Children Snacking Behavior

unhealthy snacks

Several research studies and a report by the American Association of Pediatrics on Preschoolers and Snacking focuses on parental behavior and child behavior objectives.

It is worthwhile reviewing these findings and recommendations, as modern parents tend to fall into problem behaviors due to the convenience of poor eating habits as well as a lack of knowledge.

Snacking Research on Parental Attitudes and Practices

Making healthy snacks available to their children was specifically associated with greater child healthy snack intake (p < 0.0001). Conversely, practices that were related to unhealthy snacking, i.e., being permissive about unhealthy snacking and acceding to child demands for unhealthy snacks, were associated with greater consumption of unhealthy snacks by children, but also less intake of healthy snacks (all p < 0.0001). Parents having more education and greater nutritional knowledge of snack food recommendations had children who ate more healthy snacks (all p < 0.0001) and fewer unhealthy snacks.

Takeaways for parents: Learn more about the importance of good nutrition and healthy snacks, prepare healthy snacks, deny unhealthy snacks.

Parents play an important role in shaping children’s dietary behaviors, including snacking. This study is the first to systematically describe food parenting specifically in the context of child snacking. Restrictive feeding and child access to unhealthy foods have been most consistently associated with increases in children’s snack intake.

Takeaways for parents: Do not restrict eating at mealtimes. Make unhealthy foods unavailable to children.

Pediatrician Recommendations for Childhood Snacking

  • Healthy beverages: choose milk or water
  • Healthy snacking: 2 healthy and nutritious snaks per day
    • Some parents feel that snack time as treat time, avoid this mistake
    • Parents gravitate toward pre-packaged snacks, while quick and easy these are unhealthy
    • Snacks should be eaten at a planned time, when seated, with adults
  • Picky eating: eat a variety of healthy foods, eat the same as the parents
  • Parent provides, child decides
    • Offer healthy food in age-appropriate portions, let child decide what and how much to eat
    • Excessive weight gain when:
      • Feeding in response to emotional distress,
      • Using food as a reward, and
      • Excessive prompting or encouraging to eat.