Have you ever heard the common phrases: “Don’t spoil your dinner”, “No snacking between meals”, “Clean your plate!”. As a parent of a picky eater, I’m often tempted to downplay snacks to ensure my son eats a respectable dinner. Is this the best eating strategy for our kids and ourselves? Should dinner be our biggest and most important meal of the day?
For many families, the dinner meal signifies the most balanced meal of the day. In some cases, this is the only meal where vegetables are consumed. Therefore when kids (and adults) indulge in low nutrient afternoon snacks it can truly “spoil their dinner”. So what happens if you skip that afternoon snack? You probably WILL clean your plate at dinner and maybe even go back for seconds. What our mothers never told us is that skipping snacks and cleaning your plate can promote weight gain and rob us of energy during the day. With obesity rates climbing in Canada, there must be a better way.
As a registered dietitian I counsel many clients who are frustrated with the battle of not eating between meals. “If I could only stop snacking I would lose weight!” complains one of my clients. The problem is not “snacking” itself, it is often the type of snacks that are chosen.
Chips, candy, muffins and coffee are all examples of unsatisfying snacks that leave you feeling just as hungry at your next meal. Balanced, planned snacking can actually help to control your hunger, reduce the size of your meals, achieve a healthy weight and increase your energy. Compare these two snacking scenarios.
Begin packing smart snacks for you and your kids and right away and you’ll find you are: more energetic, less hungry at your meals, better at avoiding high sugar temptations, less dependent on coffee and less cranky when you arrive home for dinner!
If your goal is weight loss, be sure to reduce your portions at lunch and dinner to compensate for the added snacks during the day. That means the pressure is off to “Clean your plate”. Don’t worry if your kids don’t pound back huge portions at dinner. If you provide nutritious snacks during the day there is less pressure to get all their nutrition at dinner. Perhaps the new mantra of Millenium mom’s could be “Bridge the gap with a balanced snack”.
Balanced Carbohydrate and Protein Snack Ideas
Fruit and Yogourt
Crackers and tuna spread (available pre-packaged)
Roasted soya nuts sprinkled on applesauce
Apple and a handful of almonds
Fruit and cottage cheese
A cup of soup with beans or meat
Sport bar with 7-10grams of protein
Peanut butter and crackers or celery
Avoid high sugar snacks such as granola bars, candy, pop, puddings.
Heidi Smith is a Registered Dietitian specializing in weight management, lifestyle change and sport nutrition. She works out of the Health and Performance Centre at the University of Guelph.