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Beat the Snack Attack!

It's in the packaging

Do kids even need to nibble between meals? Absolutely. Snacks are essential for children, say experts, because they have small stomachs. And since kids can't eat much at one time, they need to nibble more frequently. But whatever snacking your child does in the course of a day should provide only about 20 percent of her total calories.

Nutritionists recommend that toddlers get three snacks a day; preschoolers and school-age kids up to age 8, two; kids 9 and older, one. But even more important than how much children nibble on between meals is what they nibble on.

The first step, say experts: Stop thinking about snacks as something that's always prepackaged. That's because, in most cases, a prepackaged snack is sweet or salty -- in other words, calorie-packed. That should be called a treat.

And a treat should be a once-in-a-while sort of thing -- an ice cream after a Saturday-afternoon soccer game or a few cookies during a visit to Grandma's house, not something that your child expects every day after school. Says Zappa of her son, Henry: "His grandpa lets him have soda," she says. "And he gets to have some at restaurants on special occasions." But it's not every day.