How many of us have frustratingly uttered the words “I didn’t sign up for this” in the last 2 months? As much as I love my kids, I’m not used to feeding them at home all the time. Oh, how I miss packed snacks at playdates and school lunches... When you pack something there’s no opportunity for your child to complain or request something else from the cupboard. And seriously – when they’re at school or daycare I can’t even hear the complaints. But now that we are all home 24/7, snacks have taken over – and snack requests have gone way up!
Chronic snacking is common for little kids. Their appetites are all over the place, and they often don’t finish their meals (or straight up refuse to eat), instead requesting their favourite snack 30 minutes later. Who can blame them?! Many of the parents I meet within my nutrition counseling practice speak of feeling frustrated that their child is not eating well at meals, which often leads to worry, then giving into snack requests throughout the day because “at least they’re eating something”. Sound familiar? This cycle of chronic snacking only perpetuates picky eating and creates a good free-for-all (not what any of us need).
For older kids (adults too) chronic snacking often stems from something other than just physical hunger. There are many reasons why we (and our kids) eat. We are feeling all the emotions right now, we’re more bored than ever, and we’re home—around food—constantly. No wonder we’re eating more than normal. Snacks can often be a way to distract ourselves from how you’re really feeling. Our kids are experiencing the effects of a global pandemic too! So, let’s chat about how to navigate chronic snacking in a stay-at-home setting.
Set a schedule and stick to it.
Kids need routine. To combat the free-for-all, establish some guidelines around snack times and stay consistent. For little kids this means a meal or snack every two to four hours. It’s okay for this time to vary a bit – from little kids with little tummies, to older kids going through growth spurts or being super active, appetite will fluctuate. What’s important is to remind your kids to listen to their internal hunger cues (we want to teach them to be intuitive eaters after all). And according to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (which I love), kids are in control of their own portion size. If they are feeling full and can’t finish their snack – that’s okay! If they’re running around like crazy and burning loads of energy, they may devour second and third servings – and that’s also okay. Your job is to decide WHEN the meal or snack happens and to provide the food. They choose if and how much.
Make a list of snack ideas together!
I’m getting tired of offering the same snacks every day, and I guarantee that my kids are getting tired of eating them too. But with reduced grocery runs, and multitasking all day, snacks tend to become redundant. So, simply making a list of snack ideas (even just 5-10) to stick to the fridge helps to remind you that there’s more than just cheese and crackers, and also lets your kids have a say in what’s offered. Enlist your kids' help in the kitchen – from brainstorming ideas, to becoming sous-chefs. Here are my top three sanity-saving tips for including kids in the kitchen. Bonus – you’ve got snacks and an activity in one!
Don’t say no, say when.
I say no to my kids a lot. No, you can’t run in the street, no you can’t have a permanent marker in your room, no your underwear goes on first, no, Netflix they don’t want to continue watching… you get the picture. And there’s nothing worse than a COVID meltdown. When it comes to food, we want our kids to feel secure and safe. Which is why I don’t like saying “no” to my kids’ request for snacks. Kids need to know that they can ask for more of what is provided. This is how they learn to listen to their internal hunger and how they trust us as parents to provide food for them to grow and develop. So, instead of saying no to snack requests, say yes… but then set a boundary around timing. “Yes, you can have a snack. But it’s not snack time right now. It will happen in 1 hour, after we’re done our school work”. You can even take it one step further and write your meal and snack schedule down for everyone to see. So then when the random snack request comes, you can say “yes, but go check the whiteboard to see when snack time will happen and report back to me”.
Keep snacks fun.
As a dietitian, I love food and eating a good meal. I’m also pretty competent in the kitchen! So, if I’m feeling like I’d rather be anywhere but the kitchen, I can only image how non-food non-foodies are feeling. Keep snacks fun by having a picnic, serving all green foods, or pretending you’re a dinosaur! Eat on the trampoline or in a park. I recently came home from the grocery store with a box of Oreos. Gasp – I know. My kids, until this point, had never had an Oreo, but heck – why not. I taught them to twist, lick, and dunk their new food in milk. It was fun and what felt like a rite of passage in my mind. I served the snack with extras like orange slices and cheese cubes and they loved it.
Remember the protein.
Many parents are confused by their kids’ endless snack requests. Didn’t they just have a snack?! How could they possibly be hungry so quickly? The answer will be found in what was offered. If you’re serving your child sliced apple for snack, chances are they will want another one pretty quick. Yes, apples are nutritious, but they’re a carbohydrate with a bit of fibre. What is missing from this snack is protein and maybe a bit of fat (both protein and fat are digested slowly)! Although the majority of our energy comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates, what we need to feel fuller for longer is protein, fat and fibre. So, add some peanut butter, hummus, cheese, or a glass of milk for the extra protein needed to stabilize energy and blood sugar levels, and to keep the kids feeling full.
Looking for a surprisingly healthy no bake snack? Check these out!