With kids home from school and summer camp, you may feel like the eating just never stops. You manage to clean up from breakfast, and your kids are already begging for a morning snack. You finally open your laptop, and your kids are screaming for lunch. It may seem like you can never catch a break!
Let me fill you in on some crucial advice: Kids thrive on structure!
At school and camp, there are set times for meals and snacks. It is not a free-for-all. We need to hold our children to the same expectations at home. Remember my previous post about Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility? Parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of eating, and children are responsible for how much and whether to eat.
Now let’s delve a little further into the logistics of snacktime. Snacks are absolutely necessary for kids! When we don’t offer regular opportunities for eating nutritious foods throughout the day, this interrupts the Division of Responsibility and may lead to tantrums, overeating at meals, sneaking food, etc. Younger children should be offered something to eat every 2-3 hours, while older children/adolescents can go 3-4 hours between meals or snacks. I strongly recommend setting up an eating schedule for your family so that everyone is on the same page. In between these set times for meals and snacks, we should put up an imaginary—or even a real—“The Kitchen is Closed” sign. During these times, kitchen access should only be allowed for water.
Your kids might protest, especially if they had gotten used to eating and snacking whenever they pleased just out of boredom. But stick to it. If they accepted the structure at school and camp, they can accept it at home, too.
So what should you serve for snacks? This is always a grey area. Often, snacks end up being some sort of carbohydrate, such as crackers, cereal, chips, fruit, etc. These foods will give our children energy to last them the next 30-60 minutes, but likely not all the way until their next meal or snack opportunity. However, if we combine a carbohydrate with a protein food, we can satisfy our child’s appetite for longer.
Here are some examples of perfect carbohydrate + protein snack pairs:
Cheese + grapes
Apples + peanut butter
Carrots + hummus
Cereal + yogurt
Turkey slices + crackers
While not every snack is going to be perfectly balanced, and often our children might refuse to eat the protein portion, we at least need to try our best to be consistent. When we offer a balanced snack on a set schedule between meals, we can help set our children up for success!