Eight ways to make sure children eat healthy snacks

Dad and Learner Parent blogger Sam Avery teams up with dietitian Frankie Phillips to outline the type of snacks parents should give to children.

As well as three meals a day, young children require two to three snacks a day to meet their energy requirements
Lisa Salmon

BEING a toddler is an energetic business that needs plenty of fuel - including lots of snacks.

As well as three meals a day, young children require two to three snacks a day to meet their energy requirements. But research by baby and toddler food brand Organix suggests that while parents may be able to deliver healthy toddler snacks at home, it's much more difficult to get them when families are out and about.

A whopping 72 per cent of parents surveyed say they're frustrated by the lack of healthier snack options to buy when out with their children, and 59 per cent say it's almost impossible to find healthy snacks outside the home, and are instead bombarded with unhealthy sweets, biscuits, cakes and salty snacks, like crisps.

Stand-up comedian Sam Avery, who writes the blog Learner Parent and has three-year-old twin boys, says: "Getting your kids to eat decent food is harder than playing Jenga on the bus."

He's teamed up with Organix to find out what's hiding in some baby finger foods and toddler snacks, and takes a closer look at snacks in his 'Daddy De-Junk' video.

"With some places slightly lacking in healthier snack options I normally end up trying to stress-read the back of a packet while I'm wading through a ball pool, struggling with long words I don't understand," says Avery.

"It's so confusing – what is humectant? It sounds like a Spider-Man villain. Or glucono delta-lactone? Doesn't he play for Real Madrid?"

The top five places for selling unhealthy snacks, according to parents, are family attractions and theme parks (53 per cent), soft play centres (40 per cent), coffee shop chains (29 per cent), motorway service stations (28 per cent), and leisure centres (19 per cent).

Dietitian and mum of four Dr Frankie Phillips, nutrition advisor to Organix, says: "As a guide, toddlers need three meals and about two to three snacks, as well as six to eight drinks, every day.

"Eating little and often is ideal as little tummies only hold small amounts and their appetite can fluctuate. Some days they won't eat so much and other days they catch up and it seems like they're always hungry."

Phillips and Avery suggest parents try these tips to make sure toddlers are eating healthy snacks:

1) Be prepared

Toddlers need a range of nutritious snacks a couple of times a day to get the extra nutrients needed to meet their daily requirements. When going out, take healthy snacks with you in the car – try some vegetable sticks, mini sandwiches or a pot of fresh fruit.

2) Avoid empty calories

Snacks should provide a nutritional benefit, not just empty calories, so see them as an opportunity to give your little one a variety of nutrients, textures and tastes.

For example, an oatcake will provide more fibre and vitamins than a piece of shortbread, and cheese and crackers are much better nutritionally than a bag of crisps.

3) Say no to lots of ingredients

Be wary of long ingredient lists and avoid added unnecessary things like salt, sugar or flavourings, and unrecognisable ingredients.

"If the list of ingredients is longer than War and Peace, not all of them may be completely necessary," warns Avery.

4) Watch out for salt

Salty snacks aimed for adults are completely unsuitable for little ones because of the high sodium content, so too are baby finger foods and toddler snacks that contain comparable levels of salt.

"Sodium is naturally present in some foods but adding salt to food provides far higher levels of sodium than a toddler needs, so there's no nutritional benefit and it can be harmful," says Phillips.

"Over time, if a baby or toddler is given salty foods they develop a preference for salty tastes and this can lead to eating too much salt, with consequences even for their adult health."

Phillips points out there's no nutritional need to add salt to convenience finger foods and snacks, and neither is it necessary for flavour when herbs, spices and tasty ingredients can be used.

Avery stresses: "If manufacturers are adding unnecessary ingredients such as added salt, we as parents need to say extra loud, 'Oi! Stop giving our kids stuff they don't need!'"

5) Mix up flavours

Offer a mix of sweet and savoury snacks so children can enjoy different flavours.

6) Get the balance right

Give a choice of foods – some treats can be tasty snacks but not all snacks should be treat foods.

7) Varied food groups

Mix and match the food groups so go for a protein dip such as hummus or peanut butter and either a carb such as oatcakes or some vegetable sticks.

8) Little and often

Eating little and often is ideal as little tummies only hold small amounts, even though they need lots of calories to meet their energy needs.

But remember that calories don't have to come from fatty, unhealthy easy-to-grab snacks.

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