Do Kids Need Snacks?

The importance of snacking for children and what and how to feed them can be confusing for caregivers. The following tips can help caregivers understand when snacks are important for children and how best to provide them to promote a healthy eating pattern.

When snacks are important:

Younger children grow rapidly and are usually very active, which means they need enough food to provide nutrients and energy. They also have smaller stomachs making it hard to eat large amounts at any one time. Snacks can be thought of as little meals and not just a time for treats. As such, use the recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide to eat “plenty of vegetables and fruit”, about half the snack, then include a whole grain and/or protein food. It’s key be aware of a child’s hunger and fullness cues and listen to hear if they are hungry or have had enough to eat. If they are hungry every 2-3 hours, it is important to provide healthy snacks. If they are not eating   snack or meal, this may be a sign that they do not need the amount or frequency of food being offered at this stage .

How to provide snacks:

We all do better by sitting down to eat. This allows us to pay attention to our food and be mindful about our eating, as well as allows for proper digestion. Eating on the run, doing other activities, sitting in front of screens or simply grazing are not healthy eating habits. Make snack time about coming to the table just like at mealtime and provide it on a set schedule spaced 2-3 hours after a meal, as often as possible. This helps with the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, where the child decides if and how much to eat. If the child decides not to eat at a meal or snack, even after coming to the table, then they will learn they must wait for the next meal or snack opportunity in a few hours.

When snacking goes sideways:

  • If it gets in the way of a child’s ability to participate in mealtime on a regular basis.
  • If they are continually grazing on or sneaking food.
  • If they are eating regularly in front of screens.
  • If the snacks are mostly highly processed foods or drinks that contain a lot of sugar, sodium or saturated fat.  Check the nutrition facts table - 5% DV or less is a little, and 15% DV or more is a lot. 

Here is more information about healthy snacking:

Canada Food Guide: Healthy Eating Recommendations

Ellyn Satter Institute: Family Meals and Snacks