Smart Snacking for Kids

Smart Snacking for Kids

Author -  Kate Morland, Nutritionist

Children are going through rapid stages of growth and healthy snacks are a great way to provide them with an energy top-up over the day. However the availability of high sugar and high fat snack foods is growing faster than you can say “stop the junk!” At the same time there is growing pressure to make your kids snacks fun and nutritious! Quick and easy tips are at your fingertips to get you one step ahead.

Children are growing fast! They need fuel throughout the day to help them concentrate in school and be active in the playground. In addition to their three regular meals, kids often require small snacks between meals; however these snacks shouldn’t replace a meal nor provide “empty calories”!

Unfortunately, for too many kids, snacking means a lot of extra “empty calories” from sugar and fat. In addition to increasing the risks of childhood obesity, unhealthy snacks can put your kids at risk for cavities, especially if they are eating foods like fruit snacks or candy.

A recent study in the US looking at changes in food consumption between 1977 and 2006, found that children increased their energy intake from snacks by an average of 168 calories (706kJ) per day. Children aged 2 to 6 year reported the largest increase consuming an additional 181 calories (760 kJ) per day during snack time compared with two decades earlier. Overall snacks provide 27% of U.S. children’s daily energy intake (1).

So how can we make snacking healthy and easy?

  • Create limits around snack choices and serving sizes. You could get your kids to make up a poster of healthy snacks they will eat and stick it to the fridge so they can be reminded of their options.
  • Be prepared and stock up on nutritious snack options e.g for the pantry, car or when travelling. Individual packs of rice crackers or dried fruit and nut mixes are perfect as they don’t deteriorate.
  • Set a regular snack time and not too close to main meals
  • Aim to limit “empty calorie” snacks to ‘treat’ times. You could also make a poster of these less nutritious snacks and examples of celebration or treat times they can be enjoyed.
  • Snacks can be mini servings from meals e.g. mini slices of quiche or pizza

Get creative in the kitchen

  • Fruit – cut up colourful combinations into shapes or thread on to toothpicks.
  • Veggie sticks – slice thinly and serve with cottage cheese or hummus or a low fat dip
  • Frozen pottles of yoghurt will be deliciously slushy for school
  • Frozen fruit is delicious on its own, mixed into smoothies or served with yoghurt
  • Mini sandwiches – Spread with marmite, peanut butter, banana or jam, cut into triangles or shapes or roll up like a scroll.
  • Cubes of cheese and grainy crackers
  • Scroggin mix – unsalted nuts, seeds, dried fruit (high in energy so limit to ¼ cup)
  • Fruit and nut muesli bars
  • Mini fruit muffins or sliced fruit loaf
  • Popcorn made with a little drizzle of oil or low fat spread
  • Rice crackers & a yummy tomato salsa or avocado guacamole
  • Ice blocks made with diluted 100% fruit juice
  • Smoothies made with fruit, low fat yoghurt and added fibre

What about drinks?

What your child has to drink is also important. Many kids drink juice, fizzy drinks, or fruit drinks when they have their daily snack, which can greatly increase the amount of calories they are getting at snack time. Instead, limit your child to drinking water, low-fat or fat-free milk, and diluted 100% fruit juice. Add fruit cubes and ice or freeze a bottle overnight so its chilled for the school day.

(1) Piernas, C & Popkin, B (2010). Trends in snacking among U.S. children. Health Affairs. 29 (3): 398-404