In my home, we have the tendency to get a little hangry when there’s too much time between meals—adults and kids alike! Quite honestly, if I didn’t have a snack ready for my daughter at school pick-up, I worry she might actually kill me. And I know I’m not the only parent who experiences this. If this is your situation, or you’re just getting ready to introduce a snack into your kiddo’s food routine, here are a few snacktime suggestions to make your life easier!
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for snacktime.
We’ve all seen the memes on Instagram about kids asking for a different snack every hour. The truth is, not every child is going to need 2-3 snacks a day (just like some kids will sleep like perfect angels and others will make it their mission to deprive you of any semblance of normalcy for the next 18 years). It really depends on your child’s age, schedule and how much they eat at meals. A lot of the guidance out there (and food marketing) stresses 3 meals and 2-3 snacks a day, putting undue pressure on parents to have additional food at the ready. But that’s not the source of truth for every family.
In some households, you might have 2 big meals and 2 snacks, or 6 small meals a day. “Snacks” are simply a way to bridge the gaps between whatever meal schedule your family sticks to. Follow your child’s lead, adapt to changing schedules and aim to have them eating at regular intervals before they become overly hungry (this might be every 2-2.5 hours for a small child and every 3-4 for an older child). Your snack and meal schedules do not have to be rigid. If schedules are a little looser on the weekend, or maybe your child is having “a day,” it’s totally okay to snack more or less than usual!
Anything can be a snack.
Forget about what you think should be a snack and what should be a meal. Anything with nutritional value for your kiddo can be a snack if it’s served at snack time. Yup, that’s right—leftovers from breakfast or lunch (or last night’s dinner) can most certainly be a snack. One of my favorite things to do to reduce food waste is repurpose leftovers from a previous meal paired with something new for snacktime. For example, leftover french toast sticks from breakfast get topped with nut butter or avocado from lunch mashed on some toast. A snacktime glow up!
Serve snacks at mealtime.
In the same vein as the above, I suggest serving foods you think of as “snack foods” (think crackers, dried fruit, chips, dry cereal—whatever it is that you tend to snack on) during meal times. Kids may fixate on snacks if we reserve special foods for snack time only. But if meals and snacks look similar, snack foods will lose their allure (I recommend using this approach with dessert foods as well!). You do not need to do this at every meal, but think about adding it into your mealtime repertoire.
Give your child a choice at snacktime.
Within parameters you set, of course. This will help your child feel involved in the process and mitigate unwanted meltdowns—we all know toddlers love a little control. You can ask your child in the moment or get their input when you’re preparing food ahead of time. I suggest giving them a choice between a few options. For example, “Do you want cucumbers or peppers with your hummus?” or “Do you want leftover PB&J or a smoothie for snack after school?” Older, independent kids can choose from a designated *snack drawer* in the fridge and/or pantry, with options you’ve already selected for them!
In an ideal world, you want a snack that will deliver energy AND keep your kiddo from getting hangry before the next time they eat; it can be helpful to think of them as mini meals. When you can, try to plan snacks that have carbohydrates AND protein or fat. Examples: raisins and edamame, crackers with cheese, fruit with yogurt…the list goes on. One of my favorite snack options is Little Spoon Smoothies. These snacks get bonus points for portability when you’re on the go and they’ve reinvented some of my kiddo’s favorite, indulgent flavors with healthy, whole ingredients.