With home schooling the new normal for many of us during lockdown, the temptation for the kids to raid the fridge and cupboards every half an hour seems to be something that many parents are battling with at present. However, there’s no need to worry if your kids are pestering for snacks more often than they would be normally. There’s nothing inherently wrong with snacking! Snacks can be useful to get us from one meal to the next, helping to moderate hunger, keep blood sugar levels stable and, as a result, can also aid concentration and energy levels. If you’re kids are currently keeping active (and perhaps are more active than they would be at school if you’re trying to keep on top of getting rid of some of that excess energy), it may be that they need to eat a little more than they would do normally to maintain energy levels. All that is needed is a bit of planning ahead and making sure there are some better, more nutritious snack choices on offer. Here are some pointers and things to be aware of for you and your family where snacking is concerned…
Consider choice and what's available
Have a think of some simple snack swaps you can make before you do your shopping. For example, trade chocolate bars, crisps and biscuits for fruit, mixed nuts, nut butter or soft cheese and oatcakes or wholegrain crisp bread. Be aware of what you keep within reach and eyesight too i.e. keep the better snack options accessible, for example fruit in the fruit bowl that everyone can access, and keep the snacks you’re trying to minimise in cupboards, or on top of them, out of eyesight. Make sure you have a good selection of nutritious snacks available to you and your family should the need to reach for a snack arise. Try and opt for something that is balanced, containing protein and/ or fat and carbohydrate, rich in vitamins and minerals and will give you some sustenance rather than leaving you hungry again half an hour later. Read on for some example options.
Portion Control & Frequency
A snack is defined as “a small amount of food eaten between meals” in the Oxford English Dictionary, so what constitutes as a small amount of food? Aim for something that’s 100 to 200 calories. Below are some examples of snacks that are all within the 100 to 200 calorie range:
- 2 oatcakes and 2 tsp. of peanut butter
- 1 portion of fruit and a handful of mixed nuts*, a matchbox-sized piece of cheese or a 100g plain yoghurt
- 2 tbsp. of dip such as hummus or guacamole and a handful of veg crudités
- 1 boiled egg and 1 portion of fruit
- 2 wholegrain crisp bread topped with 2-3 tbsp. of cottage cheese and sliced tomato or cucumber
*Avoid giving whole nuts to children under 5.
For more snacking tips and ideas visit the NHS Choices website.
One to two snacks a day of this sort of size between meals i.e. one snack between each meal is fine. Any more than that and we’re straying into grazing territory!
Everyone’s snacking habits will be different and some children may not feel the need to rely on snacks to get from meal to meal if meals are well-balanced, filling and timed well. Ask your kids the following questions: Are you hungry? (Hunger signals to look out for include hunger pangs in stomach, a growling stomach, they can’t concentrate, are low in energy or weary, are a bit shaky or have a headache). If so, how long is it until their next meal? If it’s less than an hour or two until their next meal, it may be best to wait. If it’s going to be more than a couple of hours away and those hunger cues are evident, it’s probably best to have a small, nutritious snack to keep them going. Be aware that it’s easy to often confuse thirst for hunger, so it’s also worth checking whether it’s just a drink that’s needed.
If you find your kids are snacking out of boredom, this won’t matter too much short-term but may be something to try and minimise long-term. If you are worried about your child’s emotions or eating patterns, why not have a chat to a health professional about it.
Don’t forget that we also eat for pleasure and this is a really important part of you and your children’s relationship with food, so if you know you’re someone who has a relatively well-balanced diet and can’t stop thinking about that bit of chocolate you’ve got stashed away, or you and the kids have been baking and you’re enjoying the finished product together, go and enjoy without any guilt!