larabarI recently read a “Facebook conversation” about children and snacking. I was going to post a comment, but thought – This is not a cut and dry topic, and one comment won’t do the topic justice. Hence, today’s blog post!

The topic was brought up because a local school suggested a mid-morning snack to hold the kids over until lunch time. The parent however didn’t feel that her child needs a snack every day at that time, and on top of that, is concerned about the “soccer snack” that also occurs later in the day after school.

Ah….the Evils of the Soccer Snack

I chalk this one up to the same genius who invented [insert sarcasm] “party favor bags” (which often included wasteful plastic crap you’d throw away a few months later, or mini games and candy) . My children are older, and we are over both birthday party favors and soccer snacks, but let’s say I have for sure “been there, done that”. I admit that I played along with the party favor bags and I also played along with soccer snack (mostly providing a portion-controlled juice or water and a package of crackers or a granola bar). Now mind you, I’m aware that many granola bars are glorified candy bars, but some are calorie-controlled, low in saturated fat, provide some protein, and may even be fortified with some B vitamins – in general better than a snack cake or a bag of chips when looking for something easy and portable. But my purpose here is not to dissect the minutia of the Nutrition Facts about various packaged snacks, my purpose is to help you understand that everyone has different nutrition and eaten pattern needs.

As the Facebook mom said, “I brought oranges once. Nobody took them”. That’s sad but true. The soccer children have been conditioned to get some sort of sweet or salty treat afterward, and sadly they don’t view orange wedges as a treat (although they are the perfect post-soccer treat for a 7 year old).

And side note – water is the best beverage for little tyke soccer players and amateur athletes and exercisers alike. You don’t need a sports drink unless you’re sweating bullets after doing some long, intense workout (such as a 30 mile bike ride).

Who Should Snack?

I do encourage providing children with a healthy food and beverage at snack time, but snacks do not always have to be scheduled. One train of thought is that all children and adults need to eat every 2-3 hours (the 6-meals-a-day idea), but everyone actually has custom needs. This is the tough thing about parenting – there is no simple rule book! Young children (ages 2-7) generally do need healthy snacks to meet their complete nutrient needs, while older children may not. I prefer to allow a child (and an adult for that matter) to also learn to recognize their hunger cues (when they are hungry – eat. When the are full – stop). When this concept is introduced early in life, an active child can eat normally, and maintain a healthy weight. Of course, some children begin to gain weight pre-puberty no matter how they eat, and their needs should be individualized.

Five Simple Snack Guidelines:

  • Young children are growing rapidly, and their small stomachs often can only hold so much, so smaller meals, with healthy snacks in between is often a good fit for young children
  • Most young children only require a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack, but this may depend on their individual activity levels
  • It’s normal for children to be more hungry at times (perhaps during a growth spurt). Support their cues on this.
  • Do make snack time fun. While I encourage healthy snacks (fresh fruit, raw veggies, whole grain crackers or wraps, some protein, low fat milk or yogurt) for the most part, an occasional treat of chocolate pudding or two cookies is fine.
  • If older children (10-15) are participating in after school sports, they can carry a snack with them if hunger hits, and they should hydrate with water often. Some children prefer to go to practice on an empty stomach due to gastrointestinal upset. Be sure to provide a simple recovery snack for older children doing after school sports – a glass of chocolate milk, a 4 ounce yogurt, cheese with 6 crackers, or a small 8-ounce smoothie can do the trick.

This brings me to my final point: Meal planning is not one-size-fits-all. Every child doesn’t need a 10am snack. Some may need no snacks, some one snack, and some may need more frequent snacks every day. It depends on the child, their environment, their activity level, their genetic predisposition, and so on. If you are concerned about your child’s weight, or eating habits, consider setting up a meeting with a registered dietitian in your area.