Whether parents like it or not, snacking happens. Sure, some of us oldies might remember back when nutrition was all about “three squares and nothing in between,” but since the 1970s, snacking between meals has increasingly become the accepted norm — especially with kids.
According to a report in the journal Health Affairs, American children snack an average 3 times a day for 27% of their total daily caloric intake.
Most of those snacks are dessert foods, soda, and other sugary drinks, creating a weird bit of irony because even though kids now have more opportunities to eat, they’re getting less nutrition.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — which examines the health and diet of Americans — showed that kids aged 2 to 11 have a low intake of mission-critical nutrients fiber, vitamin D, and calcium.
This discovery, in turn, resulted in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) listing these three things among the “nutrients of concern” for Americans aged 2 and older.
The good news is that parents can do something about this.
Snacks Versus Three Meals a Day
Kids are notoriously picky eaters, especially when it comes to fruits and veggies. Evidence of this is a CDC report showing 93% of kids do not eat enough veggies and 60% didn’t eat enough fruit to meet USDA daily recommendations.
(In case you missed the memo, those recommendations work out to about 5 to 7 servings of fruits and veggies a day.)
Sure, you can try to force the little punks to eat all those greens at dinner — but we all know how that turns out. (I remember an especially epic duel with my dad when I was 7 over a mound of boiled broccoli that put me off cruciferous veggies — and into therapy — for years.)
Instead, give your kids as many opportunities to eat fruits and veggies as possible. Access to healthy snacks gives kids more chances to fill their recommended produce quota.
If you’re worried that adding snacks to your kids’ eating schedule promotes overeating, don’t be. Research indicates it’s not that simple.
A study in the journal Appetite suggested that while letting Junior free graze without restriction can lead to overeating, so can being over-restrictive, since it can drive them to eat more when they’re finally given access to food.
In the study, a “moderate level of restriction” leads to the best results calorically.
In other words, a gentle, guiding hand probably works better than an iron fist when it comes to advising your kids on snacking.
What Are Good Snacks for Kids?
In a magical alternative universe, you’d just set out an apple and a carrot and your job would be done.
Unfortunately, here on planet earth, feeding kids is slightly more complex than feeding a horse.
While fruits and veggies should be major players in the snacking game, there are other nutrients to consider — produce isn’t a great source of vitamin D — and balanced snacks tend to be more satisfying, which in turn helps with overeating.
So while there’s nothing wrong with giving your kids a piece of fruit, giving them a combo of carbs, protein, and fats will really dial up the nutrition.
A few ways to upgrade snacktime might be baby carrots with hummus or apple slices with cheese chunks. Other options include yogurt with strawberries or celery sticks with peanut butter.
Snacking isn’t going out of fashion any time soon — and that’s a good thing.
Instead of cringing every time your kids ask for something to eat during off hours or letting them graze on garbage day long, take the opportunity to dial in their eating and give them the opportunity to fill up on the nutrients they need.