Are You Setting Up the Healthy Habits Your Child Needs to Thrive?

Take The Quiz


Kids Snacking: What Every Parent Should Know

Snacking isn’t what it used to be. Some kids snack too much. Some kids choose the wrong kind of snacks.

In this article, you’ll learn the latest kids snacking trends and what you can do to keep kids snacking in your home healthy.

Is your child constantly asking for snacks? Do you feel guilty about the snacks your child eats?

Is it even possible for kids to eat healthy snacks? In this article, you’ll learn:

  • the benefits and drawbacks of snacking
  • what the snack habits of children are
  • how to help your child snack better
Boy eating an ice cream cone. Snacking trends among children by Jill Castle, MS, RDN

Snack Attack: The Pros and Cons of Kids Snacking

There are two sides to every coin. I am of the mindset that snacks can be a strategic benefit to a child’s overall nutrition.

For example, kids need 40 different nutrients and without them, it’s hard to meet all the nutrients a child needs to grow and develop properly.

Based on the foods and nutrients eaten, snacking can also help moderate too much eating.

When kids get regular meals and snacks offered at predictable times throughout the day, they may have better control of their appetite and thus, avoid overeating.

When kids get healthy snacks at strategic times, they benefit from better nutrition and appetite regulation. Click To Tweet

Yet, there’s another perspective about kids and snacking. Snacking trends and research tell us that children may over-consume food when they eat snacks during the day.

That is, based on their food choice and how much they eat, they may experience weight gain and negative health concerns.

One 2018 study in Maternal and Child Health looked at the contribution of snacks to the overall dietary intake of 2- to 5-year olds. What they found wasn’t very good:

  • 28% of the total daily calories consumed came from snacks
  • 39% of added sugar in the diet came from snack foods
  • 26% of total fat and fiber came from the foods eaten between meals
  • cookies and pastries won first place for contributing to calories, sugar and fat in young children, followed by sugary beverages

The Truth about Healthy Snacking

Unfortunately, for many kids, snacks are NOT working. Rather than helping them be healthy, they may contribute to poor health outcomes.

Which is such a shame.

Of course, what parents buy and stock in the house, the eating schedule for the family, the way sweets and treats are handled at home all factor in to this scenario.

So does the food industry, food marketing, and targeting children in product development and sales.

(If you didn’t get the chance to listen, I interviewed Bettina Siegel about Kid Food on The Nourished Child.)

Boy with sunglasses eating an ice cream cone. Trends in Snacking among children by Jill Castle, MS, RDN

I looked at some of the surveys and studies to gather answers about the snacking trends among children. Here’s what I found:

How Much Do Kids Snack?

Children snack about four times per day, and snacks account for 27% of a child’s total caloric intake, according to a large survey of US children aged 2-18 years published in 2010.

According to an article on Food Navigator, school-age kids are eating over 4 snacks per day and teens are eating close to four snacks a day.

That’s a hefty contribution of nutrition from that little snack between meals.

It makes perfect sense to get these nibbles right for our kids. But you need to understand a little bit more…

What are Kids Eating for Snacks?

The survey also indicated, that on average, kids reach for cookies, chips and other treats most often, which total up to about 600 calories per day (168 more calories than the average snacker in the 1970s).

Furthermore, this report draws attention to the fact that some children are eating up to 10 times a day.

Two to six year olds show the highest increase in snacking, consuming an extra 182 calories per day compared to their same age counterparts from the ‘70s.

The study also suggested that kids are eating less at meals and more from snacks, tipping the balance toward unhealthier food choices.

The good news?

According to a 2015 report from Mintel, a marketing research firm, about 30% of parents are serving healthier snacks to their kids.

Health quality, convenience and reusable packaging are emerging factors that influence snack choices.

Does your child need a #snack? Think about the best snacks for kids--it's worth the extra thought! Click To Tweet

Do Kids Really Need a Snack?

As children are growing and developing, they need a blend of nutrients to get this job done.

From protein and carbs to calcium and iron, kids need a routine with regular meals and snacks so they get these nutrients day to day.

I advocate for snacks in kids’ diets.

I believe it helps them meet their nutrient requirements while also helping to regulate their appetite and eating.

The key to successful snacking lies in what kids eat as snacks, and the frequency of eating them.

In other words, you need to have a good, working snack strategy.

Additionally, the younger the child, the more advantageous snacks can be to their overall nutritional status.

Young children have a harder time eating large quantities of food, so they need to eat nutrient-rich foods more frequently during the day to match their needs.

Older kids, on the other hand, may not require frequent snacks, but it depends on their growth stage, activity level, and daily demands.

Little girl looking at a cupcake. Snacking trends among children by Jill Castle, MS, RDN

Healthy Snacking Can Be An Advantage

The trends in kids’ snacking suggest junk food and sweets are the norm.

We need to turn this around and focus on whole foods that serve up fiber, protein and fat.

These key nutrient components have a magical quality: they induce fullness.

A 2016 study in Advances in Nutrition highlighted the beneficial role of snacks on a child’s satiety, or sense of fullness after eating.

Satiety = sense of fullness and satisfaction after eating

Offering foods with nutrients that help kids feel full, namely protein, fiber and healthy fats, is the name of the snacking game.

Researchers found serving up whole foods which contained protein, fiber, and whole grains such as nuts, yogurt, prunes, and popcorn, enhanced a child’s fullness after eating them.

Bottom line: Add nutritious foods like nuts, seeds, nut butters, fruit, veggies, bean dips, avocado and more to your snack list.

Strategic Timing Helps Curb Excessive Eating

Your child could eat the healthiest foods on the planet, but if he is eating them all day long, that isn’t healthy. Even if it’s all good-for-you food.

Too much is too much.

Hence, the topic of frequency and timing of eating needs to be addressed.

Depending on the age of your child, the timing of snacks will reflect the physiologic capacity of her tummy.

Little people need small portions and frequent eating, as their tummies don’t hold a lot and become empty earlier than a bigger kid.

Alternatively, a big kid can eat larger amounts of food and stay full longer because his tummy can hold more food.

The key is in creating a structure that matches a healthy frequency of snacking.

[Related article: Portion Sizes of Food for Kids]

When Should Kids Snack?

Here’s the snacking plan (number of snacks per day and frequency) I like to see children follow:

Snacks for Toddlers and Preschoolers:

2 to 3 per day (between meals, generally morning, afternoon and before bedtime).

Snacks for the School-aged Child:

1 to 2 snacks per day depending on age and daily routines (between meals, generally a morning and afternoon snack).

Snacks for Teens:

1 to 2 snacks per day (generally an afternoon snack, or if an athlete, an additional snack at night or after practice).

Healthy snacks + strategic timing = a winning snack strategy! Click To Tweet

Healthy Snacks + Strategic Timing = Winning Snack Strategy

The mistakes I see being made around snacking centers around poor food selection or bad timing.

Kids eat too many unhealthy foods like sweets.

They get these foods on the sporting fields, in the classroom, and at home.

Or, they eat snacks all day long because there are no rules or regulations around access to food. Or, both factors are at play.

If you want to raise a healthy snacker and avoid the snacking trends amongst children today, you must address both the food content of snacks and the frequency of eating them.

Tell me, what do you think about snacking trends?

Want to Learn More about Snacking for Kids?

My book, The Smart Mom’s Guide to Healthy Snacking, has all the answers plus snack ideas for kids, healthy snack recipes and an easy approach to making sure you’re raising a Smart Snacker!

I have other articles to help you tackle snacking in your home! Check out the following:

And, I have a digital guide and planner to help you revamp your snacking approach with my step-by-step method. Get the Snack Planner for Kids!

parenting and food

Last Post

10 Tips for Your Best Food Parenting Year Ever

Next Post

Toddler Milk with Dr. Jennifer Harris

Toddler Milk with Jennifer Harris, PhD