- The concept of snacking is common throughout the world, nevertheless, the practice varies due to traditions and culture.
- Snacks should take the structure of a meal (be planned, structured and well prepared) as a mini meal to ensure that the child is eating at least every 3 to 4 hours within the day.
- The composition of a balanced snack includes water plus 2 to 3 items from food groups like fruit, dairy, and cereal based foods.
- Snack time is an opportunity for parents to increase their child’s nutritional intake of macro nutrients and micronutrients.
“Don’t eat that! That’s too high in sugar! That too has loads of fat! And that is a culprit for Obesity! No child, not today! You already ate that! You will not even eat that eventually!” These are exclamations that parents use all too often in their homes or shopping places as a form of control over the snack choices for their children. While it is somewhat easier to control what they eat over the main meals, snack time can be at times tricky to control when raising today’s generation. Achieving healthy snacking seems far fetched for children who will cry their way into candy and enticing treats, and for their equally enabling parents who will give in to these demands. Not to be too stringent on following the healthy path, but as a rule of the thumb, a child will only eat what they are already used to, in their homes. As a parent, if you are used to buying sugary or fatty treats, then your child aligns into this norm. So, what is practical?
Few studies have a standard routine for snacking among children, but a global consensus reiterates that snacking is a cultural habit, either defined by geographical location, or by the virtue of the feeding behaviors in a family. Bodies such as the European Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition(ESPGHAN) advocate for at least 4 meals in a day for children who have already been introduced to solid foods. In other words, this means that there is need to incorporate at least 1 or 2 snacks between the main meals. Studies show that nowadays, Children have the tendency to snack more often than in the past years, accounting for about 30-40% of the daily calories consumed.
Although there is no global recommendation, the World Health Organization echoes that a morning snack (served between breakfast and Lunch) and an afternoon snack (served between Lunch and Dinner) ought to offer the child diverse energy proportions. While the morning snack could be packed in high energy from healthy sugars such as fructose from fruits, an afternoon snack can be packed with dairy to ensure that the child’s routine patterns of sleep and other activities are not interrupted.
Among the food groups that are highly recommended include:
- Water: Water is stipulated as an essential drink for children, and should be served alongside the chosen snack at any given time of the day. Water eases digestion and ensures that your child is not constantly bloated throughout the day.
- Fruits and Vegetables: It is recommended to give at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables per day to reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. Depending on how the child feeds during the main meals. An example of a healthy vegetable snack could be a smoothie or even an ice-cream bar made from fruits and/or vegetables. Fruit is another important component that provides vitamins and also acts as an opportunity to encourage the child to choose the fruit during meals.
- Dairy foods especially yogurts are a smart choice at snack time because they provide an opportunity to offer one of the three required dairies during the day advocated in the nutritional guidelines. These could be from milk, yogurt, or other strains of milk from almonds, coconut or else.
- Cereal provides energy, preferably whole grain that is essential in providing fiber to the child as a complement to their diet. Muffins made from oats, for example, could be a great choice.
With all this in mind, snacks can be perceived as small structured meals that provide an opportunity for parents to improve and increase a child’s nutritional intake and complement the other food groups offered during the main meals. Scientific evidence also shows that the frequency of snacking affects the intake of macronutrients and a number of micronutrients as well as the promotion of the consumption of fruits.
Snack time is undoubtedly a paramount part of meals for children, therefore it is important to pay attention to the selection of food made. Each snack is a crucial opportunity to provide the child with nutrients as well as a moment to enjoy, educate and bond. I know you have questions, post them below!
Research adapted from WHO and International Conference on Nutrition and Growth