Is Your Child Snacking Wrong? A Pediatrician Explains
Is your child snacking wrong? BEABA x SpoonfulOne has teamed up with Board Certified pediatrician Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson to get the scoop on snacking. We hope you enjoy!
Toddlerhood and snacks seem to go hand and hand. When “snacks” are mini-meals and offerings of good food, there is no problem with small frequent feedings at this age. My boys have outgrown that snack phase to some extent, but I can remember the days of stashing snacks in the stroller, car, and diaper bag. Over the past few decades, the number of calories consumed by children from snacks has increased by 30%. What children snack on certainly can reflect how their diet is shaped and how they grow. Typically, pediatricians like me don’t love to promote snacks in general because it discourages our eating of things like fruit and veggies. Simply put, we get filled up on junk before meals. One study found it was our over-consumption of snacks more than our under-consumption of fruits and veggies that are getting us into trouble.
I’m helping BEABA answer some of the most commonly asked questions surrounding snacks. My goal is not to shame or finger wag, rather provide suggestions for what’s ideal. Snacking is a part of our culture and most of our lives but there are better times to break the “rules” than others. For instance, when traveling on a plane and you need entertainment, anything goes, bust out those individually packaged snacks. Here’s The Truth About Snacking According to a Pediatrician.
Q: How many snacks should my toddler have a day?
A: After 9 months, offer 2-3 healthy and nutritious snacks per day. Nutritious is the keyword here. As easy as those goldfish are, try to reach for something healthier (pre-cut veggies or fruits, cheese, etc.) when possible. It’s a parenting fear that our kids will go hungry. It’s almost an instinct to offer and offer and offer food all day. Our kids won’t starve, especially if we offer 3 meals and 2 healthy snacks daily. Making rules for only a couple of snacks a day and sticking to it can help with nagging later on, too!
Q: Should my toddler snack before or after mealtime?
A: Ideally your child would have their snacks at scheduled snack times, like mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Snacking right before a meal spoils their appetite. Snacking right after a meal is unnecessary and likely shows they could have eaten more of the meal. When prepping dinner, for example, if your child wants a snack, consider giving small servings of part of the meal that is coming up. A preview!
Q: Can my child have too many snacks?
A: Probably. Especially if it means they won’t eat dinner with your family, for example. But don’t get too paranoid about this. Just work to decrease the number of times snacks are offered. Again, I’d try to target offering 2-3 healthy snacks per day.
Q: My toddler is constantly asking for snacks…what do I do?
A: Try to remind them of their daily feeding schedule. Maybe their snack time is only 30 minutes away and you can hold them off until then. A former pediatric colleague Dr. Mollie Grow said: “It is okay to be a little hungry. Teaching kids it’s okay to get a little bit hungry (not ravenous) and work up an appetite for a regular meal” is a healthy way to learn to eat right.”
Q: What are your favorite healthy snacks?
A: Having pre-cut fruits and veggies at the ready makes offering a quick snack super easy. I also love cubed cheese, turkey/chicken, yogurt, raisins, and scrambled eggs. As a pediatrician, I have to note the importance of including diverse foods and snacks into your children’s diets. Research now says early and regular dietary exposure to food — speciﬁcally a food often associated with allergies, like peanuts — helps reduce the risk of a child developing an allergy to that food. We know from the EAT study, that 98% of babies who were fed foods like peanuts, sesame, eggs, fish and dairy by five months of age and who kept those foods in their diets regularly, did not develop a food allergy. SpoonfulOne makes it easy for parents to get the 9 food groups that are associated with 90% of food allergies into their children’s diets. Puffs and Oat Crackers are delicious, on-the-go options that satiate their need for a snack and offer food allergy protection. Store easily in BEABA Glass Containers or Multiportions.
Q: Are there any snacking mistakes parents should avoid?
A: Mistakes, no. However, we can snack smarter.
- No juice for babies, only tiny bits for toddlers, and less than a cup a day for the rest of us. Fruit juice is widely thought of as a healthy and natural source of vitamins and hydration. And although I won’t vilify having juice in the diet of an older child, I can’t endorse it’s ever good for a child.
- Avoid the introduction of sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Work on what you offer. Have a goal for 50% of the calories your child is offered to come from fruit and veggies.
- Don’t let your kids snack while watching TV or any activity that lends them distracted. Before you know it, you’re halfway through Sesame Street or Dora and the bag of crackers is gone.
- Red/orange/yellow packaging is dangerous. These colors are known to make you hungry and eat more. Advertisers know this! Think about leading fast-food chains, junk food, candy bars, and soda containers. Red/orange/yellow is a threat level alert for high-calorie foods that often have little nutritive value.
- Go to the grocery store AFTER a meal, not before mealtime when you’re hungry. Shopping when you’re full and satiated will encourage you to purchase fresh, whole foods as opposed to snack foods.
- Eat as a family when you can.
- Serve your kids 3 meals a day.
When it comes to food: don’t assume anything, offer everything, and try, try, try again. Borrowing from Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, I say this:
- The job of every parent is to offer young children nutritious and diverse food.
- The job of every child is to eat when hungry and stop when full.
-Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, mom to two boys, pediatrician, and Chief Medical Officer at SpoonfulOne