Snacking is beginning to get a bit of a bad name these days. Over the past couple of decades, kid’s diets have seen snacks take on more and more of a significant role. Sadly, the increasing role of snacking has been met with a delayed increase in attention from many parents. Dinner is still the main event and it is where our focus lies.
The dinner table is where we try to educate our kids about food and trying to get nutritious fodder into our unappreciative dinners that would rather be eating beige food in front of the telly! There is a lot of pressure at the dinner table these days. Snacking is often something that our kids pester us about (sometimes whilst they are actually eating their dinner!) and is met with quick, easy (unhealthy), on demand fixes.
But life does not have to be this way. Snacking has crept into our lives and is not going to go away. Yes, many cultures don’t even have a word for snacking, but it has a firm food hold in most Western diets so let’s us it to our advantage. The key to successful snacking comes down to controlling two main aspects; frequency and content.
Expert opinion these days advises that kid’s diets should follow a “3 + 2” structure. That is three meals per day with two snacks acting as a stepping stones between these meals. No snacks should be offered within one hour of meal times. Kids love a bit of structure in their lives and to implement this rule it should be explained to the family and agreed upon. One of the best parts about this strategy is that it releases some of the pressure at the dinner table. As parents, we are all stress about our kids getting the nutrients that there require to grow healthily and it is easy to become blinkered and try to do this all in one sitting at the dinner table… “please, eat you veg or you won’t grow up to be big and strong!”. If a child has had two other meals and two snacks during the day then this eases the pressure a bit, it allows parents to take a big picture approach to nutrition and know that their child is not going to become malnourished if they don’t finish all their dinner.
So, if we can master the structure and the frequency then all we need to do is conquer the content. “I want a snack”… Those words can instil fear into many parents, especially if we are caught out and about with little to offer and an impending meltdown on the cards if we cant (quite literally) pull something out of the bag. Sometimes, a degree of panic can set in for me at home with a fully stocked kitchen, the mind just goes blank. The good news is that when it comes to snacks the important part is not necessarily what you feed but more what you teach and with a little planning the process can become virtually stress free (I stress “virtually”!). First of all we need a little mind set check. “Snack” is an event. A stepping stone between two meals. Snack does not mean treat. Snacks should be real food.
This is not the part where we get out the big “no sugar” drum! Hell no.
Experts like the sociologist Dina Rose PhD would argue that there are no good foods and no bad foods as long as your diet has the right balance of proportion, variety and moderation. Kids can eat biscuits, cake and sugary crap and are actually more likely to crave that stuff later in life if they are refused it now so add it to your snack list… and you should have a snack list! This is key to controlling snacks and, more importantly, making parents lives easier. I love a list and my snack list is one of my favourites but what use is a list of great healthy snacks is our kids always beg for the same ones? They will always opt for the biscuits and sugary crap options… they are kids!
So, first of all, create your list.
Snack time is a great opportunity to introduce new and different foods to kids away from the dinner table so use the opportunity to try different fruits and veg, whole wheat crackers, different cheeses, nuts and leftovers… anything you like and don’t get stressed if they get rejected, just keep trying. Feel free to mix up sweet snack with healthy snacks. Try making a simple chocolate sauce and keep it in the fridge and let kids dip fruit into it. This is all well and good but what do we do if our kids just keep pestering us for the things we don’t want to serve them? Solution: get another list! Warning: this does take a bit of planning once a week but after this you can put your feet up! Make a list of around six snack items that you are able to serve during the coming week. Draw pictures if it helps the kids understand. The rules are simple. You can pick anything off the list for a snack (at the pre-determined time) as long as you have not eaten it within the last day. If you had a biscuit yesterday, no biscuit for you today. And if they choose something every other day and it runs out then that is it, sold out buddy!
So that is it.
Used wisely, snack can be stress free and a great way to introduce variety and get nutritious food into our kids. Implementing regular snack options gives kids structure and rules that they can follow and giving them choice (albeit controlled) gives them control that they will appreciate.
To find out more about snacking, how to be a Snacktivist and for a list of go to snack, check out http://progressivefamilyfood.c
Neil Welsh blogs at www.progressivefamilyfood.com. Check it out for more information, inspiration and implementation tips about how to win the battles with your fussy eater!