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Summer Snacks: How to Feed Kids Who Are Always Hungry

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Summer Snacks: How to Feed Kids Who Are Always Hungry

The Constant Kid Hunger

What is it about summer that makes kids so ravenous? Over the years I have concocted a number of (totally not based on science) theories ranging from additional physical activity to increased Vitamin D to boredom, but none of these pan out to be consistently connected to the insatiable hunger that causes the constant clamoring for snacks and meals. No matter the reason, the challenge as parents of these ever-hungry beasts remains: how to feed kids who are always hungry. And even more specifically, how to make snacks available in such a way that we don’t spend all of our time in the kitchen and they (mostly) eat healthy options.

Just the other day, I took my younger son to his guitar lesson only to return to discover that my older son, in the one hour I had been gone, had eaten a bowl of leftover pasta, a quarter of a watermelon, a bowl of cheese puffs, two rice crackers with peanut butter, and was asking when dinner would be ready! Where does it all go?!

The frustration for me with feeding the bottomless pits that seem to be my children is that if I’m not organized and ready for the incessant call for snacks, they will resort to less healthy options– which do nothing to keep them full or help their growing bodies. But my desire to spend more time in the kitchen preparing all these snacks is low, so I have come up with some guidelines that I ask the boys to follow as best they can and then some simple tricks that make providing healthy snacks easier.

The Snack Battles in My House

After years and years, I have grown tired of the constant negotiations that seem to happen around snacks. At our main meals we don’t have battles anymore, but snacks are a different beast all together. This is where tensions can still arise. In our house the conversation can often look something like this:

Son: “Can I have a snack?”

Me: “Absolutely, you can get something from the kitchen.”

{time passes as son looks for a snack}

Me upon seeing his snack of choice: “Wow. That is a really big bowl of chips/crackers…”

Son: “It’s not that big!”

{two minutes later, after first bowl has been inhaled, son is back in the kitchen}

Me: “What are you getting now?”

Son: “More chips.”

Me: “That was enough! Can’t you get something else that has some more substance to it?”

Son: “But I want more chiiiiiippppssss.”

Me: “No. No more. That’s enough! Find something else!” {This often results in a meltdown, thereby proving that being rigid about food and/or fighting over food is never a good idea.} OR  “Why don’t you try something else first. If that doesn’t work, then we can talk about the chips again.” {This often results in an eye roll, but usually it also leads to some fruits, vegetables, and/or whole grains getting eaten.}

So after repeating this exhausting and tense pattern for many years I am trying something new this summer, a simple set of guidelines for my kids to follow when it comes to snacks. My hope is that these guidelines will provide enough structure that the boys will eat healthier options more often, but flexible enough that they will feel that they have freedom of choice in their food.

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Snack Guidelines

These are the five simple snack guidelines I will be sharing with my kids this summer:

  1. Only fruits or veggies in the hour and a half before dinner. This is for two reasons: 1) I want them to eat a good dinner and 2) if they fill up on produce, then at least I know they have nutritious food already in their bellies.
  2. Is your previous meal finished? (This is especially relevant for packed school/camp lunches.) If not, finishing anything that can be finished from that meal comes first. (Note: I don’t force my kids to finish their lunches, but if there is some still-ok-looking fruit or vegetable that they picked out for themselves in the morning still in there, I think it is important to try not to waste that food.)
  3. Enjoy a fun snack food, but please pair it with a fruit or vegetable.
  4. A second, smaller, serving of a fun snack food is fine.
  5. After that, if you are still truly hungry, let’s look at finding you something more substantial.

How to Make Healthy Snacks Easy

How to Make Healthy Snacks Easy

The other piece of this puzzle that I have found to be important is to make the healthier options readily accessible and obvious—the low-hanging fruit, if you will. I do this in a few ways:

  • The fruit bowl. I try my best to make sure that there are fruits readily available on the counter. For most of the year that includes fruit in a fruit bowl such as oranges and kiwis in the winter and stone fruit in the summer. In the early summer, when berries are at their peak, I also try to have berries out on the counter ready to go. The other favorite with my boys are grape and campari tomatoes, so I try to leave a container of those out as well.
  • Veggies at eye level. I try to store cut up vegetables that are ready for the taking right at eye level in the fridge. Bell peppers, cucumbers, snap peas, and baby carrots are often kept in a container right at eye level, so that when the boys aimlessly open the fridge, it is one of the first things they see.
  • Offer to make a dip. I often have a yogurt dip or hummus premade and ready to go, but if I don’t, I will happily whip up a quick yogurt dip (the simplest, savory version is just plain yogurt, a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, some garlic powder, herbs, and salt and pepper) to make veggies more appealing.
  • Whole grain crunchy snacks are always available. I make sure to always have popcorn and brown rice cakes available at eye level in the pantry. These are already favorites, but I take advantage of that by making them more obvious than the less healthy options.
  • Healthy baked goods are always in the freezer. I have written before about how I like to make a double (or these days triple) batch of baked goods over the weekends. Made with whole grains and often fruits or vegetables, these can make breakfasts easier, but they also serve as a great nutritious snack source. Recently, my boys have been super into rhubarb muffins and these scones.
  • Dinner leftovers are always an option. My kids aren’t usually fans of taking leftovers to school or camp for lunch, but they often enjoy them as part of snack. Since I am confident that these dishes are filling and nutritious, I am fine with them helping themselves to those leftovers.

Between the guidelines and making the healthier options available, my hope is that my kids will fill up more successfully with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and that by filling their stomachs with more substantial foods, it will stem the tide and answer my ongoing challenge of how to feed kids who are always hungry.

Do you have tricks for feeding kids all summer (or year) long? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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