Snacks to have healthy, not hangry kids!

When I greet Sam from school the first word he says to me is snack. I joke I should change my name to snack as it is what I get called most of the time. Snacking is an important part of their day and a good opportunity for us to top them up with nutrients.  Smaller tummies can’t handle big meals and with food fussiness or your child simply having an off day, main meals can often lack balance. 

So, what makes a good snack? 
Well in Sam’s opinion, snacks that are “treaty” are the best but the poor guy has landed a dietitian for a Mum so he accepts that they have to be healthy sometimes too! There is a place for treat-based snacks that offer little nutritional value because there’s more to food than nutrition.  However, it’s important these don’t outweigh the nutritious options that can provide us with a valuable chance to top up on things like fibre, calcium or vitamins.  However, the snack aisles can be hard to navigate, as we search for things that will be well received by them and approved by us.  There is so much choice and many different occasions in which we use snacks.  The graphic below shows, it can be helpful to think about what the snack is for, to then help you make a good choice that ticks all the boxes.  

How many snacks should we give? 
We need to remember that we are raising humans and not sheep(!), so constantly grazing and moving from one snack to the next is not ideal, even if we need to distract them sometimes or they insist that they are not going to survive until dinner! It is important they build up an appetite for meals and learn that snacks are not the answer if they’re bored - such a valuable lesson to grasp early on, to help forge healthy eating habits later in life. Manage their expectations by teaching them that the snack has a beginning and an end and what portion size is right for them. 

Snacks should form part of a regular meal routine by offering them between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner so that children aren’t going longer than about 3 hours without something to eat. 

The benefit of fruit and veg 
It’s a good rule of thumb to make one of the two snacks offered per day a piece of fruit to help your kids reach their 5 a day. Offer as much variety of fruit and veg as you can to keep their gut bacteria happy too ?. This is where dried or tinned fruits can be useful – to provide choices that you might not buy fresh.  There is no specific guidance on portion size for children when it comes to fruit, as amounts will increase with age but what they can hold in their cupped hand is a useful guide. More information on fruit and veg portions, and ones that counts as one of your five, can be found here 

Fruit provides vital vitamins as well as a source of fibre. Fruits and veg are also rich in phytochemicals – disease fighting compounds that protect our bodies, for example polyphenols. These are not nutrients as such, but really important for protecting our cells from damage. They are always found in decent quantities in plant- based foods; without legs plants can’t run away from danger meaning they need to have the best defences against infection and disease – if it protects them, it also protects us.  Fruit is a great snack to keep visible around your home, as the power of what we see in our environment often subconsciously influences the food choices we make. Try placing the fruit bowl between the kitchen and the front door to boost intakes.

Finally when it comes to snacking, take a birds eye view of the week – if 80% of the time the snacks have been nutritious then that’s a great achievement. Off for the school run now, I’m sure Sam will be really pleased to see me, I mean snack!