Many children arrive home from school and head straight to the refrigerator for a snack. There is nothing wrong with moderate snacking, since youngsters have high levels of activity and may need more calories than three meals a day provide to meet their energy needs. For many children—particularly those who are quite physically active—snacks can help round out their nutritional requirements and provide as much as one fourth of their calories. In general, occasional snacks will not ruin their appetites for regular meals, as long as the snack is not eaten shortly before they sit down to lunch or dinner. Snacks are another opportunity for parents to provide healthy food choices to their children while reinforcing good eating habits—learning to get hungry, rather than eating to feel full all the time.
When snacking, children often reach for the closest food at hand. If your cupboard has cookies in it, that is probably what your child will eat. However, if there are healthier items in the refrigerator or on the kitchen table, your youngster will become accustomed to snacking on these foods. The healthiest and simplest choices are fruits and raw vegetables, which require little if any preparation. Encourage your child to make healthy snacks a habit by keeping fruit and cut vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, celery, peppers, and broccoli) handy.
Children in the older range of the middle years also can learn some simple cooking techniques. As they prepare snacks for themselves, you can teach them to differentiate between healthy and less healthy choices. However, be sure they learn appropriate safety precautions for the use of a stove, oven, microwave, or other cooking appliance.