I’ve written a short novel about my kid-feeding philosophy. Cliff Notes version: I feed them healthy at home and don’t stress much if they eat not-so-healthy foods when we are away from home or they are in someone else’s care.
I have kids that eat a lot of food and eat often. They are both really active and I have no problem with them snacking all day. I have found that being hungry or tired can bring out the worst in my kids. Who am I kidding? It brings out the worst in me too. The challenge is that kids, especially the under 5 set, can’t always recognize, much less vocalize, hunger and sleepiness. A well fed, well rested child is generally a much more pleasant child to be around.*
*Well fed and well rested still doesn’t prevent sibling rivalry in my house, sadly. If you have a cure for sibling rivalry, PLEASE write me!!
I post our meals often, but I thought I’d show some of the snacks we eat at home and share my approach to kid’s snacks.
1. Produce, produce, produce.
The first snack I offer when the kids are hungry is an apple. I buy organic apples, usually in 3lb bags, and always have some in the fridge. They are free to get one any time. My little guy is really good at getting an apple when I’m not looking, eating it and leaving me a core hidden in the lego box to be found 3 days later. Don’t say my life isn’t exciting. And don’t go digging in the lego box unwarned.
Bananas are also an easy and quick snack that kids can serve themselves, although my munchkins tend to need my help starting the peel. I have cut up cucumbers, carrots and celery in the fridge most of the time too and the kids often snack on those. Once again, my little guy likes to leave celery fibers around the house for me to find.
Occasionally we’ll have berries for a snack (the weeks the organic versions are on sale), but berries are always a supervised snack in my house. Berries have potent natural colors and I do not want them smushed into my couch or carpet. I’m fine with apple cores and celery fibers, but I draw the line at blueberry stained couches. You’ve gotta have standards, right?
After apples, my kid’s most common snacks are dry Cheerios, Triscuits and pretzels. All are kept on the low shelf in the pantry and the kids can serve themselves easily. I have no idea how many pounds of Cheerios we’ve gone through in the last 5 years, but I’m guessing it’s a lot. I’m doing my part to keep General Mills in business.
On the shelf next to the cheerios and pretzels are containers of peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds and almonds.
I’m not real big on that whole ‘make food fun’ thing, because I want my kids to know that eating well is its own reward. I worry if I put too much emphasis on food being ‘fun’ that they will only want to eat healthy foods when they are all doctored up to be fun shapes/colors/funny named**. And, really, I don’t have the energy to do that on a daily basis. We certainly have fun meals (like our color themed dinners) and most healthy foods have beautiful colors on their own, but I don’t put a big emphasis on it.
However, I am proud of one fun way I’ve discovered to provide snacks: the gumball machine turned nut dispenser. We have it rigged (aka broken) so that it doesn’t require coins. The kids love it.
** Nothing against making foods fun. If it makes your kid eat healthy foods, go for it. My kids don’t seem to need it, so I don’t spend too much effort on it. I’m all about efficient utilization of my efforts.
4. Fill ‘Em Up Before You Leave
I like my kids to be well fed when we leave the house for a few reasons. One, they tend to behave better when they aren’t hungry. Two, I’d prefer to feed them healthy food from home than be at the mercy of grabbing a snack at the store/library/post office/etc (although I’ve most definitely opened a box of Triscuits at the grocery store before paying and let them eat while shopping in moments of desperation). Three, I’m cheap and it’s cheaper to feed them at home than to stop and buy snacks when we’re out.
I’m not sure whose arms are more full.
me: my boy, his snack and a camera
him: drink, his beloved blanket, alien (from Toy Story)
snack: cucumbers + oranges + oatmeal cookies
5. Super Sized Snacks
Some of the snacks my kids eat are meal sized. Again, I’m fine with that. If they are hungry enough to eat all the food, I’m more than happy to serve it all. I think kids are pretty good at gauging their hunger, especially if you don’t enforce a ‘clean your plate’ rule that can teach them to override their natural satiety gauges. If my kids want 2 plates worth of healthy foods, they get it. If they want two bites, that’s fine too. I use the same approach at meal times, with two added rules: 1. they must try everything on their plate and 2. they must stay seated until everyone is finished.
meal sized snack
oranges (cara cara if you are wondering why they look like grapefruit), banana oat cake, tortilla, triscuits + avocado
6. Put the Kiddos In Charge of Their Own Snacking Destiny
This works after about age 4.5. My daughter (5.5) loves being in charge of packing snacks when we are leaving the house. She grabs a couple of ziploc bags and heads to the pantry to make a ‘create your own adventure’ snack bag for her and her brother. She combines cheerios, pretzels, other cereal, nuts and, if she’s feeling crazy, some dried fruit. She has a future as a trail mix creator.
7. Healthy Snacks From Kitchen’s Other Than Your Own
Sometimes I stay out longer than expected and must get a snack when we are out running errands. Or, more commonly, we are running late leaving the house and I don’t have time to pack a snack (or eat my breakfast or fix my hair, etc). On those occasions, we buy snacks. As I mentioned in this post, Triscuits are my go-to grocery shopping snack. If we are at Target, we sometimes get the popcorn from the snack bar. It isn’t the healthiest, but it’s cheap ($1), they split it in two bags for me and my kids happily munch on a ‘treat’ for at least half of the shopping trip. At convenience stores, I generally grab a bag of Lays chips. Again, not comparable to fresh produce, but not an awful snack either. Only has 3 ingredients (potatoes, oil, salt), isn’t sticky, nor does it coat little fingers with colors and gunk.
8. Healthy Snacks That Won’t Weigh Your Purse Down
Like most moms, I don’t travel light. Still, I don’t want to carry a purse with a virtual snack bar inside. I’ve found that the least messy (sorry granola bars), least smushable (sorry bananas) and least brittle/crushable (sorry pretzels) snacks that my kids enjoy are pistachios and raisins. Both are light, shelf stable and pretty healthy.
There you have it – my general approach to the 3-4 times daily snack attack. I better stop writing now, as my kids are getting hungry for a snack…..
I don’t always serve snacks on plates***.*** Yes, I have to vacuum often. You could sometimes make a meal out of the crumbs in my carpet. Luckily I like to vacuum and I also get a very strange pleasure out of full vacuum bags.