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. 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: Acknowledge that the teacher and the student have unique roles: the teacher determines when and where snack time happens, and the student chooses if and how much they want to eat.
1. Consistency: When to plan snack time
Develop a routine so that snacks are offered at a consistent time of the day. Consistency will allow your students to build trust that food is coming again soon. Spacing snacks out between meals will also allow for enough of a break between eating times to give students an opportunity to develop an appetite for their next meal. Get your students involved by posting a visual schedule in the classroom that outlines the flow of the day, including lunch and snack times.
2. Focus: How to make snack time mindful
What happens before snack time can influence how a child responds to how or if they eat their snack. Make the transition from play or learning to snack time part of your classroom routine. Ideas include using a transition activity, such as dimming the lights, singing a snack time song or having 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. 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 being explored or favourite foods.
3. Respect: Give your students autonomy
Children benefit from structure when it comes to meals and snacks – that is where you come in! As the adult in the room, you determine when snack time happens. Along with the time, setting expectations for where snacks are eaten (inside at the table or outside on the grass, for example) and what behaviour and manners are appropriate during snack is an adult responsibility.
Allowing children to decide whether and how much they eat will foster trust not only between you and the student, but also between the student and their 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 breakfast or ate a smaller breakfast.
Respect is a two-way street!
Finally, we know you’re probably wondering, “What is a nutritious snack?”
Remember that children come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, so speaking about all foods neutrally and avoiding good/bad or healthy/unhealthy language fosters a positive food culture in your classroom.
If you are sharing snack ideas with families or caregivers, try including one or more foods from the Canada’s Food Guide Plate. This could be a vegetable or fruit, a whole grain food (such as a slice of bread) or a protein food (e.g., yogurt). The choice of specific foods may vary depending on how long it is until the next meal. For example, a piece of fruit is ideal for a morning snack if lunch is soon, while a more substantial snack such as whole grain crackers and cheese (a whole grain food and a protein food) is great for the afternoon if dinner is not going to be for a while.