When it comes to food, I’ve always believed in moderation and teaching my kids to eat healthy but that it’s okay to occasionally indulge.  I would even go as far as to say that I’ve taken pride in feeding my kids healthy home cooked meals.  But in the course of the last couple months I’ve gotten lazy.  This week I realized my three year old son Eli was eating less at dinner.  As I was thinking about this I also thought about his recent practice of grazing–snacking all through the day.  No wonder he had very little appetite for dinner.

The problem with grazers is that they will keep on eating snacks if you let them, and sometimes these snacks aren’t the best food choices for a growing kid.  A couple crackers here, a couple crackers there and the next thing I know I find myself in a food battle with a preschooler who does not understand why his mom will no longer give him his favorite snack anymore.

My older daughters’ snacking has also become problematic.  From the time they walk in through the door after school until I serve dinner, I have noticed they are eating dinner sized portions of various snacks that do not include vegetables or fruits.  Instead, they are filling their stomachs with granola bars, sandwiches, popcorn, etc. 

Feeling frustrated with the grazing and snacking problem I made an executive parenting decision to not allow Eli to graze and not allow the girls unlimited snacks.  Instead of Eli deciding when he wants to eat, I take the initiative to offer him a small healthy snack sometimes consisting of string cheese, a piece of fruit, or a small handful of trail mix about every two hours after a meal.  So far he hasn’t protested at all.

It’s a little bit more complicated with the girls.  I realize they are very hungry when they come home from school, so what I’ve implemented is a snack regimen which is a colorful array of snacks made up of different types of food plated on small dishes.  I am mindful of the vibrant colors, textures, and flavors different foods have and offer them a variety of small bites to appeal to their diverse appetites.  I’m also mindful of offering healthy protein packed choices so that they aren’t eating empty calories to help curve the immediate need for more snacks shortly after.  This also helps if they have activities before dinner like swim practice.  Because I plate the snacks myself, portions stay within a “reasonable” amount to sustain them until the dinner hour.

In conclusion, parents are the gatekeepers of the types of food that come into the home.  It’s hard to be upset with my kids about the frequency and substance of what they eat when I’m the one buying it and giving them access to it.  The good news is that you can take a bad eating habit and turn it around with persistence and commitment.  Just as bad habits are learned with repetition, good habits are too. 

Today I have no recipe for you.  Instead I am listing down some of our favorite small bite snack plates.  I invite you to share your favorites too in the comment section.

  • Small handful of berries, ½ slice of whole grain toast nut butter, and a small handful of steamed edamame (as pictured above)
  • A cheese stick cut into 1-inch pieces, ¼ cup cubed turkey meat, snap peas, and a small Satsuma/Clementine
  • Sliced pear/apple, cheddar cheese slice, and a small handful of nuts.
  • ½ cup cottage cheese or vanilla yogurt topped with a small handful of blueberries and granola.
  • Carrot and cucumber sticks served with ¼ cup of hummus and a small whole wheat pita.
  • Half PBJ sandwich (1 slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and crushed smeared blackberries (instead of jam) with a side of raw vegetables like broccoli.

 

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  • Nicole Woo

    What about green smoothies and when the pitcher is empty everyone can look forward to dinner.
    I agree, I am the same way about eating! The point is to eat consciously. As easy as it is to mindlessly eat, “shifting gears” from school or work, those habits should change. Setting up parameters like: not eating while watching tv (or doing anything else), to sit down, placing a glass of water next to you with these snacks and making it a specific time to refuel, lends purpose and an understanding.

  • Pingback: Encouraging Healthy Snack Choices for Kids . Kitchen Explorers . PBS Parents | PBS « After-Hours Pediatrics

  • Alison

    So many of these ideas involve legumes (nuts or beans) and my daughter is allergic. She also isn’t much of a meat-eater so it’s hard to find healthy snacks with protein. Any ideas?

  • Lina

    Plain Greek yogurts are fantastic snacks… The fat free kinds contain anywhere from 14-18 grams of protein for a mere 80 to 100 calories… Creating the perfect healthy vessel for fruits, low sugar granolas, and even a dip for veggies. :)

  • http://www.staph-infection-resources.com Michelle Moore

    Alice, I think those are some great healthier snack choices. I would limit unfermented soy products like edamame as they are linked to estrogen-mimicking molecules. I just saw another article today blaming the many estrogen-type chemicals that affect hormone balance which is causing earlier puberty in children.
    Less processed, whole foods (preferably organic), also support better immune function which means happier and healthier children.

  • Y.D. Jordan

    It seems to me that every cooking show is same. It’s either a mean-spirited competition where chefs are humiliated and booted off a show each week, or it’s a cooking cutter format with a chef standing in front of a counter with cook top making the same tired dishes. Meat and potatoes. Some decadent dessert. Fried, buttery side dishes. Nobody is really teaching you to cook…and certainly not healthy cooking!