Snacking doesn't have to be unhealthy. The Nutrition and Dietetics Department at KK Women's and Children's Hospital shares ways to encourage healthy snacking in children.
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Jasly Koo, Dietitian, from the
Nutrition and Dietetics Department at
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, a member of the
SingHealth group, shares tips on how you can encourage healthy snacking in your child.
9 Ways to Encourage Healthy Snacking in Children
Have realistic expectations of the portion your child can finish at one sitting. As a general rule of thumb:
Have planned timings for snacks
- snacks for
toddlers should be
1/4-1/3 of an adult portion (which is about ½ of the serving specified in the table above), offered 2 to 3 times a day.
Older children may be able to finish the servings specified at one sitting, offered 1 to 3 times a day.
Avoid high sugar, salt or fat snacks
- Offer toddlers snacks 2 to 3 hours after a main meal. Older children do well with 3 to 4 hour gaps between meals and snacks. Avoid offering snacks directly after a meal or as a replacement for main meals to avoid the habit of grazing.
“If your child starts to ask for snacks shortly after main meals are not eaten or ask for snacks instead of completing the main meal, try to offer the meal again if it’s still available. Otherwise, let your child know firmly that he/she will have to wait until the next planned snack timing before having the snack,” says Jasly Koo.
Offering the snack of his/her choice on the spot reinforces the bad habit of choosing snacks over main meals. Parents need not worry that refusing to offer snacks will affect child’s intake as they’ll still be offering a nutritious snack at the scheduled snack timing.
- For children who may have difficulty concentrating or sitting down to complete a meal, the main meal could be broken down into “snack” sized portions.
Avoid giving sweetened beverages like soft drinks, flavoured teas and fruit drinks, confectionery like sweets and candies, and snack foods like potato chips as they are high in sugar, salt and/or fat, and low in nutritional value. They contribute to a high calorie intake if consumed in excess, and can lead to unnecessary weight gain. They may also ‘spoil’ the child’s appetite for main meals.
Refrain from categorising foods as healthy and “unhealthy”
Parents should also refrain from categorising foods into healthy and “unhealthy” foods and snacks. Allow the occasional “unhealthy” snacks (e.g. once in 1-2 weeks, and in small portions), so that they do not crave for them. They should avoid “forcing” the child to eat only healthy snacks, as it may backfire and cause them to dislike them.
Be good role models
Parents should also be good role models and not be eating foods that they do not want their children to have. Hence, limit your intake of sweet foods and drinks as well as salty and fried snack foods as your toddler will usually want to eat the same snacks that you are having!
Encourage mindful eating
To encourage mindful eating and enable your child to be aware of his/her hunger-satiety cues, remove distractions like TV, computer games, social media devices and books during meal and snack times so that your toddler can concentrate on enjoying his food and your company.
Sit down for meals and snacks
To prevent choking, always supervise your toddler and encourage him to sit down for meals and snacks rather than eating while running around. It is also a good idea to set a limit to meal times (e.g. 30 minutes for meals and 20 minutes for snacks), so that your child gets used to a routine of set meal times instead of having a “buffet” throughout the day.
Stock up on healthy snacks
Parents should stock up on a variety of healthy dry snacks e.g. breakfast cereal, dried fruits, or frozen foods e.g. wholegrain waffles, frozen pau, at home so they can make a snack quickly. Similarly, parents can keep healthy snacks on hand when going out with their children, in case they are unable to find suitable snacks outside.
Read the fine print
Beware of some packaged foods that have colourful pictures that appeal to children, as many of them contain large amounts of added sugars and/or saturated and trans fats.
Check out our
examples of healthy snacks that children would love.