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I know my family is in a snacking rut, and I’ll bet yours is too. I have to pack my second grader snacks for school and I admit that my menus have become a little boring. So, today I’m going to lay out the five W’s (when, who, why, where and what) of snacking. I’ve worked with my daughters to come up with some fresh ideas for snacks that I think both kids and adults will love. You can visit our show notes page at Gelsons.com to download my freshest ideas and recipes for healthful, convenient snacks that your whole family can enjoy. Let’s get into snacking basics.
Snack time should occur up to twice a day, ideally halfway between breakfast and lunch and/or again halfway between lunch and dinner. I’m not a proponent of snacking after dinner because it is too close to bedtime and I’ve noticed that a lot of mindless munching goes on at this time. Closing the kitchen after dinner is a healthy habit that is helpful for weight control, too.
When it comes to providing snacks and meals for kids, our jobs as parents and caregivers is to decide the what, when and where, and kids decide whether and how much from what you’re offering. You need to consider their sleeping and activity schedules when planning their meal and snack times and make sure that snacks are spaced two to three hours after and before meals so that they will come to the table hungry. Structured snacks and meals are especially important for children of all ages. Aside from always making water available, do not allow grazing or panhandling for food outside of scheduled meals and snacks, or else kids won’t eat much at meals.
It’s important to understand that it is not mandatory to eat if you’re not hungry. I often skip either my morning or afternoon snack, depending on how I feel and how soon my next meal will be. Children also have the right to decide not to eat, so don’t force them to eat snacks or meals if they are not hungry.
Snacking is for everyone, but it is especially important for children and older adults because it supplements calories and nutrients that may not have been eaten at regular meals. Children often can’t eat enough to meet their nutritional needs at meals because their tummies don’t hold a lot of food, and older adults do not always eat three meals a day for reasons such as illness, disability, a tight budget, or low energy levels that prevent them from preparing food. Small, simple, nutritious snacks can be a boon for both of these populations.
Snacks are also good for people who are prone to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), are trying to lose weight, are active, or have diabetes. People with poor appetites can use snacks to supplement nutrients and calories that are lost at mealtimes. Well-balanced snacks are great for helping to control appetite and blood sugar levels.
Aside from supplementing important nutrients and controlling blood sugar, snacks can help give you an energy boost, especially if they include the ideal combination of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. They also help tame the hunger that can develop in the long hours between meals. Snacking can be healthful for everyone if it is done with some planning. Be sure to pack snacks when you or your children leave the house in the morning. Otherwise, unplanned haphazard snacking can get you into nutritional trouble.
Ideally, we will all sit down at a table to eat our snacks and not eat them while driving in the car, sitting in front of the TV or computer, or riding in a stroller. It is important that you pay attention to your food at meals and snacks, so that you can be aware of the amount you are eating. Respecting your food and avoiding distractions is crucial for savoring the food and staying in touch with your feelings of hunger and satiety so that you do not overeat. Furthermore, snacking in the car is dangerous, especially for kids, so try to plan a way to eat before you get in the car or when you arrive at your destination to avoid eating en route.
What (and How)?
Snacks can be small individual items, such as a handful of nuts, or they can be mini meals, like lentil soup. Including protein and fat is essential to creating balanced snacks that help you feel satisfied and energized so that you can get on with your day and not be hungry before your next meal. I prefer that snacks be mostly vegetarian, since we tend to rely too much on animal proteins at meals already. For the most part, think of snacks as opportunities to boost your nutrient intake.
Snacks should be planned so that they can complement the other foods you eat during the day. For example, my kids don’t often drink milk by the glass, so I try to work in cheese or yogurt at their snack time. I don’t eat fruit at breakfast or lunch, so I try to include fruit in my snacks. My younger daughter usually has a starchy snack like crackers or pretzels at school and a sandwich for lunch, so I try not to give her snacks that contain even more wheat (my philosophy is eat a variety and enjoy everything in moderation, even healthful foods). As with meal planning, look at what is being eaten over the course of the whole day so that you neither repeat foods, nor leave out essential food groups. Variety is the spice of life!
I cannot emphasize enough that snacks should not regularly consist of junk food, like refined-grain crackers (including graham crackers), puffed “veggie” snacks, gummy “fruit” bits, cheddar crackers shaped like animals, juice, or soda. However, once in a while, it is perfectly fine to enjoy these types of foods for a snack, though it is best to have the varieties that you really enjoy, not just like because it’s the more virtuous choice; satisfy your craving with the real thing. Plan to have as much as you want of your favorite ice cream or cookies or chips or soft drink for a snack for yourself and your family once or twice a month and have a portion-controlled dessert (or whatever “forbidden” food you like) twice a week, too. That’s right, don’t limit the quantity of treats at snack time but do limit it at dessert, since sweets and treats won’t compete with other foods at snack time but they will at a meal.
Your snacking philosophy should mirror your healthy eating philosophy: eat minimally processed foods that mostly come from plants and don’t eat too much of anything. For great snack ideas, visit our Show Notes Page and try the excellent foods I suggest. The amount you have should be determined by how hungry you are and how large or small your next meal will be. If you want to eat less at your next meal, then try having a larger snack, but if you are eating well-balanced, satisfying meals, then a piece of fruit or a handful of almonds may be all you need to tide you over. However, kids should be allowed to eat as much as they want of what they are offered, so you must feel good about what you are serving. If you are active or need help with controlling your blood sugar, be sure to include protein and fat, such as nuts, seeds or yogurt. You can combine those types of foods with a minimally processed carbohydrate, such as fruit, vegetables, or whole grain crackers. Some of my favorite snacks are edamame, plain Greek yogurt with frozen blueberries, a handful of almonds with a piece of fresh fruit, peanut butter or almond butter on apple wedges, mini vegetable quiches. I have tons of ideas and recipes, so be sure to go online to check them all out. The possibilities are endless…
Q: Are snacks good times to introduce kids to new foods?
A: Yes! Kids do not need special foods, but they do need our support in learning to accept new foods and strong flavors. We parents and caregivers need to help them become competent eaters who can enjoy a variety of foods, and snack time can be a great opportunity to boost eating competence. Children need repeated exposure to all foods, including vegetables (at least 12 exposures, but often more), before they start to accept them. At snacks and meals, neutrally offer new foods along with familiar foods and quietly eat them yourself. Make sure they taste good and don’t be afraid to offer condiments like dressing, hummus, and guacamole to help make them more familiar.
Super Snacks Nutrition Notes
Fruity Yogurt Pops
Sweet And Spicy Pumpkin Seeds
Peach And Heirloom Tomato Toast With Burrata
Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
Homemade Granola Barsv
Spinach And Cheese Mini Quiches
White Bean Dip With Crudités