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Snack Attack!

Managing Your Child’s Snacking

Most kids (and adults too) love to snack. Afternoon meetings suddenly aren’t as tiring with the promise of snacks. Playdates and sleepovers are made memorable with special snacks. “I’m starving,” is a common outcry when your child arrives home from school and that after school snack becomes a daily ritual.

Of course, snacks have a practical purpose in daily diets because they can help curb your appetite between meals and keep blood sugar steady. In addition, for kids (and many adults too!) having a snack connotates something special and fun.

However, snacks can also become problematic. Children are snacking more than ever before – from one snack per day to three or more times a day. And if snacks are “treats” or foods that are convenient, they may contain empty calories and ingredients that adversely impact energy, concentration, and learning.

For children with complex attention and learning difficulties, the snack dilemma is even more pronounced. There is a lot written about the way nutrition might help or hurt children with ADHD, Autism, and other neurological conditions. It isn’t easy to weed through the latest research or figure out the impact of the latest “superfood.”

In addition, every child is unique and will react to certain foods differently. Food allergies, sensitivities and the self-imposed food restrictions of picky eaters mean that no one snacking solution is best for your child. But here are a few ideas for consideration when managing snacks for Complex Learners.

If you already plan meals for the family, add weekly snacks to your list. Create a daily snack chart (there are a number of printable options online) and engage your child in the planning. Keep things simple and clear, use pictures or have kids color, draw or write in daily snacks. Knowing what you need and having it in the fridge or pantry can make the difference between good and poor choices for snacking. Have one alternative (e.g., a banana with nut-butter) your child could choose as a back up if the planned snack suddenly becomes less appealing.

It should come as no surprise that having predictable times for snacks is important for Complex Learners. Routines provide a sense of safety and control and give children set expectations to follow. Most children and teens need to eat every three to four hours throughout the day so schedule snacks accordingly. Make sure snacks aren’t offered too close to mealtime to minimize battles at the dinner table. Finally, determine a place for snacks so kids aren’t eating all over the house – this means less mess and a better sense of what kids are actually eating. It also provides a clear “cue” about snack time and helps lessen mindless munching in front of the TV.

Choose Foods for Focus
To support your child’s ability to concentrate and learn experts suggest snacks that balance protein, good fats, and complex carbohydrates. Essentially, the foods you serve as snacks should be just as nutritious as the ones you serve at meals. Finding snacks that incorporate these ingredients and are tasty enough to appeal to picky eaters may take some trial and error. Try a variety of fruit smoothies, crackers with added protein, small tuna wraps, pear or apple slices with nut-butter, trail mix without added sugars, low-fat yogurt and cheese (try goat cheese if your child has an allergy to cow’s milk), hard-boiled eggs, whole grain cereal, small refried bean quesadillas, veggies with dip, homemade kale chips, roasted chickpeas, fruit or energy bars and whole grain English muffin pizzas.

Read the Labels
Children, in general, need to eat less junk food and sugars, but children with attention and learning difficulties need to avoid added food dyes, sugars, hydrogenated oils, and artificial preservatives as much as possible. Cereals, prepackaged meals, granola bars, chips, and frozen treats can be loaded with a landmine of ingredients that lead to a loss of attention, fatigue and even irritability. The recommendation of shopping the perimeter of the supermarket makes sense in order to avoid processed foods but reading the labels of what you purchase is the best defense against unwanted additives.

Having a treat or special snack is part of enjoying childhood. Don’t worry about the occasional party cupcake, ice cream cone or candy bar (unless of course, they have particular allergies). Children who can never indulge in something sweet may feel deprived and uncomfortable at parties or special occasions. You can’t control the larger world of friends, school and community gatherings so determine when to allow your child to indulge and when to bring alternatives, like a batch of cookies sweetened with applesauce.

How do you manage your child’s snack attacks? Leave your recipes or tips for better snacking in the comments below!

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