Allow me to state the obvious: kids love to snack. Their bodies are growing, their metabolisms are fast, and they’re always hungry. They’re starving in between classes, they’re famished when they get home from school, and they get the munchies late at night. A lot of schools (middle, not just elementary) are aware of this and have even built morning snack time into the schedule—this is especially common in districts where lunch periods are late, and kids have to wait a while to eat (and many of those kids skip breakfast, so their stomachs are really empty by lunch if they don’t get a snack…). Conversely, many kids have really early lunch periods and are starving by late afternoon. I remember that when I was younger, my hungriest time was around 3 pm, right when I got home from school. I would walk in the door, immediately raid the kitchen cabinets, and begin eating pretzels, peanut butter, cookies… anything I could find.
As parents, you want your kids to eat healthy snacks and get the right nutrients, and not just reach for a Twinkie, a bag of Lays, or sugary Sweet Tarts. But how on earth do you get them to do that? Kids want things that taste good (and are fun to eat), not things that are good for them!
I have three tips that I think will help parents get their kids to eat healthy snacks (snacks that they take to school and/or snacks they eat at home).
- Put thought into the presentation of the snacks. Make the snacks look good! Kids (and adults) do judge a snack by its packaging. I never thought I’d compliment a fast-food chain, but Wendy’s has the right idea with their apple slices shaped like French fries. They’re served in a French-fry shaped carton, so they’re really fun to snack on; much better than eating a plain ol’ apple. You can follow Wendy’s example and cut apples in slivers like that (put lemon juice on them so they don’t turn brown), or cut fruit and veggies in other shapes, or make really colorful trail mix blends and put them in cute containers.
- Give your kids ownership of the snacks. Kids don’t want to do anything their parents tell them to do, and in the same way, they don’t want to eat what their parents tell them to eat. You have to give your kids a feeling of ownership with the snacks. Instead of stuffing a box of raisins into their lunch boxes, give them a few healthy options and let them decide which one to take. You might even want to bring your kids to the grocery store with you, point out some fun ideas, and let them choose what to buy. Or involve them in the kitchen—for example, make a healthy snack mix with them, and ask them if they want dried cherries or dried cranberries, walnuts or almonds? Cheerios or granola mixed in? Make your kids feel like chefs creating heir own fun concoctions. They’ll be proud of the result, have feeling of ownership, and thus be more likely to eat it and not toss it!
- Model good snacking habits. Parents, if you’re always eating fattening snacks, your kids are going to pick up those habits from you. Try to get “caught” eating healthy snacks like carrots with hummus, or celery and peanut butter, and your kids will learn that it’s cool and “popular” to eat healthy snacks.
But I Have No Time…
Okay, okay. I know that my tips involve a lot more work than just sticking a pack of cookies into a lunch bag. And who has time for more work? On a Monday morning, as you’re scurrying to drink your coffee, walk the dog, and get your child out of bed, you’re certainly not going to have time to be packing carrots, much less making trail mix concoctions! But here’s the trick: do as much as you can in advance. Set aside time on a Sunday, take out five ziplock bags or other small containers, one for each day of the week, put your snacks in the bags, and stick them in the fridge or on the counter. (Only do this for snacks that don’t go bad in a week, of course.) Then you’ll be all set for the week; each morning, you’ll just have to grab a baggie out of the fridge/off the counter and stick it in your kid’s backpack; that’s it. I do this for myself with carrots—I buy a big bag of baby carrots, and then on Sundays, I portion them into five ziplock bags and stick them in the fridge, so that each morning, I can grab a bag and go! Sometimes I’ll also put hummus or peanut butter into small containers ahead of time.
Coming Soon: Back-to-School Snacks Your Kids Will Actually Eat
Now that I’ve given you some tips on how to get your kids to eat healthier snacks, my next post will get into some more specific ideas about what those snacks could be.