One of the most common questions we’re asked here at Early Start Nutrition, is around what foods to serve little ones at snack time. In this blog we’ll explore how to incorporate snacks into children’s mealtime routine, how to plan healthy snacks and which foods to include.
As part of a healthy meal routine, toddlers should be offered 2-3 healthy snacks across the day. One mid-morning (between breakfast and lunch), one mid- afternoon (between lunch and tea) and an optional evening snack. This helps children to maintain their energy levels and provide them with important nutrients that will support their growth, development and learning.
Timings of meals and snacks
It’s a good idea to offer meals and snacks at a similar time each day. This allows children to establish a good meal routine, which helps them to manage their appetite. Ideally there should be around a 2-3 hour gap between each meal and snack. If offered too close together, for example snack at 10:30am and lunch at 11:30am, it’s likely to reduce a child’s appetite for the food offered at the main meal.
In working with early years settings over the last few years, we’ve found some have difficulty in the timing and spacing of meals and snacks. Staffing issues and fitting in other daily activities can make the timings of meals and snacks difficult. However, it’s essential that you provide children with a suitable meal and snack routine and work together to create solutions to overcome any potential barriers.
The ideal mealtime should last around 20- 30 minutes. This is enough time for children to eat as much as they need without feeling rushed or loosing interest. Of course, some children may take a little longer than others, so it’s important to recognise their individual needs.
It’s important for parents to be made aware of the meal and snack routine/timings you’ll be following in your early years setting, so share your menu with them. This will help families to time meals and snacks at home to fit in with the nursery routine, ensuring consistency for their child, even at weekends.
Rolling Snack Bar
Some nurseries offer a rolling snack bar. This allows children to participate in snack time when they feel ready to and encourages independence. This can work really well and is seen to be less disruptive to children’s playing and learning.
It’s important to remember that a rolling snack bar should be open for a set length of time. Settings who make snacks available to children at any time of the day can create a grazing culture. This means children may have several snacks throughout the day, which is likely to reduce their interest and appetite for the food served at main meals. To avoid this happening, it’s important to carefully organise and manage snack times by limiting the time your snack bar is open to around 30-60 minutes, and remember to factor this in when timing your main meals.
It’s important that children sit down at a table to eat their snacks and are always supervised. This will also help to ensure that children are encouraged to learn good eating behaviours.
Top tips to ensure the smooth running of rolling snack:
- Encourage children to serve their own snack
- Make sure your snack table has a jug of water. Children should be encouraged to pour their own
- Tell children when the snack table is open and give them a 5 minute notice when the snack table is about to close
- Keep track of the children that have had snack. You could try having name cards on a table that children give to you when they sit at the snack bar
- If a child does not wish to eat a snack, encourage them to come to the snack bar for some water
- Promote good hygiene and remind children to wash their hands before eating
- Encourage children to tidy up after snack, e.g. placing bowls and cups in a washing up bowl
- Allocate one member of staff to manage the snack table. It should be their role to maintain good hygiene practices, promote self-service skills, promote language and communication development, make observations and keep track of the children who have and have not had snack
- Staff members should be encouraging and role- model eating and drinking during rolling snack.
What snacks should we serve in our early years setting?
Snack times are a great opportunity to offer children a range of nutritious foods. Variety is key, so try to ensure you aren’t serving the same snacks too frequently. Plan your snack menu to ensure variety across the week, following these guidelines:
Starchy Foods- pitta bread, bread fingers, chapatti, tortilla wraps, plain popcorn, rice cakes, low salt breadsticks, crackers, crumpet, bagel slices, sliced sweet potato, teacake, malt loaf.
Pictures from left to right: homemade bunny pancake, The Very Hungry Caterpillar sandwiches, tortilla stars with hummus, toast with smooth peanut butter and banana.
Fruit and Vegetables- Vegetables- carrot, cucumber, pepper, avocado, beetroot, tomatoes (slice cherry tomatoes into quarters to prevent choking), celery, butternut squash, suede, mushrooms.
Fruit: Orange, apple, pineapple, banana, grapes (sliced into quarters length-ways), strawberries, blueberries, pear, raspberries, mango, papaya, guava, star fruit, blackberries, peach, kiwi. Choose fruit and vegetables in season.
Pictures from left to right: kiwi and raspberry Christmas tree, celery snails with smooth nut butter/cream cheese, strawberry and watermelon fruit kebabs, orange fruit cups with raspberries and blueberries
Protein Foods- hummus, tahini, sliced egg, mashed fish dip, mashed bean dip, sliced chicken, turkey, pork, beef, tofu, falafel, Quorn pieces.
Pictures from left to right: pepper frittata (made with egg), pumpkin hummus with pepper and breadsticks, egg fingers with smashed avocado, smooth nut butter with apple fingers
Dairy and Alternative Foods- yoghurt, fromage frais, cream cheese, hard cheese, milk.
Pictures from left to right: cheese triangles with pretzels, mini pizzas with cheese and vegetables, plain yoghurt with mashed raspberries, cheese stars with crackers
FREE Snack Recipe Cards
Check out some of our favourite children’s snacks
Healthy Snacks for Toddlers Tip Sheet
Below is our newly developed Healthy Snacks for Toddlers leaflet. This is a fantastic resource for early years settings and families. Click here to download your FREE copy!
Support for Early Years settings
Are you interested in finding out more about healthy snacks for children? Book our Food and Nutrition for Toddlers training.
Or perhaps you’d like support in bringing your menus in link with Action for Children’s- Eat Better Start Better Guides? Book our Menu Planning Training for expert tips, advice and practical support!
We’d love to hear about snack time in your nursery so get in touch and share your ideas and examples of good practice!