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Snack Time in Your Early Years Setting

As Registered Nutrition we’re often asked which foods make healthy snacks for toddlers. 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 provides 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. 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. 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 is likely to reduce a child’s appetite for the food offered at the main meal. Staffing issues and fitting in other daily activities can make the timings of meal and snacks difficult. However, setting staff should ensure they provide children with a suitable meal and snack routine and work together to create solutions to overcome any potential barriers.

Healthy Snacks for ToddlersThe ideal meal time should last around 20- 30 minutes. This is enough time for children to eat as much as they need without feeling rushed and 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 by sharing the menu with them. This will help them to time meals and snacks at home to fit in with the nursery routine, ensuring consistency for their child, even at weekends. Where children attend your setting at different times and for different durations, you may find it hard to stick to meal and snack routine timings. It’s important that all children are offered meals and snacks at the same time, otherwise it will be difficult to monitor and may disrupt other daily activities and learning.  

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. However, 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 time 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 during these times. 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 snackHealthy Snacks Nursery
  • Make sure your snack table has a jug of water. Children should be encouraged to pour their own
  • Remind children when the snack table is open and give 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 children’s name card on a table that they 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 will be their role to maintain good hygiene practices, promote self-service skills, promote language and communication development, observations and keep track of the children who have and have not had a snack. Staff members should be encouraging and role model eating and drinking at this time.

What snacks should we serve in our nursery?

Snack times are a great opportunity to offer children a range of healthy 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:

Healthy Snacks Toddler                                                                                 Source: Action for Children- Eat Better Start Better Guidance

Food ideas

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.

Fruit and Vegetables- Vegetables- carrot, cucumber, pepper, avocado, beetroot, tomatoes (slice cherry tomatoes in half to prevent choking), celery, butternut squash, suede, mushrooms. Fruit: Orange, apple, pineapple, banana, grapes (sliced lengthways), strawberries, blueberries, pear, raspberries, mango, papaya, guava, star fruit, blackberries, peach, kiwi. Choose fruit and vegetables in season.

Protein Foods- hummus, tahini, sliced egg, mashed fish dip, mashed bean dip, sliced chicken, turkey, pork, beef, tofu, falafel, Quorn pieces.

Dairy and Alternative Foods- yoghurt, fromage frais, cream cheese, hard cheese, milk.

Healthy Snack Ideas for Toddlers and Nursery

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!

Snacks for Toddlers

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!

Finally, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for more snack ideas!

2 Comments

  1. Jennifer Cole on October 21, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    hi i work in a nursery with the toddlers the children are made to sit during snack time even if they have lost interest in what they are eating so start throwing their food on floor they had been sitting for 15 mins so i said okay if you have had enough you can leave when a member of staff started to argue with me and said they had only been sitting for 15 mins so i said yes but they are still babies and obviously bored and had enough was i in the right?

    • Georgia Leech on October 22, 2019 at 1:55 pm

      Hi there,

      Many thanks for your comment. I’m sure lots of other early years settings have been faced with this too so it’s a great question.

      Ideally snack times should last for around 15 minutes as 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.

      There is also the option of having a rolling snack which allows children to participate in snack time when they feel ready to and encourages independence. The blog above covers some top tips around managing this.

      In relation to the meal and snack times themselves:
      • Try to involve children in as much of the mealtime as possible. For example, involve them in setting the tables, helping to prepare the food, serving the food themselves and eating independently (where age appropriate).
      • We also encourage practitioners to sit with the children. This is a great time to role model and encourage children to try the foods on offer. It’s also a great time to have conversations with children which can help to focus their attention and support them to engage in the meal/ snack time.
      • It’s a good idea to minimise distractions that can take children’s attention away from the meal or snack time, such as toys, games etc, as these can often make them want to leave the table.
      • Some of the settings we work with encourage children to sit quietly in the reading corner once they have finished their meal/ snack. They then read a story with a practitioner until all children have finished their meal/ snack and joined them on the carpet.

      I’d recommend having a conversation with the team at your setting to agree an approach that would work best.
      I hope this is helpful but do let us know if you have any other questions.
      Please also note that we have online nutrition training topics for early years staff that covers information on Food and Nutrition for Infants and Toddlers- https://www.earlystartgroup.com/all-courses/online-courses/

      Best wishes,
      Georgia

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