Today’s guest blogger is Dr Jennifer Cohen, a paediatric dietitan, foodie & mum to 2. Dr Jen is a leader in kid’s nutrition, helping busy families feel less stressed at mealtimes & giving kids the best start in life. Check out her Ultimate Guide to Kids and Snacks below to learn everything you need to know about kids & snacking.

Do Kids Need Snacks?

This is probably the question that needs answering first. When I was growing up, we didn’t really get snacks. Besides the occasional piece of fruit, snacks were not something I remember having much when we were out. Granted my memory is shocking, so maybe I did get snacks but just cannot remember!

We have all heard that kids need regular meals and snacks throughout the day as their tummy’s are little. Did you know that French Kid’s rarely have snacks? When I was looking at the research for this article, I could not find any great research saying either way that your kids need to snack during the day for health. There was some studies showing that kid’s who ate snacks were more likely to be obese and some studies said the opposite.

How Many Snacks are Kids Having?

Although the research is not giving us an answer either way, I am not sure, we do know that kids are snacking more than they used to and the snacks are not always healthy choices. A recent study of Australian children found that almost half of their daily energy intake came from discretionary food, otherwise known as junk food. These snacks are high in sugar, bad fat, simple carbohydrates, salt and are highly processed.

Children are also having 168 more calories from snacks than they did in the 1970s and this is coming from 3 or more snacks a day. It was interesting that this large study found that when kids snacked they didn’t then eat smaller meals.

Why do we Give Snacks?

A great book called French Kids eat Everything, talks about how French kids rarely snack, yet American Kid’s do. I love this quote from the book:

If asked, many American parents would prefer to give something unhealthy to their kids rather than make them wait. If French children are hungry, on the other hand, they are simply promised that they’ll be able to eat well at the next meal. (p. 147)

OK, so that sounds harsh, but I find this to be a little bit true. I wonder if parents give snacks as they don’t like thinking their child might be hungry. Yes I know the whinging can get us all down and no one likes a “hangry” toddler, but this can be a little true.

I have been guilty of giving my kids something to eat in the car, to keep them quiet on a car trip. Think about why you give your kid’s snacks. Is it because you are worried they will be hungry, is it a way to show love (this is very true of grandparents), or is it because you worry they are not eating enough food?

Hunger is OK

Yes I agree that kid’s tummies are small, but that doesn’t mean they need to be eating all day. In fact there is nothing wrong with being hungry. Our job when our kids are young is to teach them how to be good eaters when they are older. This also means teaching them hunger and fullness. We need to let our kids get hungry and then teach them that hunger is OK. This will help your child to be able to control what they eating when they get older so they don’t overeat.

What Do I Do?

If you have been reading my blogs for a while you will know that I have 3 year old and 5 year old very active boys. On the days that they are home with me, they really only get one snack a day. As my kid’s are early rises, breakfast is usually between 7-8am so I will give them a couple of snacks at around 10am. This is usually a couple of items and could include some fruit, veggie sticks, cheese, fruit and nuts and the occasional bliss ball or banana muffin. Lunch is around 12.30 and then they might not eat until dinner at 5.30. If they have swimming or something in the afternoon they may get some nuts or some fruit but that is not every afternoon.

So by dinner my boys are really hungry and will then eat a big dinner! I can tell when my kids have had too much to eat in the afternoon as they don’t eat much dinner, especially my toddler who is only just now growing out of his fussy phase!

What Can you Do about your Kids and Snacks?

I promise I am not saying that you have to cut out snacks for your kid’s. Instead it is good to look at this time as a way of helping your child to eat more fruit and vegetables.  We all know how hard it is to get your kids eating any veggies at dinner time, so it is almost impossible for many parents to get their kids to eat the recommended serves of veg.

What I suggest to parents is to use snack time as a way of giving their kids veggies and fruit throughout the day. Make the snacks veggie or fruit based. Cut up veggie sticks, use cut up pieces of fruit, take slices of frittata or zucchini slice. Give your child pieces of corn cob or snow peas and cherry tomatoes. Make green smoothies with spinach, serve vegetable dips. Basically avoid any foods in a packet!

What if My Kid’s Won’t Eat those Snacks?

It is OK for your kids not to eat these snacks but just let them know that this is the only option if they are hungry. Just remember it is OK for your kids to be hungry which means if they say no to the snacks you are providing them then they will just have to wait until the next meal.

Be consistent and over time your kids will realise that this is the only option. My kids are just like other kids. If there is crackers or a bread based snack, they are going to want to eat that first. So I don’t have that as an option and they realise if they are hungry they will eat the other snacks I have.

Dealing with the “HANGRY” Child

Another good tip for dealing with “hangr”y children is to have set snack and mealtimes and let your kids know that they cannot eat until the next meal or snack time. For example, breakfast in my family can be between 7am-8am but if my child then says they are hungry at 9am, I just let them know that snack time is not for another hour and they will just have to wait.

This would be the same for mid-morning snacks. Our snack time would be between 10am-1030am which means if they are hungry at 1130 I just let them know they have to wait about 30 minutes until the next meal. You can set your own mealtimes that suit your family but this is a great way to teach your kids about being OK with being hungry. This also lets them know when they can next have a meal.


Kids and Snacks Conclusion

  • Your kids can have snacks between meals and this is part of a normal diet.
  • Limit the snacks your kids are having espeically if it is close to mealtimes
  • It is OK for a kid to be hungry-tell your child that!
  • Base your snacks on fruit and vegetables (and protein)
  • Avoid packaged snacks
  • Have set meal and snack times

Want to learn more about kid’s nutrition? Head to Jen’s blog here .
Jen is also the creator of Calm & Happy Meal Time Solutions; an online course designed to help stressed out families at meal times. I’d highly recommend this course if you want to learn the tools to calmly manage your kid’s fussy eating behaviours. Find out more