With the status of back-to-school season woefully up in the air, many families have accepted they'll likely have to begin the academic year at home. While safety is certainly our top priority, being asked for a snack 6,436 times each day is definitely starting to test our patience. Of course, we want our kids to perform at their absolute best, which means keeping them properly hydrated and fed all day long.
In an effort to make navigating snack time a little easier on parents while their kiddos learn from home, we tapped two experts to get their best tips. Whether you are dealing with a superpicky eater or need to make snack time as painless as possible so you can work during the day, we're dishing out some helpful advice.
Create Your Family's Version of a Snack Station
Registered dietician and bestselling author Erin Palinski-Wade knows the struggle of staying on top of snack time as a mom of three. She offered up several options based on age for making children more autonomous when it comes to feeding themselves.
- The Basket Strategy — Kids of All Ages: "Try making a 'snack basket' for each child that you place in a spot that's accessible to them," Erin told POPSUGAR. "The basket will provide the allotted snacks for the day such as fresh fruit, whole-grain crackers, nuts, etc. Then you can let your child know that when they want a snack, they can select one from their basket, but once the snacks are gone, they're gone. This allows the child to feel in control of their own snack choices and also helps them to self-regulate so that they don't eat all the snacks at once."
- The Muffin-Tin Strategy — Toddlers and Picky Eaters: "Using a muffin tray can be an easy way to expose kids to new foods without having them feeling overwhelmed," Erin suggested. "Fill each slot with a snack of choice. It can be a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, a muffin, nuts, and even some indulgent options, like chocolate chips. The tray will prompt kids to try new foods while guiding them through making healthy snack choices over time."
- The Snack Division Strategy — Kids of All Ages: "If you worry that your kids are snacking too much, you can divide snacks into two categories: 'anytime snacks' and 'once-a-day snacks,'" Erin explained. "The food can either be placed in two separate areas or you can create a list of 'anytime' and 'once-a-day' options and place it where the list will be easily seen. The anytime snacks should be full of nutrition and fiber without any added sugar, like fresh fruit and raw veggies, air-popped popcorn, nuts, string cheese, and hard-boiled eggs. The once-a-day snacks can be options you want to allow but without excessive consumption, like cookies."
Set a Snack-Time Schedule
According to Leah Hackney, a pediatric dietician, creating a consistent window where kids are offered snacks will help get them into a routine once school starts up. "Some parents have windows of opportunity to eat where they'll set a snack plate out," she told POPSUGAR. "The next 20 or 30 minutes is the kids' chance to eat. If they choose not to eat, then they won't eat again until the next snack or meal."
For little kids who tend to get hangry in the late afternoon, setting out a predinner veggie plate is also a smart move. "By the time the end of the day rolls around, toddlers are often grumpy or just generally not willing to cooperate. Their appetite may be all over the place," Leah explained. "I recommend parents putting out a small veggie or fruit tray when they're getting ready for dinner to help curb their child's appetite. It's a really great way to introduce new, healthy foods, too!"
Rethink Your Family's Definition of Snacks
Depending on how your family operates, rethinking your definition of snacking might be the play. Leah is quick to remind parents that children's snacks don't have to be over-the-top or come in fancy packaging.
"As a society, we get really caught up on snack food being actual snack foods, such as granola bars, something packaged, or even crackers," she explained. "Snacks are literally just another opportunity to eat, so I like to present them as mini meals. You can have something as easy as a hard-boiled egg."
Rather than reaching for a pack of fruit snacks, Leah recommends being a bit more flexible when your mini mes ask for something to eat in the middle of the day. "You can give kids your leftover chicken and rice from dinner the night before," she shared. "And then for lunch, you could have a veggie and cheese tray; there aren't any food rules. I think we get caught up in the misconception that only certain foods are served in a certain time of day."