Wait! Do my kids really need that snack?

Marjorie Lanier, MPH – Regional Health Educator

“We’re over-snacking our kids,” my husband exclaimed. “I call it being prepared,” I shot back. As a working mom of three, I take pride in “thinking of everything.” The diaper bag is my on-the-go pantry. I have raisins for the inevitable car meltdowns and mandarin oranges for the after-work-errands-with-the-kids-meltdown. I even have the on-the-way-to-school-because-breakfast-was-so-early-snack tucked in the glove box of the car.

Like most parents, I want to avoid the crossover into the hangry (angry hunger) stage at all costs because, let’s face it, the unraveling that ensues at that stage is not pretty, especially in the middle of a traffic jam. However, my husband observed something I didn’t. My well-intentioned mom-hack backfired because inevitably we’d get to the dinner table, and the snackers would hum in unison, “I’m not hungry.” (Insert eye roll and the hanging of my head in defeat.) Ugh. I hate to admit it, but my husband was on to something.

According to a study by Barry Popkin, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, our kids are snacking more than ever. In the late 1970s, the average kid between the ages of two and six ate one snack a day between meals. Presently, kids typically eat almost three snacks each day.

Do a quick back-of-the-napkin analysis of a child’s typical day, and these findings aren’t so surprising. My own analysis looked something like this: Sunday morning snacks during church followed by snacks during evening youth group. There’s the snack in the car on the way to school before I recalled it was “Donuts for Dads Day.” Dr. Seuss’s birthday celebration snacks during afterschool were also on the list, plus the mindless snack at the grocery store while I picked up makings for dinner. Of course, there were the waiting-for-dinner-to-be-ready snacks. The weekend list was long, too: team snack after Saturday’s soccer game, birthday party snacks, and Saturday afternoon snacks because, come on, it’s the weekend. It was an endless supply of snacks, whether the snackers were hungry or not, being shoveled their way.

Although snacks may seem harmless to those tiny tummies, it occurred to me, by observing my own children, that many kids are rarely without food. (Of course, there are heartbreaking exceptions to that and should be discussed in a future blog.) To make matters worse, many of those snacks are high-calorie and contain little or no nutritional value. As a result, it shouldn’t be a surprise when kids come to meal times with little appetite for the healthy meal that was prepared for them.

March is National Nutrition Month, which is a great time to review the recommendations for kids and snacks.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, kids should consume small snacks that come from the MyPlate food groups at set times during the day to refuel small, active bodies. Sweet drinks (even juice) and desserts should be served in small amounts and considered “sometimes” foods. MyPlate recommends limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams per day, saturated fat to 11-16 grams per day, and added sugars to 25-35 grams per day for young children.

Fruits and vegetables make perfect snacks because they help children get the recommended daily servings and are usually all that’s needed to curb hunger until the next meal. Some ideas include:

  • orange wedges (easy peel, seedless mandarins work well)
  • blueberries
  • cut-up strawberries
  • apple slices or small whole apples
  • baby carrots
  • grapes
  • celery


MyPlate Icon and Food Groups

Curb the snacking culture by re-thinking snack breaks in the settings where kids spend time: school, afterschool, sports, faith organizations, etc. Snacks aren’t necessary at every turn. Use activities as rewards, such as five minutes of extra recess in lieu of a cupcake party, or ditch the team snack altogether. As long as they have water, kids should be able to play an hour of soccer without a sugary snack at the end. Here are a few tools to help reign in the snacking madness:

For me, it’s a huge relief to know that I don’t need to “think of everything,” and that I just need to follow a few simple guidelines to ensure I’m healthfully feeding my kids. Perhaps, we can all make a personal pledge to focus on fruit and vegetables as snacks for ANY occasion and pause to consider if a snack is needed at all.


For the Classroom: Caterpillar Kabobs

Grades: K-3

Objective: Demonstrating how to eat a rainbow of colors

Variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (choose vegetables that can be eaten raw, such as carrots, zucchini, cucumber, peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes)
Wash and cut into bite-sized pieces.

1. Fruit Kabobs: Assemble chunks of fruit in various colors, such as melon, apple, oranges, grapes, or pears on skewers in any order. Use low-fat yogurt as a side for dipping.

2. Vegetable Kabobs: Use raw veggies, such as zucchini, cucumber, carrots, sweet peppers, tomatoes, or squash. Pair with a ranch or hummus side for dipping.

Pieces of colorful fruit on a skewer

Featured Poe Program: Mission Nutrition

Interested in bringing this topic to your school or organization? The Poe Center offers nutrition and physical activity programs for preschool – 12 grades. Call 919-231-4006 or go online to schedule a program.

Mission Nutrition

Grade Level: 6th – 8th

Program Length: 60 minutes

Mission Nutrition is an interactive and conversational program that explores the challenge of balancing food and physical activity. Activities are designed to help participants discover the importance of food labels and the barriers to healthy eating and the risk associated with over- and under-eating. Participants also are helped to understand messages in the media targeting teens, and how those messages may affect their food choices.

Students participating in a nutrition class at the Poe Center.