by Kelley Jilek
Young children need snacks. They aren’t able to go as long as adults without eating. When they do eat a meal, they can only eat a little at a time. Snacks help them meet their daily caloric and nutritional needs.
Now is the time to instill a taste for a variety of foods so your child will be set for a lifetime of healthy eating. Avoid offering only snacks you know your child likes. Pair those foods with new foods. Your child will probably repeatedly choose the more familiar food, but he or she will eventually try, and may eventually like, the new one. Your child is probably more receptive than you would expect!
Children will eat what is available to them. Stock your pantry and fridge with wholesome choices that are just as convenient and appealing as commercialized, ready-to-go choices:
- Cheese (slices, cubes, or string cheese)
- Whole grain crackers, breads, mini muffins, dry cereals, and popcorn
- Dried fruits (raisins, apples, apricots, etc.)
- Yogurt, cottage cheese, and kefir (a cultured, creamy yogurt-type drink)
- Shelled sunflower seeds and other nuts
- 100% fruit juice (limit to 4 oz. daily)
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Fruits smoothies
- 100% fruit leather (dehydrated fruit puree)
Pay attention to portion size. Many children tend to eat better if they are not overwhelmed with too much food, and children this age don’t need to eat large amounts. Recommended serving sizes for them are actually quite small.
The timing of snacks is important. Most young children do well with two or three snacks per day. Try scheduling snacks midmorning, midafternoon, and midevening. Space daytime snacks at least an hour or two before the next meal and the evening snack an hour or so before bedtime. Planned snacks are more appropriate than nibbling freely throughout the day.
Healthy, reasonably-sized, and well-timed snacks can ensure that your child is getting enough to eat and help boost his or her intake of essential nutrients. To learn more about building a healthy plate, visit choosemyplate.gov.