No one’s busier than the average preschooler. They’re so active and imaginative it’s no wonder they get hungry between meals and need a snack.
Although growth during the preschool years is slower compared with that of the first 2 years of life, preschool kids still need about 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day – calories that should come from a balanced diet that includes whole grains, lean meats, beans, low-fat milk, fruits and vegetables.
That’s sometimes easier said than done. Some preschoolers don’t eat well at mealtime, while others may be willing to eat, but only certain foods. This can leave nutritional gaps in a child’s diet.
Healthy and well-timed snacks can help fill in these gaps – and keep kids from getting overly hungry and cranky. Some healthy snack ideas could include banana or apples slices with peanut butter; veggie sticks with hummus or Ranch dressing for dipping; or yogurt topped with granola and fresh fruit.
“It is important for parents to lead by example when introducing new foods, and eat the foods themselves,” said Lindsay Bailey, a registered dietitian in Akron Children’s Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology. “Normalizing foods help children gain an acceptance for them.”
Help turn your preschooler into a smart snacker by following these tips:
- Keep healthy snacks in your refrigerator or pantry where they can be easily seen, and let kids choose their own snacks from among a couple of nutritious options.
- Offer a variety of snacks, not just the ones kids already like. Offer new choices, but don’t give up on foods they may have rejected in the past. It usually takes several tries before a child accepts a new food.
- Have a schedule for meals and snacks. This lets kids manage their hunger and learn that it’s OK to skip a meal or snack because there will be another chance to eat at the next scheduled time. Avoid letting kids pick throughout the day, which can dull internal hunger cues and make them more likely to overeat.
- Don’t let kids eat in front of the TV. Serve snacks and meals at the table.
- Keep mostly healthy foods in the house, with those high in calories, fat and added sugar kept to a minimum. This doesn’t mean kids can never have these foods, but they should be offered only once in a while.
- Serve skim or low-fat milk or water with snacks instead of sugary drinks and soda. Limit 100% juice to 1 serving per day.
- Make your preschooler a part of the action to encourage eating healthier. Kids this age feel important when adults let them help out. Let them do what they safely can to prepare their own snacks – whether that’s tossing the fruit salad or putting utensils and napkins on the table.
- Keep an eye on how your child’s moods affect eating patterns. Preschoolers often confuse boredom or fatigue with hunger. If your child just ate and is complaining of hunger again, see if a change of scenery or some active play could do the trick.
- Share a healthy snack with your kids, who will follow your lead and get the message that you’re serving something good.
- Be creative when expanding the snack menu by making food fun and appealing. Bright colors, shapes, dips and varying textures in a snack all help contribute to the overall appeal of trying healthy foods.