Beat the Snack Attack!
Because between-meal munching often adds up to a substantial portion of young kids' diets, even small changes in what snacks you serve -- and when and how you serve them -- can make a big difference. In fact, you can alter a child's entire day's nutrients. Try to:
Serve more fruits and veggies. Kids don't get near the daily two to three cups of fruits and vegetables they should. "By replacing calorically dense snacks like chips and cookies with fruits and vegetables, you'll decrease the amount of empty calories your child takes in," says Dr. Klish. And you'll replace them with lots of vitamins and nutrients.
Children learn to love fruits and veggies when they're exposed to them early and often -- and they're a part of the whole family's diet. Make a habit of buying fresh fruits and vegetables in season, and taking a few minutes every day to wash and cut them up so they're easily accessible in your refrigerator. Add low-calorie dip for variety.When Theresa Andrikanich of Perry, Ohio, gives her 2-year-old daughter, Lauren, a snack, it's often fruit that's fun. "We'll create a smiley face with peach slices on the plate and grape quarters in the middle," she says.
"I cut up oranges, apples, carrots, and red and yellow peppers, and I put them out for my girls while I'm making dinner and they're having some downtime with a puzzle or video," says Maureen Boland, a mom of two, ages 7 and 1, in Cranford, New Jersey. "You'd be amazed how many fruits and veggies kids will eat when they're really hungry and the food's right in front of them."
Make him drink his milk... and he'll get much-needed protein, vitamins D and A, calcium, and magnesium. Fruit juices and sweetened beverages like soda -- which often replace the milk a child should drink -- are a major source of calories for young kids these days. Calories they don't need. Even 100 percent fruit juice should be limited to 4 to 6 ounces a day until your child is 7 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. For kids 7 and up, keep it to no more than 8 to 12 ounces a day.
Children between 2 and 5 should drink about 16 ounces of low-fat milk (1 percent or skim) a day -- that's four half-cup (or 4-ounce) servings. Kids over 6 should take in three cups daily. Encourage yours to drink it at mealtimes -- and have a glass with an afternoon snack (and water in between).
If you can't get him to drink as much milk as he should, be creative. Chocolate is fine. Try strawberry syrup. Or add fresh or frozen fruit in a blender to make a smoothie. Low-fat yogurt is another option: "My son loves the drinkable kind," says Linda Abraham, a mom of four in Great Falls, Virginia. "It's as good as any treat to him."
Low-fat cheese slices are a healthy dairy option as well. Pair them with apple slices for an apple-cheese sandwich.
Start a routine. To create some structure to eating habits, serve snacks at the table, at around the same time each day, and have your child sit down when she eats.
Kathy Feusse, a mom of three in Clearwater, Nebraska, gives her kids a snack every day at about 3 p.m. Many days, she'll do it while they're coloring. "I tell them, 'These are the choices you have now,'" says Feusse, "'and if they aren't good enough, then you can wait until supper.'"
Resist the urge to let your child spend the morning with a bagel in one hand and a sippy cup of juice in the other. Instead say, "Play now, and then you'll have your snack when you're ready to sit and take a break."
Let him get hungry. It's okay to teach your child that he can't be fed at a moment's notice or on every ten-minute trip. "Too often, parents expect that their children should never complain of hunger," says Dr. Klish. "But hunger is a normal thing. Your child can certainly wait an hour to eat."
Of course, he might gripe. But then he'll have a good dinner because he's hungry. And he just might be thirsty. So encourage him to drink water often between meals.
Serve kid-size snack portions. Most children under 12 need smaller amounts of food in between -- and during -- meals. But usually if you put a large amount in front of them, they'll eat it.
Offer your child small amounts, and if she's still hungry when she's done eating, then you can give her seconds. The key is, she's getting good nutrition -- and not empty, fat-packed calories -- when she does fill up.
Some sample servings for a child between the ages of 2 and 6: three or four crackers with a slice of cheese, or a sliced orange half with a four-ounce cup of low-fat yogurt.
Encourage him to eat right when you're not around. Of course, you can't control everything your child snacks on once you send him to preschool, for instance. But you can fill his lunch box with healthy snacks every day.
If you have a regular babysitter, talk about what's appropriate for daytime snacking. And make sure you have plenty of good-for-you options, such as raw baby carrots and mini-fruit cocktails, at the ready.
Think of the snacks your child nibbles on in a new way: as mini-meals; an opportunity to round out her diet with a variety of healthy foods she missed during mealtime. After all, the only time you'll have a lot of influence over what she eats is when she's little. So make it nutritious. And it just might get her snacking smart for a lifetime.