I am excited to bring you a guest article today from our friend, Rachel Engelhart. Rachel is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Professional Counselor with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from the University of Maryland, College Park and a Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness from New York University. Rachel works with people of all ages struggling with weight, eating disorders, picky eating, self-esteem and body image issues. She has an all-food fits philosophy and loves helping her clients feel good in their skin. She is also the owner of RE Nutrition, a home-based nutrition counseling service that brings “hands on nutrition right to your kitchen.”
You know that time of day. Kids tear through the front door and stampede towards the kitchen. With hunger in their tummies and the events of the day on their mind, it’s natural for kids to “B-line” for an afterschool snack. Suddenly, cabinet doors fly open, the pantry shelves get ransacked and the freezer has been raided. There is no treat left unturned, no food containing vessel unvisited. It’s snack time and for many kids, the sky is the limit.
Here are some guidelines that might help make snack time a more mindful experience and less of a free-for-all.
- Designate a time frame. While we don’t want to create an environment of feast or famine, it is a great idea to set boundaries around meal and snack times. If your child has eaten a balanced breakfast and lunch, a snack consisting of one or two items should be appropriate to give him/her the energy boost to get to dinner. I usually recommend a time frame of about 20 mins. When the time period for snacking is contained, it sets your child up to eat in a way that truly honors his/her hunger.
- Include them in the process. Brainstorm snack ideas with your child. If you offer foods your child enjoys, snack time will be more enjoyable. Furthermore, get them involved in the prep! Empower them to spread the peanut butter or cut the fruit (if age appropriate). Getting kids involved in the kitchen gives them important life skills.
- Choose 1-2 snacks. It’s easy to feel like the contents of your kitchen- between the refrigerator, candy drawer, pantry, snack shelf, cereal cabinet and freezer are all options. Rather than approaching it like an 'All You Can Eat Buffet', encourage your child to choose one or two snacks- apple and peanut butter, cheese and whole grain crackers, baby carrots and hummus, Greek yogurt, etc. Whatever it is, choose it, portion it out of the bag or container (rather than sitting down with a big bag of chips or the entire package of cookies), put it on a plate, and sit at the table to eat it.
- Ask questions. If your child is someone who seems eager to eat beyond the designated snack time and looks for additional snack options, it might be worth asking questions to better understand why your child is so hungry. Overeating at snack time can be a likely indicator that your child is not eating sufficiently at breakfast or lunch and may require some re-working to ensure your child is eating 3 meals plus snacks to meet his/her nutrient needs.
- No screens while eating. Use snack time (and all meal times for that matter) to talk about the day, to make a plan for the rest of the day, or just to enjoy each others company. We want to create long terms practices and teach our kids how to be mindful while eating—whether it’s a snack or a meal, we want to create lasting habits. That said, knowing the realities of being a parent in the 21st century, if this is not realistic and there will be a screen in the mix, it makes it even more important to have a snack that is pre-portioned because data shows that those who don’t pay attention while eating, will eat more. If you have already selected your snack, portioned it out, and the bag has already been put away, it’s less common to overeat.
- Plan ahead. If you are not home for snack time, give your caretaker a list of snack options or leave choices for your children to select from. Better yet, why not leave portioned out snacks? An individual bag of trail mix, a plate of cheese and crackers left in the fridge, sliced veggies and hummus, an individual size bag of popcorn, or a sliced apple with peanut butter are relatively easy to have ready, waiting for your child at the end of the day. Alternatively, if your child is older, make a schedule of snacks they can prepare or grab when they come home.
Snacks are important in helping your child meet his/her nutrient needs and can also greatly impact how your child shows up to his/her next meal. Setting your child up with thought out, structured snacks can significantly impact your child's nutrient intake and ensure they have all the fuel they need to get through the day.
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