Three meals a day may not be enough to cover a child or teen’s nutrition needs to grow, learn, and stay active. An afternoon snack can help fill the gap. The question is: what foods do our kids really need? How to make snacking healthy and prevent it from interfering with any of the 3 other daily meals? We asked the experts.
Do kids need a snack?
Most kids of all ages need an afternoon snack to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. What they eat and when can make a difference when it comes to keeping them attentive and energized throughout the day. That makes it a good reason for us as parents to plan for it and make snacking part of our kid’s daily eating schedule.
Public health experts consider that this afternoon snack still needs to combine nutrient-dense food items, like any meal, if we want to make sure that it actually benefits the child’s needs. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 insist on nutrient-dense foods that provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
“At a general rule, ANSES, the French Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety, considers that it is preferable not to create opportunities for eating between formal meals (breakfast, lunch, “afternoon tea”, supper) particularly in view of the need to restrict excessive daily energy intake. ANSES thus recommends that food should only be served at school in the framework of a formal meal, such as breakfast or “afternoon tea”, and should not take the form of a separate snack. ” reports Claire Bladier, a professional in nutrition research who collaborated with experts from ANSES.
The core elements of a healthy snack.
Unplanned snacks tend to lead to the highest amounts of sugar, sodium, or fat. Fortunately, there are plenty of delicious and healthy snack options that you can easily stock up on. We asked Cecile Cottus, Registered Dietitian, to guide us in finding out the core elements that make up a healthy snack and that allow each family to make tailored and affordable choices that meet their preferences.
1- Focus on simple food ingredients.
Whether you shop for ready-to-eat snacks or like to prepare homemade snacks, it all starts at the grocery store. When shopping, prefer food items with the shortest nutrition labels, 5-6 ingredients maximum. This will help you stock up on nutrient-dense food items. Learn more about how to read ingredients labels in this article.
2- Cover a minimum of 2 food groups.
A balanced snack will ideally combine a minimum of 2 food groups:
- Grains with fruit or veggies
- Grains with a dairy
- Grains with cheese
3- Think outside the box.
Be creative. Find and combine the simple food ingredients your kids already love. Treats can be part of your kid’s afternoon snack as long as you find a balance over the week. As an example, it can be ok to give your child a bar of chocolate if it comes with bread or another source of grains. This option can be healthier than serving a bar made out of a long list of ingredients you don’t know.
Once at school, your child will decide when to eat and how much, but by planning ahead and providing them with balanced meals, you can boost their brainpower and give them the energy they need without the rush on junk foods.