The Strategy I Use to Keep My Kids’ Snacks Balanced and Healthy

published May 18, 2022
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snacks and smoothies arranged on a surface
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk; Prop Styling: Randi Brookman Harris

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They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but at my house, it’s all about the snacks. My two kids, Lily (10) and Hazel (4), prefer to graze on little nibbles throughout the day rather than eating three bigger meals, and that’s ok with me, but it doesn’t mean I want to be on constant snack duty or that I want them to sit around eating potato chips all afternoon, which they absolutely would. When I realized that our snacking habits were getting a little out of hand, I took a step back and suggested that we make a snack plan together as a family.

What is a Snack Plan?

A snack plan is a guide that helps us make decisions and answer questions that relate to snacking, and it’s something that our whole family contributed to. I started by asking Lily and Hazel to name some of their favorite snacks. No surprise, cheese popcorn and salt & vinegar potato chips topped the list. I shared that I would be comfortable selecting a time each day when they could have their favorite snacks, and we quickly identified 3:00pm as the best time for that. 

Next, we talked about portion size. If it were up to Lily, she would eat a Family Size bag of chips in a single sitting. That’s the thing about chips; it’s hard to put on the brakes once you get started. So, we looked at the recommended serving size on the bag. It was eye-opening to Lily to learn that a serving size is 1 oz, or the equivalent of about 13 chips. Ok, that’s not realistic either. So, we came up with a solution based on bowl size. Lily has one snack bowl that holds about two servings of chips, and we agreed that she can have one of those every day at 3:00pm if she chooses. Likewise, Hazel has a snack dish she can use for chips or popcorn or another salty, crunchy snack.

Food That Grows

We had the timing and portioning down, but we needed a solution for what to do if the kids were still hungry (and they always are) after finishing their 3:00pm snack. That’s when we introduced a magical three-word phrase that helps them make healthy choices beyond their approved snack time: food that grows. Whenever they’re hungry, Lily and Hazel know they can help themselves to a food that grows. 

Just so there was no confusion, we clarified that food has to grow from the earth (cake ‘grows’ in the oven, after all, and it’s remarkable how creative someone can be when cake is the goal!) and it can’t be processed. Lily tried to reason that pickles are just cucumbers, so that necessitated a discussion about processed foods vs. non-processed foods, in which they learned why they can eat a bowl of cucumbers but not pickles. And it’s remarkably effective. The biggest challenge now is just making sure I keep the fridge stocked with plenty of food that grows — apples, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, and clementines — and that they throw away their cores, stems, and peels when they’re done.

So far, centering the snack conversation around food that grows has helped Lily and Hazel understand ‘healthy’ food choices without focusing on body size, shaming, or vilifying other choices. We all really love the episode of StoryBots about nutrition (“Why Can’t I Eat Dessert All the Time”), especially this cute song, as a reference point. I’m hopeful that by creating a snack plan and setting realistic boundaries, Lily and Hazel are learning to listen to their bodies and then make educated decisions about how to meet their own needs (instead of asking me for popcorn every 15 minutes).