Navigating the Snack vs Meal Conundrum

Kids reaching for snacks rather than wanting to eat dinner

Our Founder, Carly, sheds some light on the common ‘snack or meal’ conundrum, including her own personal experiences and tips.

Little ones can be fickle with their food preferences - loving something one day only to despise it the next, usually after you’ve just purchased it in bulk!  But one thing is for certain, kids love snacks and many would happily snack all day and skip meals if given the chance.

A common concern for parents, is how to encourage their kids to eat their lovingly prepared healthy dinner, lunchbox and breakfast rather than filling up on snacks! 

When we ponder snacks, our minds often drift to the typical supermarket-based offerings which are often ultra processed, low in nutrients, contain hidden sugars or salts and contain artificial preservatives or additives. These should be considered ‘sometimes’ food and not a core part of your children’s diet. 

However, not all snacks are created equal. With some foresight and planning, multiple snacks can be just as wholesome and nutritious as a sit-down meal. Moreover, there are numerous strategies to elevate the appeal of main meals. Below, we share our field-tested practical suggestions!

Kids wanting snacks over meals. Chart of kids hunger levels showing high against snacks and low against breakfast, lunch and dinner


Transform Snacks into Nutritional Powerhouses

Reframing how you view snacks, and what you offer as a snack is a game changer. Snacks only fall short compared to meals, when they belong to the category of ‘sometimes’ food or aren’t nutritionally balanced. Providing snacks which are veggie-rich and balanced, minimally processed or don’t have added sugars and salt means you don’t need to worry about whether food is a snack or a meal. Instead, try focusing on the quality of food you’re providing your little ones, regardless of when or how it’s served. 

Some tips on how to do this:

  • Opt for small substitutions, such as swapping jam for nut butter on crumpets.
  • Enhance the nutritional value of familiar favourites by incorporating additional vegetables or protein, like adding seeds to homemade baked biscuits or grating veggies into muffins.
  • Explore nutrient-packed smoothies featuring a blend of vegetables, fruits, and protein sources like Greek yogurt.
  • If your child is not inclined to eat meals, offer food normally reserved for dinnertime, such as a lamb chop for afternoon tea.

Prepare ahead so you have nutritious snacks on hand

Constantly scrambling to whip up snacks on demand can leave you feeling tethered to the kitchen or inclined to opt for less nutritious choices. At one point, while discussing the various dwellings people and animals inhabit, my daughter Audrey (at age 2) astutely observed, "Mummy lives in the kitchen" — a sentiment that resonated all too well at the time!

Having nutritious options readily available can make a world of difference. Admittedly, easier said than done! However, dedicating some time to prep ahead can significantly alleviate the pressure during a busy week. Batch cooking and freezing muffins and slices is one of my favourite options. You can also pre-cut up veggies and fruit at the start of the week and have these ready to go and simple to serve on their own or with sides, such as a dip, yogurt or cheese.  

Having lots of options on hand also means you won’t’ be as tempted to add the not-so-nutritious options to your shopping cart. 

Make informed choices when purchasing pre-made snacks

Even with the best intentions to prepare food, life gets busy, so having some pre-bought options on hand is absolutely ok too! There are plenty of good options available at the supermarkets, but you won’t always find them in the kids' section. Think: bananas, small tins of tuna, Tamar Valley kids' yoghurts or Greek yoghurts, plain or lightly salted popcorn, and wholemeal crackers & cheese packs (such as mainland variety, found near the dips). We encourage you to read the labels, so that you can make more informed choices. 

There are also a growing number of really nutritious pre-made snack options available for kids. We’re obviously partial to Audrey & Alfie, but there are also other options available, it may just require doing a little more research and potentially buying online or at speciality stores. Our biggest tip, look for products with a simple ingredients list made of whole foods like you’d make at home.

Offer Veggies When Hunger Strikes

The period post-kinder/school and just before dinner tends to coincide with peak hunger for little ones. Capitalise on this opportune moment by presenting a platter of veggies and fruits. You'll be amazed at what little ones are willing to nibble on when hunger strikes!

By doing so, they've already consumed a portion of veggies even before dinner commences. While you can still include veggies in the main meal, the pressure to ensure they eat enough is alleviated, fostering a more relaxed atmosphere during dinner-time.

Make any after dinner snacks boring!

Kids may at times be hungry after dinner or just before bed and that’s completely understandable, particularly as their little bodies are growing. But offering boring snacks and being consistent with this, will help ensure little ones are eating because they are genuinely hungry, not because they are vying for treats.

In our house, we’re always happy to offer a pre bed-time snack upon request, but the options remain constant—a cup of milk or a banana. Audrey swiftly learned that holding out for something more enticing doesn't yield results. Yet, there are numerous occasions when a cup of milk and a banana are devoured even after a full dinner.

Elevate the Fun Factor at Mealtimes

Enhancing the visual appeal and injecting some fun into meals, is a sure-fire way to get little ones more interested in mealtimes.   

Many little ones love to eat with their hands so lean into this and trying serving finger foods, alongside colourful fruit and veggies. Alternatively, experiment with cutting food into fun shapes to pique children's interest and make it more enticing for little ones to try. 

Involve little ones in Meal Prep

Encouraging little ones to join you in the kitchen can transform mealtime dynamics. By involving them in the decision-making process, such as offering them a choice of 2-3 options for what to cook, or having them assist in food preparation, children develop a sense of ownership over the meal and are more inclined to try the end result. 

If the prospect of cooking an entire meal with your child feels daunting, don't fret—you can start small. Even enlisting their help for a few tasks while you prepare dinner can make a significant impact. For instance, they could help mix a salad or serve food onto plates. If your kids aren't initially enthusiastic about helping, you could begin with something more enjoyable, like making cookies (after all, who can resist cookie dough?), and gradually expand their involvement from there.

Also a few final thoughts:

  • Keep in mind the division of responsibility: it's your role to serve food, but it's up to your child to decide what they eat. 
  • Pay attention to your child's overall eating habits throughout the day and week, rather than fixating solely on individual meals or snacks. For inspiration on how to structure this, feel free to explore our blog on 'what your child should eat in a day' for helpful insights. 
  • A 'snack all day' pattern of eating is fine nutritionally so long as the same nutrients are the same as what your little one would eat in a meal (particularly, meat and protein). However, where possible, work towards encouraging little ones to eat meals or keep snacks to key times rather than snacking for prolonged periods. Prolonged exposure to food is not good for dental health. To help support oral health, encourage your little one to drink water after eating and minimise snacking on foods which are high in natural or added sugars, such as dried fruit.

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