Sometimes it can feel much easier to grab a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps for your kid’s snacks instead of a healthier alternative. However, these foods can contain a lot of saturated fat, salt and sugar and, over a period of time, too much unhealthy snacking can lead to diseases like obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes – to name a few. Recent childhood obesity figures are shocking. Did you know that in 2015/16, a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese? An important parental role is to provide a healthy diet for your children however, according to a recent study, this may be influenced by what you think other children eat. Have you ever thought about how your child’s snacking behaviour compares with their peers?
The study by University College London was carried out on 432 parents of children between the ages of 2 and 4 years across 60 nurseries and children’s centres in London. Parents were asked how often their own children have unhealthy sweet and savoury snacks between meals. They were then asked to select the frequency of unhealthy snacking that they thought would be the most acceptable to other parents. The results showed that the majority think their own children eat less unhealthy snacks than most other children. Many of these parents also admitted that what other children do influences their own children’s diets. An issue arises here of what is seen as a social norm for children’s snacking and whether new social norms are contributing to unhealthy diets, causing an increase in childhood obesity. If you watched your kid’s friend munch on a biscuit, would you be more inclined to give your own kid one too?

You may be wondering whether different types of snacks really make much of a difference. A study comparing intakes of snack-type foods showed that overweight children had higher intakes of crisps, sweets, chocolates and ice-creams and lower intakes of yoghurt and nuts compared with normal weight children. So yes, the types of snacks you choose really can matter. The best way to encourage children to eat healthier snacks is to eat them yourself and model the behaviour – and let’s face it; we could all do with making some changes! You could also suggest trying to eat more healthy foods as a family and say that you’d like them to get involved. Your child is more likely to make changes if they feel like they are helping to choose and prepare more healthy snacks and meals.

Snacks can be a particularly important part of the diet for a child who doesn’t eat much at mealtimes. Make sure that the snacks are nutritious and give your child the nutrients that they may not be getting from those unfinished meals. And remember – all kids are different so it’s time to stop comparing what other children are eating and focus on your own child – feed them as an individual to benefit their long term health!

Eight tips for Healthier Snacking
1. Plan your child’s food day around three regular mealtimes – it’s easier to stop kids from pestering for snacks if they know when their next meal is coming

2. Provide your child with well-balanced meals that contain protein and complex starchy carbohydrates to help them feel fuller for longer. Breakfasts like porridge and fruit or eggs on toast can offset the need for snacking later in the day. This is a much better option than foods with simple carbohydrates and sugars such as sugary cereal or white bread

3. Offer a healthy drink! If your kids ask for more snacks after you think they have had enough, they may be thirsty instead of hungry. And remember…

4. Drink choice is so important. Fruit juice may be a source of unnecessary calories in a child’s diet and potentially harmful to teeth. Try offering water or milk instead.

5. If you don’t have the snacks in the house, you won’t be able to eat them! Avoid that aisle in the supermarket and keep your eye off the goodies on display at the checkouts.

6. Ensure your child’s snack size matches their body size. Generally a snack is the same size as 1-2 of their little handfuls!

8. Try to encourage at least five different portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Our likes and dislikes of foods are formed in the first few years of life, so children who eat a variety of fruit and vegetables are more likely to continue to eat them as adults. There is no specific guidance on portion size for children, but a good guide is an amount that fits into a child’s hand.


Kirsty Bamping RD MNutr
Kirsty is a registered dietitian and works for the NHS. She obtained a Master of Nutrition (Dietetics) degree from the University of Nottingham. Kirsty is interested in assessing, diagnosing and treating diet and nutrition problems at an individual and wider public health level.

Foodtalk blog posts are written by a variety of health and care professionals in order to showcase different perspectives in the world of nutrition and health.