March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Unplanned, random snacking can lead to problems, especially with weight. Nonstop snacking interferes with kids' appetites and can disrupt their natural instinct to experience hunger and fullness. On the other hand, snacks can actually help kids achieve a healthy weight when they are timed correctly. Most children and teens need to eat every three to four hours throughout the day to meet their MyPlate daily food plan. This translates into the following:
- Younger kids need to eat three meals and at least two snacks a day.
- Older kids need to eat three meals and at least one snack a day (they may need two snacks if they're going through a growth spurt or if they are very physically active).
Parents and caregivers need to offer planned meals and snacks consistently throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about one to two hours before the next meal begins. Postponing snacks until a few hours after a meal helps prevent kids from refusing food at a meal and then begging for more food as a "snack" just after the meal ends. On the other hand, putting a stop to snacking immediately before meals encourages a healthy appetite at mealtimes. Above all, remember the bottom line: if snacks are planned, coordinated with meals, and served consistently at regularly scheduled times, kids are more likely to be a healthy weight.
Where Should Kids Snack?
When at home, designate a certain area as the "eating-only zone'' and limit all snacking to that location. The kitchen table or countertop works well. When kids snack all over the house, that makes it hard for you to monitor what and how much they're eating. (Plus, all the crumbs and spills can get messy!) Also, never let kids eat snacks while watching television. Studies show that this mindless munching leads to overeating, which often results in unhealthy weight gain.
Jodie (Jo Ellen) Shield, MED, RD, LD, is co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Mary Mullen, MS, RD, is co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.