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Snack time – What’s Best?

Some people worry about encouraging children to snack, in case it means they’re too full for their main meals or instils unhealthy grazing habits. However, the general consensus is that three meals and two snacks a day is optimum for growing early years to get all the calories and nutrients they need through the day.

Is snack time just for eating?

Snack time, while mainly for making sure our early years don’t go hungry, is also vital for social skills and self-confidence. If you’re able to involve the children in snack preparation they instantly have a whole new way to learn – from maths skills, sharing out bread pieces between bowls and making sure everyone has the same, to fine motor skills, pouring out drinks. Giving the children roles will enable them to feel more independent. Even just allowing children to select which food they want on their own plate will give them more of a feeling of independence as they make their own choices.

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Fruit, veg or something else?

It’s important to encourage our children to eat a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables, such as carrot sticks, celery and cucumber. Additionally, these foods are perfect for little hands to grip while feeding themselves. However, in terms of energy and much-needed calories, these veggies are actually quite low on the scale and don’t provide as much of what children need as we would think.

On the other hand, toast, pitta bread or crumpets are great for calories and will give early years the energy and full tummies they need until dinner time but aren’t the best for nutrients.

The key is, as it is with everything, balance. Snacks should be a mix of filling carbs, protein and healthy nutrients. Some examples are:

  • Apple slices and almond butter
  • Cheese, grapes and crackers
  • Banana chunks and yoghurt
  • Pitta bread and humous
  • Breadsticks and guacamole

What’s the best time?

The timing of snacks is also a tricky one. Children should be kept in a routine as much as possible but fitting in activities and sometimes being slightly understaffed can affect settings’ ability to maintain this. However, as long as there are 2-3 hours between meals and snacks, this should be enough for children to become hungry again (and not leave half their lunch because they only had snacks 30 minutes ago).

A rolling snack bar?

According to Early Start Group, some nurseries have started offering a rolling snack bar. This means that, instead of a designated snack time, snacks are available for around an hour. This enables the children to go get a snack when they feel they want one, giving them more agency over their own eating habits and encouraging independence. It’s important to make sure the snacks aren’t available the whole day through, as this could encourage continuous grazing in our early years.

Photo by Gábor Szűts on Unsplash

Recipe ideas

There are many online resources for good snack ideas. For example, the government have published Example Menus for Early Years Settings in England, or you could visit sites like First Steps Nutrition, which has helpful downloads that include examples of healthy snacks for infants on more specific diets, such as veganism.

What are your early years’ favourite snacks, and what snack time methods/routines work for them? Let us know on our socials at @thatnurserylife!