Is it just me, or are kids hungrier in the summer? Here are 5 tips for creating an easy-access, healthy, and safe snacking situation for your kids that will not only feed them, but teach them, too.
Don't get me wrong, my kids ask for snacks about every 10 minutes anyway. But when they're home from school, it's like they turn into ravenous animals. Providing snacks for children in the hostage situation that is summer break can be a full time job, so I had to come up with a solution to create a little independence for my kids and a little freedom (from the kitchen) for me.
1. Set yourself (and your kids) up for success.
The whole point here is to foster independence, right? So, make sure everything is packaged in a way your kids can open themselves. If they can get the snack on their own but still need your help to open the snack, how much help is it, really? I often "decant" or transfer snacks to different containers to make them easier for my kids to access. For example, strawberries get pre-washed, chopped, and stored in a wide-mouth mason jar. Hard boiled eggs get pre-peeled and stored in a Pyrex container. Grapes get pulled off the vine or at least separated into manageable clusters, pre-washed and stored in a container, as well. If you're unsure of whether your kids will be able to open the containers you choose for storage, have them test the containers out before you put the food away. If they can't, try teaching them how, or swap the container out for something more manageable for them. This trial and error will be worth it in the long run, when you're able to sit on the couch, binge Netflix and sip rose (okay okay or maybe just have a moment of sanity while you try to work from home -- a girl can dream) without them asking for help, I promise! Cheese is always on the snack list at our house, but my kids have a hard time opening the little pull apart plastic cheese sticks, so I buy the little Baby Bel cheeses, instead.
2. Be aware of foods that could pose a choking hazard.
My youngest, Charlie, has always had more trouble chewing than my older daughter because she was born with an asymmetric jawline. Her teeth don't meet together on one side, so I am extra vigilant when it comes to preventing choking. Since she and Julep share the snack drawer, any snacks that go in the drawer are prepared to a level that's safe for Charlie. A good rule of thumb is to cut up fruits, veggies, and proteins to an appropriate size for the littlest person in your house that might have access to the snack drawer.
I never buy baby carrots because I heard a horrible story once about a little boy in my husband's hometown that choked on one and passed away. Terrifying and so, so sad. My kids love carrots, though, so I just buy the littler organic, whole carrots that come with the tops still on - they're not wrapped in plastic and can usually be found in the same section with all the other bulk produce. When I get home from the store, I chop off the green tops, give them a good wash, and then store them submerged in water in a sealed container or tall mason jar to keep them fresh.
Finally, I always make sure to buy the smaller cherry tomatoes for them, if possible. If not, I cut them in half.
3. Healthy snacks, only!
Your kids will have almost unlimited access to these foods simply because they'll be within reach, so you only want them to be foods that are nourishing. That means no fruit chews, no goldfish, crackers, Little Debbie snack cakes, cheese puffs, or other crap they don't need to be eating a lot of. Save those for once-a-day treats, if you want, which you will be responsible for doling out at your discretion.
4. Make them ask first.
This will depend on your child's age, so use your own judgement here. Yes, you want your kids to be independent. But until they learn how to vary their diet and control their own portions, they still need to ask you if it's okay for them to go to the snack drawer. Then, when they make a choice, have them clear it with you. This will prevent them from eating too much of one thing. For example, if they've already had one piece of cheese that day, redirect them to something else, like berries, or anything else you know they haven't snacked on, yet that day.
5. Use this as a teaching opportunity.
Kids as young as 3 can begin to learn about the importance of eating a rainbow of foods and how to portion them appropriately. If you're offering a wide variety of fruits, veggies and healthy proteins, you'll be able to teach them how their bodies benefit from lots of different nutrients. Teach your kids what a serving of each snack is. You might be surprised just how much they can learn about nutrition and listening to their own bodies over the course of the summer!