Who doesn’t love snacks? (That’s a rhetorical question!) I post about snacks a lot because they’re a big part of kids’ & teens’ diets, and probably take up a lot of your mind space, not to mention cupboard and fridge space!
Snacks should be filling, and can definitely be fun. They’re also a great time to introduce new food, stabilize mood and energy, and ensure kids & teens are meeting their nutritional needs.
When choosing snacks, try to include more than just traditional “snack” foods; you know, the packaged food found in grocery ‘snack’ aisles. I’ve written before about including protein and fiber in snacks for keeping you full. Another way to think about building snacks is using the ‘formula’ of Fun, Fiber & Filling.
Protein and fat for filling-ness
Protein and fat are both filling nutrients that give adolescents the building blocks necessary to develop and grow. They also provide energy to let kids do what they need and keep them full until the next meal. Ideally include at least one of these in all snacks.
Learn more about your child’s protein needs here.
Fiber foods for satiety
Kids and teens need fiber to keep them regular (just like adults). They also need the nutritional benefits of fiber-rich foods like beans & pulses, whole grains, and vegetables and fruit. Kids can’t (and won’t) eat what they’re not served, so exposing them to high fiber foods like vegetables and fruit frequently is so important!
Snacks are a good time to serve these as there’s often less pressure than at meals. Conversely, if you’re serving vegetables at snacks, you can lessen the pressure at meals because you know your kids have so many opportunities for eating them!
When less preferred foods are served along with preferred foods, the less preferred are often eaten as well, because of the lower pressure of knowing there is food they can fill up on and enjoy.
Fun food for satisfaction
All food is important for kids & teens to eat & enjoy. Including lower-nutrient foods in snacks show they’re part of a healthy lifestyle. This ensures your child doesn’t feel deprived and can feel safe around them.
What do I mean by safe? It means in control. That your child decides how much, if any, of a food he eats when given access to it. Restriction leads to overeating. If kids don’t ever have access, or permission to eat a specific food, when they finally are able to eat it, they’ll usually eat as much of it as they can (or even more).
Serving these foods often, and with no limit (for a specific time), lets kids eat enough that they need, and leave over what they don’t want. They can feel in control of the food, rather than the food controlling them.
One important thing is not to call them “fun food.” Doing so creates a hierarchy of food along with judgement around which foods are “good” and “bad”.
Read more about how to approach low nutrient foods for kids & teens.
What if they only eat the lower nutrient foods?
Here’s the thing; your child may only eat the “fun” food. And that’s okay!
Exposure is important
Showing your child or teen what a balanced meal or snack looks like is important. The more often kids are presented with vegetables and fruit the more likely they’ll eat them. And that goes for other food as well, which is why it’s important to keep exposing your kids to food, even if they’re not yet eating them.
You’re building a good relationship with food
When all foods are served together with no “good” or “bad” food, kids see food as morally neutral. Instead of thinking about what how much they “should” eat, they can focus on how it feels when they eat.
Examples of fun & filling snacks
Here are some snack combinations. Keep in mind that some foods will need to be modified depending on age and eating skills, availability and food preferences. These are just examples to get you started!
Despite their name, veggie sticks don’t have much vegetables in them, other than potato starch and some veggie powders for colour. So I choose to serve it with actual vegetables for the exposure and fiber, along with cheese (fat and protein).
What can I say, I like candy! When people say sugar makes kids hyper, that’s not looking at the whole picture. Think of when excessive amounts of sugar are offered – parties! When there’s lots going on, there’s less supervision, it’s a fun and hectic environment… of course kids will act differently! Or it can be because of hunger. When eaten on its own, sugar provides a quick jolt of energy that’s quickly used up, and that sugar crash can result in kids that act “hangry”. Keep sugar levels stable by eating it with protein, fat, or fiber. I’ve served it here with eggs (protein) and fruit (fiber).
Cookies are filling on their own, but don’t have so much lasting power. Pair them with plain yogurt and grapes and you’ve got a filling and nourishing snack.
Fruit pouches, while containing fruit, omit the fiber, so aren’t as filling as a full fruit. So I’ve paired it with a peanut butter whole wheat sandwich for lasting fullness.
Fruit snacks rarely have any fruit, relying on fruit juice or concentrates to boost the nutritional claims and add some vitamins. To round them out, I’ve gone with popcorn and nuts to add fiber, protein and fat for this snack.
Have a snack food you’d like to see in this formula? Comment below with your ideas!