Expert Q&A

Snacks: Guidelines for healthy habits

When my children come home from school, they are starving. I want to give them a snack, but I also don't want them to ruin their appetites before dinner. What is the best way to handle this situation?

Unless you serve dinner very early, your children do need a snack after school. To meet their nutrition needs, children need at least one healthy snack every day. After school snacks tend to be more supervised than other snack times, so this is a good opportunity for you to improve your children’s nutritional intake. Unfortunately, lack of planning for this snack often leads to kids eating whatever they want after school, likely filling up on non-nutritious foods and ruining their appetites for dinner. When chosen wisely, an after-school snack can nourish your children enough so they can last until dinner but not provide so many calories that they aren’t hungry at dinner time.To do this, follow these guidelines: 

  • Establish an “ask for food” policy.  Children should not have free reign of the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets. They should be required to ask before eating, which enables you to decide if what they are asking for is an appropriate snack.

  • Establish an official snack time.  If the kids get home from school at 3:00 p.m., make snack time 3:30 p.m. When snack time is over, they can move on to the next planned activity, such as doing homework or playing outside with friends.
  • Plan the snack ahead of time.  Be ready with a few healthy snack choices that you know your children enjoy and set them out upon their arrival home from school. They can choose to eat one of the offerings or wait until dinner.

  • Designate a special place where you want your child to snack.  Somewhere in the kitchen that is free of electronic distractions is preferable. When children are distracted, they continue mindlessly munching after they are no longer hungry. (This is true for adults too!)

For more information on healthy snacks for kids see 5 Tips for Getting Your Kids to Eat Better This Summer  and Making Fruits and Vegetables Fun to Eat.

Erica Lesperance, RD, LD
Contributing Expert

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