If you are parenting a toddler, I can guarantee that dinner time is often a struggle.
I wrote here and here about how typical it is for kids, especially toddlers, to skip meals. I also gave a few reasons why it may be happening:
- Snacks too close to dinner
- Not including a safe food in meals
- Filling on milk and juice between meals
- Lower appetite overall due to a slower growth
- Too tired by dinner time
- Too intimidated by the dinner options
- Pressure to eat from the parents resulting in an even lower appetite for meals
If you have not read these posts, you may find them really helpful. But what if you are one of the many parents who have troubleshot all these problem areas but still see no results?
My answer to this – a super snack in the afternoon.
Afternoon snacks are easy to take lightly but, in fact, they are a perfect opportunity to help your child get the calories and nutrition when he is likely to be at his hungriest.
And guess what, if you regularly sneak new food in these snacks you may see your little one branching out more.
Prefer a quick video? Here is a 7 minute Facebook live I recorded on this topic.
What is a super snack?
Super snack is essentially a mini-meal with at least three food groups in it. Make sure to include protein, starch, fruit, and vegetable and you got yourself a balanced and filling snack, which provides similar nutrients to a dinner.
I love serving my kids super snack platters and try to rotate the offerings from time to time.
Some popular combinations include:
- hummus+vegetable crudites+apples+granola bar
- cheese +breadsticks + applesauce + frozen corn or peas
- any deli meat + sandwich bread + slices of melon+ cucumbers
- any nuts, chopped+yogurt+fruit salad+cereal
- guacamole+tortilla chips or crackers+canned black beans seasoned with salt, cumin and a sprinkle of salt+berries
- a bowl of tomato soup+shredded cheese+croutons+fruit
- potato chips, carrot sticks, cheese sandwich and fruit
- porridge with milk, dried fruit, and nuts (chopped) or nut butter
EDIT: you see some whole pistachios in the photo above. It is a photo of an actual snack of my 3.5-year-old who is a pro at chomping nuts. I still cut walnuts and almonds for her but she is munching away on whole pistachios and pine nuts without a problem. For smaller kids and those who have not had much experience with hard foods, always chop nuts in smaller pieces.
Where to serve the super snack?
As you can see from the options above, it is easier to serve the super snack at the table. It also teaches kids to eat while seated, which is an essential rule for choking prevention and building good eating habits.
But what to do with kids who are starving when you get them from school? I am probably in the same boat with you here. An easy solution that works for me is having an apple, banana, or another piece of fruit handy to tide them over until you get home.
Have a busy afternoon packed with activities? You can pack most super snack options from the list into a lunchbox or a couple of containers you can bring with you if you are out and about in the afternoon.
Have some extra time on your hands? Try these and these creative and fun snack ideas kids can help you prepare.
Check out my mega list of snack ideas for kids.
How to keep the super snack balanced?
It is ok to include in your super snacks some popular options like flavored yogurt, granola bars or chips from time to time. But keep in mind that if everything you serve for snacks is “fun” and meals are dedicated to “grown-up” food, kids will have even less incentive to join the family for dinner.
So keep the super snack offerings balanced, with more wholesome options providing the bulk of it. But make sure to include the kids’ absolute favorites from time to time, especially for older toddlers and preschoolers who may be well aware of all the delicious options in your cupboard or their friend’s lunchboxes :).
Read here about why I brought soda home one day.
What about dinner?
Having raised 3 toddlers, I am starting to think that the typical concept of a 6-7 pm dinner may be slightly overrated, especially with small kids in the house.
Actually, in many cultures, kids eat a bigger meal when they come home from school or after waking up from an afternoon nap. And in the evening the family enjoys a smaller, snack-type meal.
But it does not mean that parents can just give up on family dinner altogether. It will always be a perfect opportunity to connect with your kids, talk about their day, teach some important manners, and introduce them to new foods.
So at dinnertime, put the food on the table and invite your little one to join you, but without any pressure to eat.
Read here about why family-style dinners may work wonders for picky eaters.
Sitting together with the family for a few minutes is a rule, eating is optional. Make sure to connect with your child at mealtime, instead of making requests to try this or taste that.
Remember about your feeding job and your child’s eating job.
What to do if your child begs for snacks at bedtime?
Little kids need to eat every 3-4 hours. So if your toddler enjoys his afternoon super snack at 4 pm, skips dinner at 6, and is usually hungry at 7-7.30, plan a bedtime snack.
It can be a glass of milk with a couple of cookies, some crackers with cheese or some dinner leftovers, whatever makes more sense to you.
What will happen as your child grows up?
I have some good news for you here. Dinner skipping is just a phase. At some point, your child will be looking forward to family mealtimes, coming to the table without complaints and having enough energy to last through a 30-minute meal.
Even the super snack idea will become obsolete at this point as he will get better at eating school lunches and may not need a truckload of food after school.
In the meanwhile, I hope that the afternoon super snack idea will help you survive the turbulent toddler years with peace of mind that your little one is getting enough nutrition and is learning good eating habits.
So what do you think? Are you ready to give the super snack a go?