Daimon is a huge snacker, says his mom, Michelle Quin. “He snacks throughout the day and then he’s not hungry at mealtime.”
Most active, growing preschoolers can’t get all the energy they need in just three meals a day, says Daina Kalnins, a registered dietitian at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and the co-author of Better Food for Kids: Your Essential Guide to Nutrition for All Children from Age 2 to 6. But snacking can sometimes get out of hand. Kids end up grazing all day and have little appetite at mealtimes. Read on for some snacking tips to chew on.
Establish a routine “Three meals a day and two or three snacks is a good model at this age,” says Kalnins. But don’t be too rigid. “Every child is different. One may be able to eat an apple right before a meal and still be hungry. Others can’t,” she says. She also notes that kids may be thirsty when they think they are hungry, so offer water first.
Aim for nutritional balance Snacks tend to be low-fibre, high-salt and high-carbohydrate foods that don’t provide a lot of nutrition. Kids need good protein and fruits and vegetables, says Kalnins. “If he’s having a cookie for a snack, make sure there’s also some fruit to go with it.” If you aim for two food groups at snack time (crackers with cheese, strawberries with yogurt) and serve balanced meals, you can be pretty sure your child is getting good nutrition.
Teach healthy eating “Daimon is always asking for cereal, crackers, toast. I explain that fruit and veggies are important too. He does eat them, but they’re usually not his first choice,” says Quin. “I make sure I have apples, cherry tomatoes and carrots on hand. That way, I can give him a little of both.” Kalnins adds that it’s OK to say, “This is what we’re having today,” and leave it at that.
Offer snacks with staying power Choose low-glycemic index (GI) foods, says Kalnins. High-GI foods, like sugar-sweetened cornflakes, are digested and converted to blood sugar quickly, making energy levels hard to sustain. Low-GI, high-fibre foods like whole-grain bread are digested more slowly, making you feel full longer. Encourage your child to snack on foods that are high in fibre and low in added sugar: fresh fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils and whole grains, such as oats.
Cut out the juice It’s just not needed, says Kalnins. Instead, give your child water and milk. Blended fruits are a good option too.
Emphasize flavour, freshness and fun Make make sure your produce is fresh and tasty, says Kalnins. “If you’re excited about the food you’re serving, chances are your child will be too.”
Raisins in the couch cushions?
Now’s the time to decide on house rules regarding snacking. If you don’t, before you know it you’ll be picking up dishes everywhere — and scraping raisins off the couch cushions. (One mom we know found gnawed apple cores under a child’s bed — perfect bait for mice.) You might insist that food be eaten at the table if you’d rather not have the mess (or mice), but declare movie night the exception, when popcorn is allowed in the family room.