As the mother of three grown children and author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, I am thrilled to be the “veteran” mom on the Smart Eating for Kids Team! For the past 25 years, I have been in the trenches helping families learn how to eat healthier and achieve a healthy weight.  Each month, I will be answering a question about eating and how it impacts your child’s weight. And here’s the best part: the questions come from you! This month’s question comes from a reader who won a copy of my book in our recent giveaway. It’s about snacks and perfect timing since we are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season.

“My child just wants to snack all the time, but refuses to eat much at mealtime. I don’t want to have a crabby/hungry kid on my hands, but I’d like her to eat more at dinner. What’s the right balance?”

Great question! Let me start by saying this is a problem for many busy families. I first encountered the snacking or what I call “grazing syndrome,” when my kids were in preschool and I was on the go chauffeuring them around to play groups, story time, and errands. To tide them over – and keep them happy – I would offer snacks. Depending upon how much running around we did, this could add up to a lot of snacks! Here’s the problem with this approach. Nonstop snacking interferes with kids’ appetites and can disrupt their natural instinct to experience hunger and fullness. On the other hand, snacks are important for growing children and can actually help kids achieve a healthy weight when they are timed correctly. Assuming you are offering healthy snacks such as yogurt, granola and fresh fruit, snack timing is key. Most children and teens need to eat every three to four hours throughout the day to meet their nutrient needs. This translates into the following:

  • Younger kids (under the age of 6) need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day.
  • Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day (they may need two snacks if they’re going through a growth spurt or if they are very physically active).

My advice to parents and caregivers is to offer planned meals and snacks consistently throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about one to two hours before the next meal begins. Postponing snacks until a few hours after a meal helps prevent kids from refusing food at a meal and them begging for more food as a “snack” just after the meal ends. On the other hand, putting a stop to snacking immediately before meals encourages a healthy appetite at mealtimes. Above all, remember the bottom line: If snacks are planned, coordinated with meals, and served consistently at regularly scheduled times, kids are more likely to be a healthy weight.

If you’re concerned about your child’s weight and would like to ask a question, just leave a message and I will answer it soon. Have a happy and healthy holiday!

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