Frequent snacking can be a challenge at the best of times but especially now during covid-19 when our children are at home all day.
One of the effects of frequent snaking is that children are not hungry for mealtimes. Lets take an example if children are snacking lots in the afternoon, and in the evening they may eat little or none of the meal and then shortly afterwards they are looking for snacks again. This means the pattern continues and it may be challenging to break away from this habit.
Another factor is the types of foods children usually eat for snacks are more likely to be ‘snack type foods’ such as crackers, yoghurt and fruit. Of course healthy snacks are fine once they form part of a child’s diet but it is best if they do not dominate their eating. This is because if children are constantly snacking then they are less likely to eat ‘meal type foods’ and the trickier to eat textures that are soft or mixed textures such as fish pie.
What can we do in the current time to help our children if they are looking for snacks often?
First a schedule for eating is really helpful. Think of what a child’s routine looked like when they were, for example, in crèche or school. This was likely to be breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, dinner and possibly a snack before bedtime. Think of the schedule in terms of the number of times that children were eating. I recommend children eat no more than six times during the day. This allows time for children to become hungry again after the snack for the next eating time. This of course depends on the individual children and their age. For some children it may be best not to have as many eating times so they may, for example, have no snack before bedtime. The advantage of this is that there are eating times (that is snack and meal times) and there are non-eating times when children do other things such as play and it is best if we let children know this.
Second consider what is being served for snacks. One strategy is to offer snacks than are more like ‘mini meals’ such as soup or chopped, raw veggies. This can work well as children can have eaten their vegetables even before dinner starts.
Thirdly, consider the quantity of snacks being eaten. Snacks should tide children over until the next mealtime, rather than fill them up too much. We may therefore want to offer less of the snack or a lighter snack. Likewise lots of drinks especially milk and juice can fill up small tummies and therefore there is less space for food at mealtimes.
Fourthly, consider the timing of snacks. The aim is to ensure children come to mealtimes hungry so they are more likely to eat some of the meal, instead of skipping the meal and looking for food shortly afterwards. Therefore there needs to be a sufficient gap between a snack and the next meal times, such as 2 hours. This again depends on the individual children and their age.