The easiest way to change how your kids eat is to change how they snack.
Most parents I know think of meals as The Nutrition Zone— The time when parents try to pack in the nutrients—and snacks as the Fun Zone (or maybe it’s the Forgotten Zone). Want to change your kids’ eating habits? Change the way they snack.
- Less than 3 servings per day
- Less than half of one serving at snack time
- Slightly more than 1 serving at dinner
Changing Snack Behavior is easier than changing Dinner Behavior because…
Adding some to zero gives you a bigger mathematical bang-for-your-buck than adding more to some.
If your children eat 2 snacks each day, and if those snacks usually featured fruits and vegetables, that would add up to a big change in their diets…even if your kids only ate a few bites at each snack.
On the other hand, getting kids who normally eat 3 or 4 bites of vegetable at dinner to eat 5, 6, or 7 bites would probably be a lot of work for YOU. And you’d probably resort to begging, bribing, etc. (You know not to do that, right? Read Wheelin’ & Dealin’: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trade Peas for Pie.)
Fruits and Vegetables should be your kids’ Go-To Snack.
I know, you think your kids won’t eat fruits and vegetables at snack time and you don’t want them to be hungry. Or, your kids are in school where they don’t serve fruits and vegs at snacktime. Or fruits and vegetables aren’t really portable.
I hear you. To these real objections and problems I say:
- Instead of emphasizing health, talk to your kids about proportion. Fruits and vegetables should show up in the diet more frequently as a group than crackers, cookies, salty snacks, etc.
- It’s ok to let children refuse a snack. It teaches them that temporary hunger is survivable. Think of this as letting your kids build an appetite.
- If your kids have a meltdown, this is a behavioral problem, not a food problem. And even if you know that food would solve the meltdown, you still have to teach your kids how to behave even if they’re hungry.
- Compensate for schools that serve lots of crackers and salty snacks by making sure you serve healthy after-school snacks. Again, teach the concept of proportion.
- It’s just as easy to grab an apple as it is to grab a bag of Goldfish crackers. But I hear you: why not store some apples and oranges in the car, replacing/replenishing every few days? Or pre-cut/pre-bag fruit and keep it in the refrigerator?
If you want your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables you have to serve more fruits and vegetables.
Eating is really a matter of math. Kids want to eat the foods they’re most accustomed to eating.
Research shows that kids today take in a lot more calories from snacks than they did a generation ago.
Sadly, the research also shows that kids don’t compensate for consuming more calories during snack by consuming fewer calories at meals.
And even sadder is this news: Most snack calories come from desserts and sweetened beverages, but salty snacks – i.e. potato chips, tortilla chips, pretzels — and candy are the fastest growing category of snack consumption.
Your Kids won’t be the only ones to benefit from better snacking. Your life will improve too.
To find out how, read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids’ Snacking Will Improve YOUR Life.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source “Here’s the math…”: Draxten, M., J. A. Fulkerson, S. Friend, C. F. Flattum, and R. Schow. 2014. “Parental Role Modeling of Fruits and Vegetables At Meals and Snacks is Associated With Children’s Adequate Consumption.” Appetite 78C: 1-7.