Saturday, January 7, 2012

Snack Break Made Easy

I seem to have the hungriest kids in the world. They wake up hungry, fix their own big lunch and extra snack for school, walk in the door from school acting as if they haven't eaten in weeks, they appear famished at dinner time, and they beg for a bedtime snack.  Growing does that to a person, I guess. 

My sister in law shared this snack idea with me months ago and I have implemented it in the last few months somewhat regularly.  It is my little way to bless the the kids in my life with food.  It has become more of the norm for them when they arrive home from a busy day of brain work that I have something like this all ready to go.

I simply fill six muffin cups with finger food. I go for healthy food, colorful food, and ones that are already in bite sized pieces. The key here is to provide a snack sized portion of a variety of foods that don't take much time to prepare.  I can do something like this in a few minutes.

The kids run in the door from school, grab a small plate, pick what they want, and munch.

Here's why I like this method of snacking for kids.
  1. Portion Control.  There is not an endless bag of chips here.  There is not a whole box of crackers here. It is set out for them and they can pick what they want in portions that are actually snack sized. I think it starts to train them to see what a snack portion should look like.  I admit that I sometimes hear, "That's it?!", when they sit to eat their snack.  I understand totally. When you are accustomed to a large bowl of one kind of food, it is a leap to look at a couple or three smaller pieces as an acceptable amount.  I tell them, "Trust me. This will satisfy you as a snack.  It's not a meal. It's meant to tide you over to dinner."
  2. Balance of Nutrition.  I don't fill every cup with a grain. I don't fill every cup with a sugar. I don't fill every cup with a protein. They start to learn how to put together a small plate of foods with different sources of nutrition. Think basic food groups.
  3. Variety of Choices.  This is close to #2, but somewhat different. I like that there really are choices here. If they pick four of the six, that's okay. That's four different foods they normally would not have eaten.  When a veggie is in one cup, guess what? It is chosen. It can't be chosen and eaten if its not there. I offer a variety so they eat a variety. I try to work in new foods so they have a chance to try them too.  I think choice for kids matters.  When they can pick and choose from good choices, they are more likely to be satisfied and willing to eat this way.
  4. Surprise Factor.  I would never have offered M&M's as a snack choice. We just don't have them around (because I would eat them from the grocery bag before they made it into the house).  However, as an extra special treat, I bought some just to fill one cup.  So, on a rare occasion, I think its okay to pop a surprise into their choices. Something they don't expect. Something fun.
  5. Cooperation.  I have three kids. One kid could take everything in one cup and walk away. But the other two would not let her get away with it. There is a natural cooperation among the three that happens when they know they are each taking from the same spread. They still get what they want, but they have an awareness of other hungry kids around who want a to eat as well.  It has worked beautifully with no intervention on my part to encourage sharing. It has just happened naturally. I simply set out the muffin tins and walk away.
  6. Fun Factor for Mom. I like preparing a snack this way. I am thinking more creatively about snacks. I am willing to try new foods myself. I also am held accountable to all of the above. I too need to be reminded about what is a snack size portion. I need to eat a variety of colorful healthy foods. It;s good for me to prepare their snacks this way.
My ideas so far for filling each cup:
  • cherry tomatoes
  • any vegetable (sugar snap peas, celery sticks, carrots, cucumber sticks, peppers - we eat them green, red, yellow and orange, almost daily.)
  • apple slices, clementine wedges
  • any kind of nut (we always have a big bag of almonds around)
  • cheese curds
  • rolled up ham or turkey
  • a Ranch dip or humus
  • dried fruit (we like cranberries)
  • Goldfish or other small cracker, pita chips, pretzels
  • any kind of berry
  • raisins
I'm still thinking of more and open to suggestions.

Snack time. It can be healthy and fun.

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