Do you ever feel that no matter how much you feed your child, they will always find room for a snack? Even when they’ve announced they were “full” an hour ago, after lunch?
As a nutritionist this is something that often comes up in my workshops as parents worry about why their child won’t finish their meal, yet is “starving” only a short time later and rummaging through the pantry or fridge. Families fear that they have created a little “snack” monster and are confused about the cause and don’t know how to break the cycle in a healthy, nutritious and stress-free way.
While there can be many different causes for continual snacking, such as not filling up properly at mealtimes and even consuming too much sugar, there are a few simple tips and strategies that I always encourage, to help put an end to the constant pleas for food.
For a healthy, delicious and adorable treat, Mandy Sacher from The Wholesome Child runs us through how to make bliss balls. They’re surprisingly easy.
The sugar-hunger connection.
Sugar is hiding everywhere- often in foods considered “healthy”. Soups, pasta sauces, yoghurt pouches, bagels and muesli bars can all contain significant amounts of sugar. Consuming too much sugar on a daily basis can throw your child’s appetite out of whack and may result in frequent snacking. I go into depth about sugar in my book, Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook.
Refined sugar is stripped of fibre, vitamins and minerals, offering no nutrient value and ‘empty’ calories – which can also reduce satiation after eating. When a little one eats an excess of sugar, it can cause an imbalance in blood sugar levels – sugar highs followed by sugar lows and the need for more sweet food. Simply reducing sugar from your child’s diet can help to stabilise blood sugar levels and help a child to feel more satiated (meaning less snacking).
In order to identify if your child’s eating too much sugar, it’s important to understand how to read nutritional information and start to read the labels of your family’s favourite staples. We expect to find sugar at a children’s birthday party but it’s often a surprise to find it hiding in a chicken marinade or vegetable soup. I go into depth in my book about how to read the nutritional panel, but put simply, try and choose products with less than five grams of added sugar per 100 grams.
Create structured mealtimes.
Establishing a structure around mealtimes will not only allow you to plan what your family will be eating, but it will also offer your child consistency. Use a weekly meal planner and get your children involved with planning their breakfasts, lunches and dinners (not to mention choosing some nutrient-dense snacks too).
Including them in the planning will give them a sense of autonomy and control – making them more likely to consume the meal or snack with fewer complaints and also helping to reduce dinnertime tantrums.
If you’re after some meal planner inspiration, my book includes a range of planners suitable for fussy eaters, adventurous eaters, families with allergies, lunchbox specific planners and more. Meal planners are an ideal way for busy families to boost their nutrition, whilst saving time, money and stress.
Fill up on the good stuff.
I recommend to my clients that children should have three meals a day, with two nutrient-dense snacks. This means that a child may be eating every two and a half hours, to give them an energy boost and the necessary nutrients to get through the day.
At these mealtimes, it’s important to eat plenty of veggies, as well as healthy fats and proteins. Vegetable intake is a vital element in a family’s diet. Not only do vegetables work wonders with filling the tummy and helping with satiation, they’re also packed with antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals – important for both children and adults.
Stretch out snack times.
If your child is prone to eating every hour or so, begin to stretch out their snacks by just five to 10 minutes every few days.
The likelihood is that they probably won’t notice and it means that over time you’ll be able to develop a more regular and sustainable eating pattern.
Identify boredom eating.
Sometimes frequent snacking stems from a child purely looking for something to do. If you think your child may potentially be bored, why not trying to distract them with games and activities when they ask for more food?
By just playing a quick 10-minute game or drawing a picture if you deem their snacking to be excessive, could result in them forgetting they were hungry in the first place.
If your child is snacking…
…make sure they’re reaching for healthy and satiating snacks. Both healthy fats and protein are integral in helping to help fill your child’s tum for longer and are packed with a bunch of essential vitamins and minerals.
My top 10 nutrient-dense and super simple snacks are:
- Sweet potato with a drizzling of almond butter or tahini. This makes a great side dish at mealtimes as well.
- High Protein Peanut Butter Biscuits. I’d recommend whipping up a batch of these tasty biscuits on the weekend and keeping them in an airtight container for snacks throughout the week – if they last that long…
- Sweet Potato Wedges with guacamole for dipping. Avocado is not only a satiating snack food, but it can help support heart health, vision and improve digestion too.
- Nuts and homemade granola topped with DIY Coconut Yoghurt. Did you know, coconut can help boost your immune function? Plus, it’s a great non-dairy alternative with a nutty flavour.
- Popcorn in coconut oil. Popcorn is high in fibre as well as manganese for cognitive function and magnesium for a better night’s sleep.
- Beetroot and Spinach Bliss Balls. These tasty bliss balls are the perfect way to sneak extra veggies into your diet – just make sure you blitz the spinach into a fine paste.
- A trail mix of nuts, berries, cacao nibs and coconut flakes. Who doesn’t love a nut mix? Let your kids choose their favourite nuts and even allow them to make the mix for a fun activity too.
- Beef and Veggie Meatballs. You might not think of meatballs as a snack, but they’re a great grab ‘n’ go food. This version uses carrot and zucchini as well, but feel free to pop any leftover veggies into the mix.
- Apricot and Coconut Muesli Bar. Muesli bars are the perfect snack food and these ones are full of healthy fats with the addition of both coconut and flaxseeds to support digestion and boost healthy, glowing skin and hair. Plus, they’re school-friendly too.
- Wholesome Child Banana Bread. The addition of high-fibre chia seeds and anti-inflammatory cinnamon makes this bread great for snack time. Toasted with a little butter? Yes, please.
I always encourage children to snack on vegetables if they’re still hungry after snacks and meals have been offered. It’s also important to take into account if a lunchbox has come home uneaten or if they have had a late afternoon “snack” at a grandparent’s house.
Appetites vary from day to day with children, just as with adults.
Be careful not to restrict your child.
It’s important to not make your child feel restricted. Restricting a child’s natural appetite, especially in the early stages of development can limit them from receiving nutrition and energy that their body is telling them that they need.
If they’re still hungry after a healthy snack, bring one of their main meals forward rather than allowing them to continue to snack. An early lunch or dinner may be just what they need.
If you’re worried about your child’s eating patterns, consult your GP, paediatrician or attend a workshop with Mandy. While these are tactics I give to my clients to manage frequent snacking, there could be underlying medical issues which need professional help.
Visit the Wholesome Child website to learn more about Mandy Sacher. Her book “Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook” is available to purchase online and through iTunes, and you can connect with Mandy on Instagram and Facebook too.