Are snacks for kids really necessary?

Young children require energy to help them grow, develop and reach their maximum potential. Often, though, their tummies are too small to get all their energy requirements from meal times alone. Research has shown that regular snacks can be a useful way of ensuring that young, growing bodies are meeting their energy requirements [1]. It’s often easy to forget how much extra nutrition kids may need during this period of rapid development – it can be up to double the energy requirements, per kilogram of bodyweight, compared with adults. Offering a variety of healthy snacks can help a child meet their nutrient requirements.

Snacking, good or bad, cannot be ignored as it happens so regularly. You could say that Aussie kids are committed snackers! In Australia, around 66% of children aged 2-16 years old have 2 or 3 snacking occasions every day, and 99% have at least one snack a day [2].

The content of snack foods matter

The foods and drinks you provide your little ones in between meals can have a huge impact on their daily dietary intake. 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].

There are many snacks that provide good nutrition rather than the “empty kilojoules” we often associate with many snack food products. These “good snacks” actually provide a significant contribution to the essential nutrients required by children. Research has shown that amongst Australian children at least 28% of daily dietary fibre intake comes from snacks and around 21% of protein. Many snacks also often provide vitamin C and E.

However, snacks often come with negative connotations: “empty kilojoules”, high sugar, salt and fat levels, and foods with this nutritional profile offer very little benefit to your child’s health. In fact, for every 1 MJ increase in total intake of energy every day, a quarter will come from snacks your kids eat and drink. Therefore, it’s very important to watch what your kids consume each day as 35% of total sugar intake comes from snacks [2]. It goes without saying that it’s very important that the snacks you provide your children are healthy and nutritious, and low in sugar, fat and salt.

Healthy snack options should be top of the list

It makes sense that healthy snack options should be prioritised both in and out of home, particularly as snacking behaviours are developed throughout childhood and into the teen years. Whilst it’s great to get a range of macronutrients into a child’s diet, it’s also 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 as they grow up.

About the Author

Diana Austen works for Whole Kids as a Nutrition Advisor. With a Master’s degree in nutrition, she has spent 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.

References

[1] 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
 
[2] Unlocking the facts on kids’ snack habits. The first in-depth exploration of national data on snacking behaviours in Australian Children. Nutrition Research Australia, 2013.

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