It’s probably happened in your house: The kids are totally happy to eat their snacks, but when it comes to sitting down and sharing family meals, it’s a battle. Enter, these 5 strategies that will help reset the balance on kids snacks and (hopefully!) reduce the mealtime drama.
Since the 1970s, we’ve all started eating more snacks in our days. This means that we’re simply eating more snacks in general, and we’re eating more “snack food” such as packaged crackers, chips, bars, pouches, and yogurt. There are more of these foods in the marketplace and snacks now make up about 1/3 of the calories that us and our kids eat.
This may not be a problem, but for many kids, it can be. And it can mean that they aren’t having enough chances to fill their bellies with more nutritious whole foods. If snacks are causing stress in your house and you’re looking for a few simple ways to reign them in, you’re not alone!
1. Rethink “Healthy Snacks”
With all of the prepared and packaged snacks flooding the market, it’s easy to feel like we have to buy everything we see. But snacks can be simple foods like cheese, fruit, veggies, and simple homemade recipes—which can help you feel less pressure (and confusion!) when you go to the store.
2. Serve the Same Types of Foods at Meals and Snacks
One of the reasons that kids get super excited about snack time, and not meal time, is that “snack” food tends to be more fun than “regular” food. One simple way to reset the balance if the kids happily eat their snacks but protest at dinner is to serve all food at all meals. Add some crackers to soup, serve some veggies with a yogurt pouch. Mix it up so there aren’t such separate food categories.
3. Think of “Snack” as a Mini Meal, Not a Category of Food
“Snack food” usually means foods that are highly processed such as pretzels, chips, granola bars, and the like, but if you can think of the meal you serve between breakfast and lunch and then lunch and dinner as a mini meal, it will be easier for you to not just rely on “snack foods”.
4. Have Snacks at the Table
I fully realize that there are times when eating on the go is necessary—and that “snack foods” are usually easier to eat in those circumstances, but whenever possible, have the same dynamics at snack time as you do at meal times to help make all eating opportunities feel similar. This can also help reset expectations if the kids are used to having their snacks in front of the tv or ipad…and then expecting similar entertainment at dinner.
5. Allow Favorite Snacks in the Mix
One of the best ways to help kids to be less obsessed with their favorite foods is to serve them regularly. Keep them in a cabinet that’s out of site so the kids aren’t tempted by them all day long (and to spare yourself from having to say no) and let the kids choose them to have them. This will help to precent a scarcity mindset that can cause fixation in some kids.
I’d also add that it’s 100% okay to run out of favorite snack foods and to challenge the kids to pick something different the next time you go to the store!
6. Allow Time Between Meals and Snacks
A simple reason that a child may eat their snack but not the meal that follows is that they simply aren’t hungry. So if you have a toddler who doesn’t always eat their dinner, look at how long it’s been since their afternoon snack and consider allowing more time, lightening up the snack a bit, or just adjust your expectations for how much they may eat at dinnertime. Most kids should have 2-3 hours between each eating opportunity.
7. Try to Avoid Snacks as Rewards
Where we live, it’s incredibly common for the kids to be handed snacks (or multiple snacks!) after each practice or activity. Whenever possible, I have the kids bring these foods home where they can choose one to eat with their meal and the rest goes into a bowl we have reserved for these foods (and the candy we get when out in the world) in our pantry. Kids don’t need a package of Oreos for playing a 45 minute softball game…at least not as a regular habit.
For More on Kids and Snacks
Listen to episode 38 of our Comfort Food podcast where we get into all of the issues that can come up with kids and snacks…and we talk about how we really feel about Goldfish crackers.