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Eat and move
Parents are constantly concerned about their kids' diet, and at every stage of their development. What should I feed them? What should I avoid? What should I feed active children? or a fussy eater?
What about snacks? Are they important? What should I give them? And at what time? It's hard to organise healthy snacks. My days are so busy! Children and teenagers are fervent snackers but it can be important for all ages, particularly for active people.
A snack is a light meal.. The most typical snack is at about 4pm, or just after school. Snacks have traditionally included sweet food like biscuits, hence their bad reputation. But you can eat all sorts of food at snack time. Snacks can contribute to a healthy diet and different needs.
Until about three, children are still discovering food and adapting to the family's mealtimes. At this stage, it doesn't matter if their meals are less regular than adult's meals. It won't affect their development: they eat when they are hungry, then they will gradually get accustomed used to regular meal times as they grow up.
Meal times are cultural. The number, time, content in any one country are no better than the number, time and content in another country. Having three or four meals a day corresponds to our society's rules, to our lifestyle and the way we work. They do not only reflect physical needs. Each family is free to choose the time and content of meals that suits them, depending on their constraints and needs.If children are starving when they get home from childcare at 6.30pm and you don't mind eating early, there's no reason not to!
A morning snack (once distributed in French schools) is not as important as an afternoon snack, which contributes to a balanced diet. A morning snack can compensate for kids who haven't eaten breakfast, but for most kids it's superfluous because the other meals of the day cover their needs. The French agency for health, food, environment and work (ANSES) now recommends against the distribution of morning snacks in schools .
However, some areas in France still have a breakfast programme that distributes balanced breakfast in schools.
Similarly, a morning snack is not necessary at home, particularly if kids eat breakfast and a balanced lunch. . When children are smaller, and they are still discovering food and adapting to the family's mealtimes, a morning snack can be useful - a quick bottle, some stewed fruit or bread. The morning snack becomes progressively superfluous, because children who eat a good breakfast can wait until lunchtime.
Food must provide kids with enough energy and nutrition to help them grow and live fully. Playing, learning and moving all require loads of energy. That's why good, balanced meals are vital. Children who learn good habits around food at the family table, have good habits as adults.
Snacks are an important meal for children and teenagers. The afternoon snack helps to distribute nutrition throughout the day by avoiding copious meals and reducing the time between lunch and the evening meal which can seem very long for kids of all ages.A balanced afternoon snack also contributes to the overall daily diet and helps to cover nutrition needs. . It's a great time to offer food that isn't easily included at meal time, like nuts which are easy to carry around and very nourishing, or fruit which aren't always popular when competing with other desserts!
For kids who don't eat much at lunchtime, the afternoon snack can be a great chance to get in some healthy food. What's more, it prevents kids from coming to the evening meal absolutely starving and eating more than they need to.
Sweet orsavoury? What sort of food should be included in a snack?
First of all, don't forget that what we eat at meal times depends on our cultural habits. Snacks are typically sweet, but you can also include savoury food in a snack, homemade or not, sitting up at the table or on the go.Snacks can be adapted to all sorts of situations, whether it's a rainy Sunday afternoon in front of a film or after school between activities and homework.
A snack needs to be filling, so it's important to include food with cereals like bread or biscuits, and a combination of:
- protein (dairy products like yoghurt, nuts and seeds)
- fats (dairy products like cheese, nuts, seeds, butter, peanut butter),
- fibre (particularly fruit and vegetables).
Biscuits - a traditional snack-time favourite - contain fats in the cereals and sugar: eating them alone will not satisfy kids until the evening meal, particularly when kids have sports activities during the day.
Kids will be more satisfied if you add protein to food which is high in simple fats like biscuits. They will be satisfied for longer and the energy provided in the snack will be used more gradually. This is the best way to avoid the vicious cycle of drops in energy caused y low glycemia, followed by a snack with high sugar to compensate. It won't lastn generating another drop in energy shortly afterwards.
- one or two store-bought biscuits (depending on age and hunger) + a piece of fresh fruit
- some bread and a piece of chocolate + stewed fruit
- a piece of fresh fruit and a handful of almonds
- a cheese sandwich with cucumber slices - a small portion of leftovers from a previous meal
- a slice of homemade cake and a piece of fruit - homemade stewed fruit and a peanut butter sandwich
- a pouch of stewed fruit and a few biscuits - a piece of bread, a piece of chocolate and a piece of fresh fruit such as a banana, a few pieces of apple, some grapes
Regardless of which snack your kids prefer, water is the best drink! Fruit juice is popular but they are no substitute for eating whole fruit. They are best kept for occasional consumption, such as breakfast with the family at the weekend, or for a more festive snack with friends.
Lots of kids have sports activities after school. Is it better to snack before or after? Or both?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question: it depends.
First, is there time between leaving school and starting the after-school activity for a snack without eating too quickly? That's great if you have time!It's the best way to recharge your kid's battery so they get the most out of their activity. If kids are very hungry after an activity, give them an early dinner rather than a second snack.
Light, portable snacks are ideal when kids have a tight timetable. This avoids any feeling of discomfort due to physical activity on a full tummy.Or split the snack: some before the activity to recharge their batteries and the rest afterwards. For example, give them a biscuit after school and stewed fruit after their activity.
Apart for everyday activities such as school sports and regular extracurricular activities, kids sometimes have more intense activities that require appropriate snacks.Like on holidays in the mountains.Kid's can have huge appetites in these situations!Skiing, sledding and snowball fights - that's lots of exercise! Usual meals may not be enough to replenish their energy.
Their hunger is the best guide in these cases: if kids are hungry after a morning of skiing, they can have a snack during the morning such as fresh fruit (bananas, etc.), dried fruit (dried apricots, sultanas) or nuts. Give them a snack which is easy to carry and provides quick energy so they keep having fun. The other meals of the day can provide good portions of starchy foods (such as pasta and potatoes) and protein (meat, fish, pulses and tofu), with healthy seasonal vegetable. This will fill them with energy and vitamins, and feed growth and energy requirements.
It's vital to satisfy your kids' feelings of hunger at any meal, while ensuring they have the energy they need to enjoy their activities. In some cases, when in groups for example, meal times cannot be adjusted. But when it's possible, why not? There's no need to force them at snack time if they aren't hungry. The afternoon snack should not be automatic, just because "it's time", but rather when kids are hungry. If it's getting late and they're hungry, give them a light snack to avoid them arriving at the dinner table with a full stomach, or have dinner earlier.It's important to learn to eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. Knowing this about yourself and your appetite is useful at all ages.
Homemade snacks are often presented as the best snack solutions - even as the only healthy option. But let's be realistic. If you have a full-time job, organising home life, balancing your couple and parenting is exhausting, mostly for mums.We don't need to feel guilty because we don't have time to bake a cake too. Shops stock perfectly satisfactory options. The time saved will be well spent elsewhere, for example taking a break to share a snack with your kids.
Here are some criteria to guide your choice when buying store snacks.
- Buy what your kids like: there's no point buying "healthy" biscuits that no one will eat and that will finish in the bin.
Snacks that kids enjoy:
- biscuits and cake: it's not easy to sort between claims about healthy content that inspire confidence on the front of the pack and the reality of the composition. The Nutriscore helps to avoid spending hours hesitating in the biscuit aisle. This score from A to E on the front of the pack makes it easier to compare similar products.The Nutriscore is not a universal rating of nutritional quality that rates some products such as biscuits as low generally. They can be consumed in moderation.That said, you can choose a C-rated packet over a similar D-rated packet of biscuits for better nutrition.
As we explained earlier, a cereal product is a good basis for a snack. It's even better if you add other nutrients such as fibre and protein.Ideally offer a biscuit, or another type of cereal product, with another type of food:
- fruits and fruit products: A piece of fresh fruit is ideal! It's a balanced snack that doesn't require any preparation - except maybe peeling. For children who aren't fond of fresh fruit, or simply for convenience and variety, stewed fruit pouches are a good option.Choose them with no added sugar: there is very little difference in flavour and you don't add unnecessary sugar. Stewed fruit pouches are very practical but more expensive than other options. Tubs are also easy to carry around. Just remember to keep a few spoons in your bag or in the glove box for a snack or picnic. This avoids more expensive options which include cutlery.For an economical option with a little less waste, you can now buy reusable pouches that are easy to clean and fill. Why not buy large jars of stewed apples with no added sugar? A 750g jar costs one or two euros depending on the brand. That fills six to eight pouches depending on their size.
- dairy products: easier to offer at home than outside, a plain yoghurt or a glass of milk are the simplest options. Avoid flavoured milks (chocolate and others) if possible. They are very sweet and not very nutritional.