"Don't eat that, you'll spoil your appetite." If only you had a dollar for every time you heard that growing up.
But if the right foods are offered at the right times, snacks can play an important role in managing kids' hunger and boosting nutrition. A well-timed snack can even out spikes in hunger and provide a much-needed energy boost between meals.
Snacks can keep younger children from getting so hungry that they become cranky, and they can keep older kids from overeating at larger meals. And for picky eaters of all ages, snacks can be added insurance that they're getting the necessary nutrients.
This doesn't mean that giving your child a cupcake half an hour before dinner is suddenly a good idea. The best snacks are nutritious — low in sugar, fat, and salt. Fresh fruit and vegetables and foods that contain whole grains and protein are also good choices.
But it's not just about what you offer as a snack — it's how much you serve and when. Pay attention to portion sizes and timing of snacks so they don't interfere with a child's appetite for the next scheduled meal.
Kids who are allowed to graze all day long often have a hard time figuring out when they're truly hungry — one key to maintaining a healthy weight in childhood and later in life. A structured meal and snack schedule is one solution. You offer the meals and snacks at the same times each day, and your kids can decide what they want to eat and how much.
Toddlers may not eat much at a sitting and they often get hungry before the next meal. At this age, kids may need to eat five or six times a day — three meals and two to three snacks.
There are two common "snack pitfalls" to avoid with toddlers because once done, they can be hard to undo:
Scheduled snacks served at the same times every day give kids a sense of control and also establish that snacks are available only at certain times. Offer two or three nutritious options and let kids choose. Try:
Control is still a key issue at this age, so preschoolers also might enjoy the chance to choose their snack from the options you present. The desire for sweets can be quite strong at this age, but you can avoid the struggles. Don't offer candy and cookies at snack time. You can decide not to stock them at all or, if you do, to keep them out of sight.
Preschoolers are just learning to label their feelings, and they'll often say "I'm hungry." But they could just be bored, tired, or in need of some attention. Figure out what your child really needs. It may be that some playtime with you or a change of scenery could end the cries of "I'm hungry." Also, when kids do need a snack, make sure it's eaten at the table and not in front of the TV.
Healthy snacks for preschoolers include:
With homework, activities, lessons, and sports, school-age kids are busier, and probably more independent, than ever. Some may still need three meals and two snacks per day — usually one mid-morning and one after school.
But the morning snack could become unnecessary depending on lunchtime at school and as kids get older. Talk with your kids to find out.
Unless you have an especially early dinner time, most kids still need an after-school snack to help them stay focused on homework and other after-school commitments. Try to pack healthy snacks for after-school activities of kids who aren't coming right home.
Kids who come straight home after school probably can start fixing their own snacks (with permission, of course). Leave things in the fridge that can be grabbed quickly — veggie sticks and dips, yogurt and berries. If you're serving fruit or a salad with dinner, consider letting kids eat that early to take the edge off.
School-age kids are capable of understanding why it's important to eat healthy, but more than ever they look to the people they love as role models. Make healthy snacking a family affair and your kids will take it to heart.
Here are some snacks that school-age kids might enjoy:
Teens might still need a snack or two during the day, but what they eat may seem out of your control. Your teen might have sports, a job, an ever-expanding social calendar, money to spend, and car keys. With this much independence, you can't police what your teen eats, but you can encourage healthy snacking by keeping nutritious foods at home that your teen can take along.
Healthy snacks for teens include:
Snacking well can be a challenge, especially once kids are old enough to make independent food choices. But if you've set the stage right from the start — offering mostly nutritious choices at home and encouraging good alternatives when away — they're more likely to reach for something healthy when a hunger pang strikes.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2012
|Allrecipes.com This site offers more than 40,000 free recipes, plus lots of cooking tips and information.|
|Cooking Light Cooking Light magazine goes online with recipes for healthy living, plus grocery coupons and tips for feeding your family.|
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|Food Network TV's Food Network goes online with searchable menus and recipes, an encyclopedia of cooking terms, and ideas from celebrity chefs.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|Snacks for Preschoolers Healthy and well-timed snacks can help fill in nutritional gaps for preschoolers. But how do you turn yours into a smart snacker?|
|Snacks for Toddlers Some toddlers may seem too busy exploring to slow down and eat. Others may be fickle about food or refuse to eat at mealtime. That's where healthy, well-timed snacks come in.|
|Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Quick Guide to Healthy Eating Looking for an easy way to eat healthier? This article provides tips on choosing the right foods - and an easy-to-follow chart to guide you.|
|When Snack Attacks Strike Snacks can keep kids going between meals. Find out more in this article, with links to easy recipes you can try.|
|Hunger and Your Preschooler Your preschooler eats lunch, then 20 minutes later claims to be hungry. Is a snack OK? Maybe yes, maybe no. Here's why.|
|Trail Mix Whether you're going for a long walk or just playing with friends, this easy and hearty snack is a great one to eat at home or pack for the road!|
|After-School Snacks If your kids come in from school and head straight for the kitchen for something to eat, here's how to make sure they still have room for a healthy dinner.|
|Smart Supermarket Shopping You don't need to be a dietitian to figure out how to make healthy food choices. Before grabbing a shopping cart and heading for the aisles, read this article to make grocery shopping a snap.|
|Eating Well While Eating Out We all know the importance of eating well. But how are you supposed to do so when your schedule is so demanding you're never at home? Find out how to make healthy food choices on the go.|
|About Home Alone Recipes The recipes for these simple and healthy meals and snacks are designed especially for kids to do on their own. Some of these require some help from parents on preparations. But once that's done, parents can feel safe knowing that the kids are snacking healthy, and working in the kitchen without turning on any major appliances or using sharp objects.|
|Being Safe in the Kitchen Cooking and baking are lots of fun - as long as you stay safe. Read this article for safety tips before you head into the kitchen.|
|How Should I Deal With a Picky Eater? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|Cooking Tips and Resources Get some cooking basics in this article for teens, including tips on where to find recipes.|
|Lean Green Pita Dippers This recipe requires some help from an adult.|
|Go, Slow, and Whoa! A Kid's Guide to Eating Right Want to eat healthier? It's easy when you learn the difference between Go, Slow, and Whoa foods!|
|Smart Snacking Healthy snacks are essential for busy teens. Find out how eating small, nutritious meals throughout the day can keep your energy level high and your mind alert.|
|Healthy Eating Good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up healthy. Here's how to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits.|
|Food Labels Look at any packaged food and you'll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.|
|Food Safety for Your Family Why is food safety important? And how can you be sure your kitchen and the foods you prepare in it are safe?|
|Heart-Healthy Recipes Love your heart with these heart-healthy recipes, including Chocolate Sweetheart Parfaits!|
|Your Secrets to Healthy Snacking More than 1,000 teens took our survey on healthy snacking. Here are their thoughts (and advice) on choosing healthy snacks.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.