My now 4 and a half year old daughter started preschool about 3 years ago. I vividly remember a few months after she started preschool, it was time for our afternoon snack and I told her that carrots and hummus were on the menu. She looked at me and said, “that’s not a snack food, mommy.” It took me a minute to realize what she meant (it wasn’t the usual cheeze-its, crackers, goldfish, graham crackers that she was used to getting now for snack at school), and I knew I needed to shift what we thought about when we focus on a snack.
WHAT IS A SNACK?
I like to think of a snack as a mini meal, we eat it in between larger meals to satisfy our hunger. For some children a snack might be the same amount of food as an actual meal. I tend to think about meals as containing 3 to 4 food groups, where a snack might contain only 1 to 2 food groups. Often our snacks are eaten on the go so it’s helpful if these are convenient. I really like when a snack contains 2 food groups because it helps with satisfaction and satiation.
HOW CAN WE THINK ABOUT SNACKS?
It seems that today the idea of a snack consists of something from the “snack cabinet” – like packaged crackers, chips, cookies, bars. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against these foods, and I believe they have a place in what we are all eating BUT these do not have to be the only foods we offer for snacks. If we remember a snack is a smaller version of a meal, we can choose to offer any food that we like.
REFRAMING OUR THINKING AROUND SNACKS
If this whole idea sounds foreign to you, but you are intrigued, I invite you to work on creating a better snack plan with your family. This might start by sitting together with the family and talking about snacks. If you have a younger child, this might mean you as a parent sitting down and deciding on a snack. At first you may be met with some resistance (I know I was). I spoke with my daughter about snacks and how all different types of foods can be part of our snack. I recommend parents follow the division of responsibility with snack time: meaning parents are responsible for providing the food, and children decide how much and whether to eat that food. This does not mean only providing carrots and veggies and what we might consider healthy or nutritious options at every snack, but it means providing a balance, and not having every snack be cheese-its, goldfish, etc. Do you see the difference? It’s about consideration but not catering. I have heard from some parents that their child goes into tantrum mode when they don’t provide whatever the child wants. Here are some phrases I like to use:
“That’s not on the menu right now, but we’ll have that with our afternoon snack/dinner/tomorrow.”
“I hear that you really wanted some graham crackers, but right now we are having cheese and carrots. Would you like to help me add graham crackers to our snack for tomorrow?”
Another reason I love having some sort of meal plan written out is that it helps us as parents stick to providing what we say we are going to provide. As your child gets older you can talk about “what’s on the menu” and when they ask for something you are not providing, show them the menu!
LET’S TALK ABOUT THE ACTUAL SNACK
If you have been following my blog, you know I am a fan of meal planning. With this comes snack planning too. I like to break down my snacks into 3 categories:
Packaged snacks: great for ready-to-go, no prep needed
Prepared snacks: fruit, veggies, PB crackers, canned veggies, frozen fruit, quesadilla… something you may have to prepare, but it’s relatively easy to prepare and take on the go.
Make-ahead snacks: these are things like home-made muffins, cookies, oat balls, etc. Something that might require some time to prepare, but I can pack some nutrition into these and once made, they can be frozen and taken on the go.
When you think about providing the snack, think about: varying the above snacks, and trying to include a protein or healthy fat with a snack. Why? It helps with satiation and satisfaction. This tip can be extremely helpful for children at school where they need to come to school with a snack. When you can try to focus on multiple food groups, it can help a child feel more full.
NOW, LET’S GET INTO IT!
If you search on Pinterest for kids snack ideas, you will find a TON of information. In this post, I want to share with you some of our favorite snacks. Since my girls are at preschool and tend to get a lot of the packaged snacks at school, the snacks I provide at home tend to be more of the prepared or make-ahead snacks. Here are some of my current favorites from all 3 categories:
Packaged snacks: Cheerios, Pirates Booty, HIPPEAS puffs (chick pea puffs), raisins, Bamba (peanut butter puffs), freeze dried fruit and vegetables (Trader Joe’s a very wide selection), trail mix, pretzels, Goldfish, Made Good (allergy friendly snacks), RX bars.
Prepared snacks: apples, bananas, grapes, pear, peach, plum, mango, pineapple (fresh or frozen), carrots, cucumber, red pepper, zucchini, dips like hummus, black bean dip, lentil dip, frozen peas, frozen corn, yogurt, nut butter, peanut butter and jelly, quesadilla, sunbutter and jelly rolled in a tortilla, cuties, cheese, applesauce, berries, tomatoes (grape or cherry), canned black beans, canned olives.
Make-ahead snacks: Zucchini chocolate chip muffins, baked blueberry oat bars, date and oat balls, green juice cookies, chickpea cookies, monster cookies (and search my blog for “snacks” to find more).
As I mentioned earlier, I like to combine a couple of food groups where I can. For example, I will serve hummus with veggies, or fruit with nut butter, avocado with crackers… you get the idea.
WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
Like much of feeding, so much of this comes down to planning and preparing. My motto is always to make things are easy as possible. If you are serving a significant amount of snacks at home, the night before, write out what you plan to provide. When you go to the grocery store think about the snacks you will provide. Create some sort of snack rotation so you aren’t offering the same snacks every day and getting may be diving into a food jag.
You’ve got this.