It is often easy to forget just how much extra nutrition kids may need as they grow and develop rapidly – it can be up to double the energy requirements, per kilogram of bodyweight, compared with adults. Snacks can be a necessary part of a child’s diet particularly as their tummies can be too tiny to get all their energy requirements from meal times alone.
However, snacking often comes with negative connotations, particularly in relation to ‘empty kilojoules’ and eating excess sugar and fat and eating too many calories. Yet, it can also be a great time to get a range of macronutrients into a child’s diet and ensuring that young, growing bodies are meeting their energy requirements.  Hence, it goes without saying that the best snack foods will be nutrient-dense foods – in fact, it’s a great time to offer foods which contain nutrients which may otherwise be lacking in the diet. But the quantities consumed at snack time need to be monitored and age appropriate. After all, a toddler’s tummy is only about the size of a clenched fist!
The content of snack foods matter
Younger kids need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day. Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day. Snacks make up 28% of the total daily energy intake of an Australian child and each snacking occasion contributes 12% of total daily energy intake.2 Therefore, it’s important to offer a variety of flavours, tastes and textures including vegetables at snack times. This will increase a child’s familiarity with a wide range of foods and encourage healthy eating habits.
Good snacking behaviour is about the food, the time and even the company
As snacking behaviours are entrenched throughout childhood and into the teen years, it makes sense that healthy snack options should be prioritised both, in, and out of, the home. Savoury foods should be a key factor of snack time to protect their teeth, limit sugar intake and help boost their protein and fibre intake.
Offer snacks at predictable times, so that snack time becomes party of the daily routine, rather than being seen as a treat. And this time should not be too distracting or too close to a meal to ensure your kids eat healthily at mealtimes. Additionally, don’t forget that your kids are more likely to give new foods a try at snack time if they’ve helped to make them. This might just include adding chopped fruit or veggies to an existing snack, creating a dip or putting a couple of pre-made items together – it doesn’t have to mean hours spent in the kitchen. All of these activities can go a long way to helping expand the variety in your kids diet as a whole.
Aim to try to sit down for a few minutes and have a chat with your children about your day, enjoy snack time and the food you are sharing together.
 Nutrition Australia Nutrition Fact Sheet – Healthy Snacks for Under 5s. http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/healthy-snacks-under-5s. Published 17 April 2010. Accessed: 2 March 2017
About the Author
Diana Austen works for Whole Kids as a Nutrition Advisor. With a Master’s degree in nutrition, she has over six years’ experience working with a range of companies on innovation, strategic insight and regulatory and scientific affairs. Fascinated by the nutritional requirements of infants and young children she focuses specifically on products for this age group.