Is snacking good for kids?

We all know kids love snacks, and as parents, guardians or carers, whether your dishing out food on the run, during a major hunger meltdown or as a good old-fashioned bribe for good behaviour, it can be difficult to say no. Our snacking habits are reflected in national food intake, with the average child eating 3 “unhealthy” snacks or sugared drinks a day. This partly contributes to the extremely high sugar intake of the average child, with snacks contributing around 50% of added sugar intake, or the equivalent of around 3.5 sugar cubes a day.

So what effect is snacking having on kids, how many snacks are appropriate and what kind of snacks should we be choosing?

Of the 3 “unhealthy” snacks the average child has daily, most are high fat, sugar and salt content snacks, such as biscuits (50 to 100 calories each), chocolate bars (around 200 calories each), and packets of crisps (100-200 calories each). Research suggests that the higher the number of calories in each snack and the more snacks are consumed in the evening, the greater the risk of childhood overweight and obesity. Snacking on sugary treats has also been linked to dental decay and cavities, with more frequent sugar consumption increasing the time teeth are exposed to sugar, and increasing the damage.

But is it all bad news?

Whilst unhealthy snacks are contributing to high added sugar intakes and tooth decay, eating between main meals is not necessarily bad, and may even be a good thing! Research suggests that increased frequency of eating seems to reduce childhood obesity risk – in other words, snacking per se is not bad for your kids. Eating regularly (4-5 smaller meals throughout the day instead of 3 meals) can reduce cravings and hunger pangs, reducing overeating at meals.

The type of snack and the number of calories are the important bits, not the concept of eating more often.

Energy dense foods like crisps and chocolate more likely to lead to overeating. Eating snacks like small cubes of cheese and vegetable sticks leads to increased fullness compared to eating crisps, leading to children eating 75% fewer calories of cheese and veggies compared to crisps. The effect on calorie reduction per sitting is even greater in overweight children. If you read it right this information can be incredibly empowering. You don’t need to say no to hungry kids, nor go through the hassle of fighting against eating on the go or between meals – just change the snacks themselves.

So, what kind of snack should you aim for, and how big should they be?

Change for Life

The new Change4Life campaign encourages parents to look for ‘100 calorie snacks, two a day max’. This tip applies to all snacks apart from plain fruit and vegetables (not including smoothies, juices or fruit based snacks), as children should also be encouraged to eat a variety of these to achieve their 5 A Day.

Snack examples might include cream crackers and vegetable sticks with hummus or salsa, a slice of whole meal toast with margarine, or an apple and peanut butter. Plenty more simple examples can be found here on the NHS website and if you’re keen to get cooking some more challenging recipes can be found here from BBC Good Food.

Registering with change for life here is also a great idea if you want to know more, with a healthy snacking information pack, stickers for the kids and even money off selected healthy snack items sent to you for free!

If you prefer a more mobile approach then the “Food Scanner” app also by change for life is available on the apple store or via google play, allowing you to scan the barcodes of your everyday snacking items to get the lowdown on calories, added sugar, saturated fat and salt.

If you would like more information for staff on how much little ones need to eat please check out our Foodtalk Game at www.foodtalkgame.co.uk

Charlie Rose Howard, Dietetic Student

Charlie is a BSc Nutrition and Dietetics student at King’s College London. She’s interested in all things public health, child health, and evidence based. Tweet her @charlieroseRD2B

 

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