Snacks are important at all ages to provide nourishment between meals. Children in particular benefit from structure when it comes to designated snack times at school, child care centres, or day homes. Designated snack times have three main components:
Consistency: Snack times are routine and happen at a similar time each day.
Focus: Distractions and stimulation are limited during snack time.
Respect: Educators and children have unique roles at snack time.
Consistency: When to plan snack time
Develop a routine so that snacks are offered at consistent times of the day. Consistency allows children to develop trust that food is coming again soon. Spacing snacks out between meals also allows for enough of a break between eating times to give children an opportunity to develop an appetite for their next meal.
Get children involved by posting a visual schedule in your classroom or child care setting that outlines the flow of the day, including lunch and snack times.
Focus: How to make snack time mindful
What happens before snack time can influence how a child responds to, or whether they eat, their snack. Make the transition from play or learning to snack time part of your routine. Ideas for transition activities include dimming the lights, singing a snack time song, or using a clapping pattern that signals the end of an activity and the start of snack time.
During snack time, limit distractions such as screens, toys, and loud music or other sounds. Instead, use snack time to pause and connect with each other.
If food discussions come up, focus on children’s interests or the features of food rather than on nutrition or pressuring children to eat certain foods. Your words can help children feel comfortable exploring new foods as well as set expectations about behaviour at the table. Great ideas for neutral conversations include talking about where food comes from, new foods the group is exploring, or favourite foods. To learn more, check out our article Let’s Talk About Food.
Respect: Give children autonomy
Children benefit from structure when it comes to meals and snacks – that is where you come in! As the adult, you determine when and where snacks are eaten. Adults are also responsible for what food is offered at snacks, whether parents send food or your school or child care setting provides food.
Allowing children to decide whether and how much they eat will foster trust not only between you and the child, but also between the child and their own body. Many factors affect children’s hunger and appetite from day to day. Only they know how much food they need. For instance, children who have had a very nourishing breakfast may be less hungry for their morning snack than children who missed or ate a smaller breakfast.
Finally, we know you may be wondering, “What is a nutritious snack?”
Remember that children come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Speaking about all foods in an inclusive, neutral way and avoiding “good/bad” or “healthy/unhealthy” language fosters a positive food culture in your classroom or child care setting.
If you are sharing snack ideas with families or caregivers, try including one or more foods from the Canada’s Food Guide Snapshot. This could be a vegetable or fruit, a whole grain food (e.g., a slice of bread), or a protein food (e.g., yogurt). Specific food choices may vary depending on how long it is until the next meal. For example, a piece of fruit is a suitable morning snack if lunch is soon, while a more substantial snack such as whole grain crackers and cheese is a great afternoon snack if dinner is not for a while.
Check out our free download, Top 10 Snack Ideas, and share this resource with families and caregivers!