they would much prefer a handful of snacks instead of sitting down and eating a complete meal. Once my kids are finished with one snack, they ask for another. You may also have a toddler who won’t eat anything but snacks.
The snacks are playing an “important role in managing kids’ hunger and boosting nutrition,” according to Mary L. Gavin, MD. It’s not just about feeding them when they are bored. They need that extra nutrition to get through the day and continue to grow.
How do we make sure that they are getting healthy snacks? It’s up to us as caregivers to give kids the opportunity to choose a healthy snack over something that isn’t healthy.
DIY snack selection (with limitations)
We are told time and time again that kids thrive on structure and need boundaries. The same applies for what they are eating.
If we said, “Have whatever snack you want” and our kids went into the pantry and found a bag of potato chips, as parents, we would quickly tell them to find something different.
But we said, “Have whatever you want,” didn’t we?
What if we created a space that we just for kids and they could “have whatever they want”?
Some suggestions include:
1. Create a large snack box on a shelf, cabinet, or a kids snack drawer that is easily accessible (low to the ground and without a cabinet lock)
Only put snacks in that box that are parent-approved. Foldable fabric storage organizers work great for snack cabinet organization.
Some examples of snacks to put in the boxes are serving size portions of nuts, dried fruits, or healthy crackers. If you aren’t buying pre-portioned healthy packaged snacks, you can buy them in bulk and put into smaller bags or containers.
2. Have a tray or bowl of snacks in the refrigerator designated only for the kids
Trays that keep items separate will work. Items in these trays could include fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese sticks, and yogurt. You could also reserve a compartment in the refrigerator door for this as well.
The kids know that these spaces are theirs and whatever is within that space, they can have. This gives the caregiver and the child a bit of their own control. It also allows the child to act independently.
For children who are not quite old enough to grab their own snack, there are some other options:
3. Create a snacking board
When it’s snack time, portion a small amount of 3-4 different items. For example, a board with grapes, sliced apples, carrot sticks, cheese cubes, and nutcrackers. Let the younger ones choose their own snacks from the board. I like to give them their own clean plate and they can carefully pick which snacks they want and put them on their own plate.
Tip: Cut some of the food items into fun shapes by using cookie cutters or arrange the snacks into a funny face. If you need to prepare something ahead of time or need something on-the-go, bento boxes work really great, too.
4. Have a snack bowl on the counter or refrigerator
At the beginning of the day, pick 2 to 4 healthy snacks and put them in the bowl. When it’s time for a snack, show the child the bowl. Allow them to pick one of the snacks and put the bowl back on the counter/in the refrigerator. That is what’s available for the day and can be chosen from whenever it’s snack time.
Tip: Do you have snack leftovers? The food doesn’t need to go to waste if your child doesn’t eat it all. There are a few options. You can leave the snack out (or store it away if they are fridge snacks) and if your child gets hungry again, explain to them their snack is still available and that is their choice. You can also enjoy the snacks yourself and feel good about eating a healthy snack. Parents need energy, too! Or you can always add them to a big family-sized salad, vegetable side dish, stir-fry, or even fried rice (depending on what’s left over).
Eventually, your kids will get used to not having free reign of the pantry. Of course, it’s much easier for everyone when we all aren’t tempted by bad snacking choices. It’s not easy, but if we aim to make healthy snacking choices ourselves as adults, it will be much easier for the kids.
How do we prepare the best snacks for our kids?
While healthy snacks might take a bit more to prep, ultimately, they are the better choice for our kids’ well-being and development.
Here are some tips and ideas for providing healthy snacks for the entire family:
- Buy food in bulk. It’s more cost-effective to buy items in bulk than it is to buy individual packages. For example, you can buy healthy packaged snacks like a bag of nuts and portion them out into small reusable bags or ramekins.
- Spend time once a week preparing snacks. Take the time just once a week to portion out your snacks. For instance, when you buy a big block of cheese, slice it up into small kid-friendly pieces and put into an air-tight container to store in the fridge. Instead of having to slice off pieces at every snack time or every morning, now you can just grab from that container. Even better, you could pre-portion out into small bags, as well.
- Buy whole, fresh foods. This is a no-brainer, right? Some foods are already portioned for you and ready to eat. Apples, tangerines, and bananas are good examples.
- Skip the processed foods. While a package of fruit gummies might say “made with 100% fruit,” there are healthier options out there (like real fruit!). I guarantee your child will still be hungry after eating that package of gummies. Snacks are supposed to fuel their bodies and fill them up. An apple or handful of baby carrots will do that for your child. The fruit gummies will not.
- If possible, grow your own food. Kids love getting dirty! If you are in the right season and can grow your own food, I highly suggest doing it. Even if it’s just one single tomato plant, your kids will be amazed. My kids love going out to garden and picking their own handful of cherry tomatoes.
- Ask the kids for help. Ask your big kids for help with cutting up carrot sticks or washing grapes. Have them portion out a bag of nuts. Using a food scale is a great learning tool for our older kids and is just one way they can learn math concepts in the kitchen. Kids love being part of the process.
Be consistent and stick to it
I find one of the hardest parts about being a parent is being consistent. It’s also one of the most rewarding parts, though, too. When we stick to our guns and stay within the boundaries that we set, it’s going to result in a happier household.
Keep the unhealthy snacks out of sight and out of mind. Be a good example for your kids and eat healthy snacks as well. If they ask for something sweet or unhealthy, hold your ground and stick to the rules. There may be a time and place for those snacks, but they shouldn’t belong in our day-to-day eating habits.
Providing a healthy diet is one of the most important things we can do for our kids. Please reach out for help if you are ever questioning whether you can provide healthy meals and snacks for your kids. There are local resources available for families in need like food shelves, nutrition education resources, and food assistance.