How to boost your kids' energy in between meals

Kinderling News & Features

Who loves to snack? Most of us! And that includes kids, though it’s important to keep the portion balance between snacks and meals.

“Ideally for children, we really want to create structure and have three meals per day, and then two snacks,” says paediatric nutritionist, Mandy Sacher.

And it’s our idea of what defines a snack that need to change.

“Usually, snacks come in a packet and they're all crunchy and crispy and they probably have a bit of sugar in them, some food colourings, some MSG, just to bump up their taste,” Mandy warns. These sorts of colourful snacks that give an instant hit of sugar really catch the attention of littlies, and they’ll often choose them over a healthy meal, if they’re given the choice. These empty carbohydrates mean kids will feel full for a short time, but after half an hour or so, they'll inevitably be hungry again.

“Their body is now conditioned to wanting that quick fuel, those salty, sweet kind of snacky foods - and that's often some of the reasons why those meal times are refused and rejected,” Mandy says.

So how can you stop thte unhealthy snack cycle?

Firstly, stop making packaged, single serving snacks so accessible. Instead, fill your snack drawer with cashew nuts, trail mixes and lightly salted popcorn - these are snacks that aren’t going to spike blood sugar levels. It’s also smart to have vegetables chopped up and ready to go in the fridge, so they have access to an instant, nutritious and satiating snacks that keep kids fuller for longer.

Listen to Mandy on Kinderling Conversation:

The next step is controlling the snacks your kids have when out and about. Mandy’s key suggestion is to be responsive.

“My main advice is working with your child's natural hunger cues,” she says. This means taking note of your child’s most regular snacking times, and providing them the nutrition they need at those times, even if it means bringing some nutritious snacks along with you on your outings.

The difference between morning and afternoon snacks

The snacks you offer your child can have a big impact on their energy levels and how hungry they are at mealtimes - in particular, the time of day you offer them.

Here are some tips and suggestions for great morning and afternoon snacks that won't impact lunch and dinner time too much:

Morning snack

Particularly for the morning snack, keep it small, especially if your child is a good eater at breakfast time. Always put in at least two serves of vegetables.

“Even if your child has a favourite, keep on stretching them. So pair one of their favourites with something new, to kind of expand that repertory,” Mandy says.

You can also try the following snack ideas:

  • Whole grain crackers
  • Dips – black hummus, tzatziki, baba ghanoush, broccoli seeded dip - these often contain vegetables but also healthy fats!
  • Leftover sweet potato or pumpkin
  • Cucumber
  • Carrot
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Veggie muffins
  • Healthy scrolls
  • Mini salmon quiches
  • A bite-size version of healthy banana bread
  • Cubes of cheese
  • Fruit (if they haven’t eaten much with their breakfast)
  • Homemade, healthy muesli bars
  • Homemade trail mix with seeds (pumpkin or sunflower seeds)
  • Black bean brownies

Mandy has recipes for most of these in her book, Wholesome Child: A Complete Nutrition Guide and Cookbook, if you want to give them a try!

For kids that aren’t great with eating their brekkie, Mandy suggests you pack them some protein for the first snack. Try these yummy ideas:

  • A boiled egg, or even leftover scrambled eggs
  • Chickpeas
  • Porridge in a thermos

Afternoon snack

Normally the afternoon snack is a tricky one, particularly for school kids. We have to be careful we’re not giving them so much food that they won’t eat their dinner.

“There are some children who we call 'book-end' children, that eat a very good breakfast and then eat a good mid-afternoon snack because they are so busy playing and talking at school, they don't have time to eat. They are the children that are ravenous,” Mandy explains. “If we give them an ice cream or chocolate or lollies, it's going to spike their blood sugar levels and that's when sometimes we can have those mood swings and that continual snacking.”

For these kids, you can provide them with something substantial, but that isn’t the full size of a normal meal, like:

  • Brown rice sushi roll
  • A chicken wing
  • Lamb kofta
  • Beef and veggie meatball
  • Quinoa brown rice ball
  • A small wrap with cheese and meat
  • Flaxseed crackers
  • Muesli bars
  • Coconut macaroon

For kids that do eat a full midday meal, Mandy suggests a similar snack to the morning one.

“If a child had a very good lunch at school, you would bring something a little bit simpler - a piece of fruit, some vegetables, some dips. Again, just something that's going to tide them over.”

Want more tips and tricks from Mandy? Head to her website, Wholesome Child.