How to snack properly…..

Is snacking a healthy habit to get my kids into? 
 
To snack or not to snack? Confusion on whether to give your child something small between meals is quite topical as ‘snacking’ has been somewhat demonized. This is thanks to the never ending fat and sugar debates that surround the food industry and the growing rate of childhood obesity.  Snacking is healthy and can benefit your growing munchkin(s) when done properly. Here are some top tips to snacking healthily:
 
It’s all about timing 
Children are great at understanding their hunger and will naturally feel hungry at certain intervals over the day. This is due to the stomach emptying and energy levels reducing over time as it’s being used through learning, play, general body needs and growth.  For this reason, they will need something small between meals to ‘top up’. ie. Morning tea, afternoon tea and supper.
 
It’s about portion size 
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have noticed how servings for both adults and children have increased over the last 20-30 years. For this reason, it is important to be aware of what an appropriate portion size is for your child.
A rough guide to snack ideas:
80g Fresh fruit
80g Canned fruit in natural juice
150-200g Yoghurt
3-4 Wholegrain crackers with 30g cheese
Cream cheese (50g) with vegetable sticks
Occasional small chocolate/ cake/ biscuits (~150kcals)
Fruit Smoothie (200ml)
 
Snack and treats are different, not the same.  
A ‘snack’ is an occasion of eating, not a type of food. Snacks that are high in fat and sugars (sweets, cakes, chocolate, crisps, biscuits, etc…) tend to be those with lower nutritional benefits (reduced fibre, vitamins and minerals) and for this reason, it is good to associate these snacks as ‘treats’ or ‘sometimes’ foods. Don’t know how to judge a food label? Check out a post I did here (http://www.dietduchess.com/2013/12/12/the-dos-and-donts-to-reading-food-labels/) on the Dos and Don’ts to reading food labels.
 
It’s not a reward 
Food is never a reward. Trust me on this, you don’t want your child to grow up with an association of food = reward/ comfort. As an obesity dietitian, I daily support patients trying to get out of the habit of comfort eating and it’s a hard one to crack at times.  Instead of food, consider reward charts, stickers, an extra 15 minute at their favourite playground, colouring sheets, etc.
 
It’s not a distraction 
Just like adults, kids can be bored and will wander into the kitchen for a ‘little something’. Consider when your child last ate and when you know they are next eating. If it has been a while or it will be a while, they are likely hungry and a snack is justifiable.  If not, distract them.
 
Fussy eating doesn’t just occur at meal times 
Snack time is also an occasion when fussy eating can be displayed. A general rule for fussy eating – offer the snack to your child around 17 times. If they’re not keen after this amount of exposure, they generally don’t like the snack (taste and or texture). Struggling with fussy eating? Chat to your GP who can refer you to a dietitan for support.
 
Role model 
You’re a superhero in your child’s eyes, so to help in-still healthy habits into your child’s lifestyle, reflect this.  Snacking is healthy for both adults and children a like, so if your child sees you regularly eating a variety of healthy choices as snacks they too will slowly adopt this. Remember: ‘the door swings both ways!’ If you eat for boredom/ stress/ comfort they may learn these unhealthy behaviours too. For this reason, if you feel you are finding it difficult with managing your eating habits or your child’s for that matter, seek support by chatting to your GP or a dietitian.
 
Now your turn, what’s your ‘go to’ snack option? Mine’s a small whole meal pita toasted with cheese and Vegemite.
 
Perryn Carroll – Registered Dietitian MNutrDiet BSP&ExSc
Twitter: @PerrynCarroll
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