by Mandy Dos Santos
The two words are linked at the hip.
What snacks should we give them? How many snacks should they have? Is snacking bad or good? As parents we often wonder whether we are doing the right thing.
Last year I read the book French Kids Eat Everything by Kate Le Billon (great book by the way and I have an interesting post on the book here) that has changed my view on snacking quite substantially.
She articulated some fabulous healthy eating and better eating points for me, even as a nutritionist. But the snacking dilemma was a game changer.
Many parents ask me about snacking options for their children. What are better options they can buy from the supermarket or what are some different recipes to try?
Almost in the same breath, they tell me that their children do not eat their lunch or eat their dinner. That they dutifully and lovingly prepare healthy meals for their child(ren) only to get them thrown around the room or blank stares and crossed arms.
And this is where Kate Le Billon’s book gave me my WOW moment.
Yes kids do need snacks and healthy options like fruit, veggie sticks, dips or yoghurt which are great. But, in Australia (and in other countries too) we are so frightened that our kids could go hungry and starve in the space of two hours that we snack them up constantly.
“Here Johnny, have a bickie”.
“Here sweetie, have some apple”.
“Here bubba, have a rusk”.
This relentless hassling is firstly not great from a grazing point of view nor from a boredom eating point of view but from a hunger point of view, it is hopeless. They merely will never be truly hungry.
After this incessant eating all day, no wonder these children don’t want to sit down and eat your pasta and ratatouille. They have had 2 slices of apple, 2 biscuits and a baby muesli bar (which cost you $4) before lunch was even served.
A little one’s stomach is said to really be no bigger than their clenched fist. Go on, clench it. It isn’t that big really is it?
At the same time, this wow moment of mine is clouded by the conundrum of a busy toddler. Especially some of the busy little boys I know that do not sit down.
As much as French Kids Eat Everything talks about the importance of sitting down for a meal (which I also fully support and encourage for all families), there is also an age around 12months to 2 years where sometimes it is almost IMPOSSIBLE to get most children to sit down at a table if they are not strapped in.
This age group of a toddler-dom is not only synonymous with exploration, it also a period where their growth slows down remarkably. Your little one does not require as much energy intake per kilogram as they once did as a baby.
It might feel like they are not eating anything, but if they are hungry they will eat.
So although I fully support the notion of not incessantly snacking all day so as to be able to create a relatively calm eating environment over dinner or lunch where a meal is actually eaten. I also appreciate and recognise that toddlers are almost in their own world.
For a busy toddler that will not slow down, a good way to get them to eat is to have that healthy meal of lunch or dinner broken down into smaller portions to eat over the day.
If they will not sit down for 10 minutes, they may sit down for 30 seconds and have:
A yoghurt and 1 spoonful of your porridge for breaky
2 tablespoons of some homemade spaghetti bolognese at 10am;
2 tablespoons again at 12pm;
2 slices of apple at 2pm;
a stick of carrot at 4pm;
and at 6pm they have an egg with some peas and a stick of toast.
With some water and milk, you’re done. A great nutritious day of snacking but in a healthy meal like snack way.
Two last important points.
What works in your family schedule is ok. Snacks do not have to be jazzy and gourmet. Your child will love peanut butter on apple eaten with chopsticks, just as much as a pre-packaged something-or-other that costs you $2.
Mandy dos Santos is a food scientist and nutritionist who has worked in varying fields in food. From her uni café days to importing Mexican mangoes to designing food products for the largest restaurant in the world. As a mother of young girls she is also incredibly passionate about child and community nutrition. She has a blog Little People Nutrition where she posts weekly about nutrition, food investigations, recipes and all things family food related. Pop by and say hi!