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Health and Nutrition – What is Healthy Snacking?

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Should children in your environment be given treats? If so, what should these consist of?Meredith Jones Russell Talks to the Experts

EYFS stipulates that snacks served to children in the environment must be “healthy, balanced and nutritious”. But what does this look like in practice?

Eat Better, Start Better Voluntary food and drink guidelines show the importance of snacks for children ages 1 and up. Before that, we recommend that you do not have to offer snacks.

Catherine Lippe, registered dietitian at the Early Years Nutrition Partnership, says snacks can provide a beneficial opportunity for young children to “replenish” energy and nutrients between meals, and the guidelines recommend eating mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. Recommended.

However, children need large amounts of energy and nutrition, but because of their small stomachs, they need to eat small amounts on a regular basis, so they should not go more than 3 hours without a meal.

“People focus instead on meals, especially dinner, while snacks are often put at the end of the line,” says pediatric nutritionist Lucy Neary. Snacks are very important in them, they need to eat small and often.


Neary suggests allowing children to regulate their own intake. “The best way to feed children is to use shared responsibility, where the adults provide the food and the child decides what and how much to eat,” she says. “Then it’s okay if they want something a little more or nothing. , some days I eat, other days I eat almost nothing.

“What really matters is making sure they are able to eat according to their appetite. is showing.

Rolling snacks, where children can utilize snacks to help themselves over an extended period of time, may be offered to help children regulate their intake and learn to develop independence.

“It may even be possible to involve children in preparing snacks as part of a planned cooking activity where they can help chop, mix and peel ingredients,” adds Lippe. increase.

But she warns against allowing children to “graze” all day. may reduce a child’s appetite.”

how much to eat

Calorie counting and monitoring in young children is not widely recommended. Especially since children are less likely to get more energy than they need if they are provided with a variety of healthy meals and snacks.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has published estimates of daily energy requirements for children ranging from 765 kcal/day for boys aged 1 to 1,386 kcal/day for boys aged 4 and 717 to 1,291 for girls. It offers. However, they should not be used to dictate intake for children.

“It’s also important to remember that children’s appetites are highly variable and they are unlikely to eat the same amount of calories each day,” Lippe warns.

Early Start Group program director Edwina Revel said: “It’s much better to look at the different foods children need from each food group to meet their energy and nutrient needs.”


Neary recommends approaching snacks as “mini meals.” “Snacks are like an extra opportunity to make sure you’re giving your kids good food,” she says. So it’s also a really good opportunity to offer a variety of foods.”

According to the guidelines, a healthy, balanced diet for children ages 1-4 is based on four food groups:

  • Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and other starchy carbohydrates.
  • fruits and vegetables.
  • Beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins.
  • Dairy products and alternatives.

The guidelines are to provide a starchy food as part of at least one snack each day, and beans, legumes, fish, eggs, meat, or other protein as part of a snack once or twice a week. is recommended.

“In my experience working in a nursery school, the classic pitfall is the lack of variety when it comes to snacks,” Lippe says. While offering vegetable sticks, it is important to include foods from other food groups as well.

“Including at least two different food groups in every snack not only increases the variety and nutritional value of snacks, but also makes them more interesting and appealing to children.”

As examples, she recommends serving breadsticks as carbohydrates, hummus dip as protein, and cucumber sticks as fruits and vegetables.

Things to avoid

According to the guidelines, salty snacks such as potato chips, pretzels and salty crackers should be left out of your snack plan, but all sweet foods such as cakes, biscuits and confections should be included, especially in light of the new focus on children. It should be avoided as it can damage the teeth. In his revised EYFS on Oral Health.

Due to the sugar content in dried fruits, they can stick to your teeth and cause toothache, so it’s best to only serve them with meals.

However, Neary suggests that an outright ban on sugar could be counterproductive. Yes, but there is an understanding in food psychology that sugar can be very exciting if you make something that is prohibited,” she says.


Communication with parents is essential when planning treats. The guidelines recommend settings and provide information about snack routines to help caregivers plan their child’s routine at home. They also suggest sharing food policies.

Neary admits that this can mean that settings sometimes have to push back on parents’ expectations. “It can put a lot of pressure on them,” she says.

Case Study: Kindred Hainault, London

According to Sarah Tayler, senior nursery manager at Kindred Hainault in Ilford, the setting offers two rolling snacks, one from 10am to 10:30am and the other from 2pm to 2:30pm. , children staying until the nursery closes at 6:00 pm will be served an additional snack at 5:30 pm.

“When the kids were playing and the treats arrived, I knew I had to stop what I was doing and clean up and eat,” she says. ‘It got in the way of them. I wanted to turn that into something more positive.

Snacks are laid out on small tables, escorted by staff, and children are free to take whatever they want. “Staff are more sociable because they can better engage with small groups during meals,” explains Taylor.

Children are often offered food choices. “We might offer two kinds of fruit and a selection like rice cakes or crackers,” says Taylor. “It gives the kids strength because nobody feeds them anything.

“Of course, we have a budget and it takes time to prepare, so we don’t overdo it, but we just give them options and offer a wide variety so that they can choose what they like.”

Children are encouraged to participate in making their own treats, such as using food they grow, slicing bananas, and dipping crackers.

On the other hand, the limited time frame prevents children from grazing all day. “We like to be flexible, but we only have one chef, she, and we need to put the plates and bowls back on the trolley to prepare lunch,” explains Taylor.

Parents receive updates on their child’s intake through the nursery’s Famly app.

Further information

eat well

How can settings and parents get the portion sizes right?

Babies are born with the ability to self-regulate their food intake to support growth. This can continue beyond infancy and into childhood unless overridden by social influences or parents or caregivers. However, many parents are concerned that their children are not getting enough to eat.

Portion is important as it is one of the main reasons why parents and caregivers inadvertently ignore their child’s self-regulatory system. Eating larger amounts shapes children’s acceptance of the right amount of food, and this becomes their “norm” regardless of internal satiety signals.

Parents and staff should be reassured that their children are well fed. However, parents may have a certain amount in mind. You need to be more open-minded about how much you need. Babies, toddlers and children do not need to eat the same amount at each meal. It is important to know when you are full.

A child’s appetite varies from day to day, meal to meal and child to child, depending on age, gender, activity level, growth rate and health status. There are no specific recommendations on how much a child should eat. Instead, it’s important to keep children attuned to their own feelings of fullness and hunger and not override these signals.

Here are some ideas for managing portion sizes:

Consider the timing of meals and snacks. Providing meals at regular intervals (say, every two or two and a half hours) gives him plenty of opportunities to replenish his energy and nutrients throughout his day in nursery.

Share guidance on age-appropriate portions with staff (available from EYNP and the British Nutrition Foundation). Think of these guides as “serving suggestions” rather than how much you should eat. Encourage older children to serve themselves.

Discourage your child from eating even if they don’t eat the entire plate.

If the child asks for more, offer refills on any element of the main meal.

Encourage the children to think about hunger and fullness cues. Use phrases like “Are you bloated, full, big, tight, or full?” or “Is your stomach empty? Are you making strange noises?

Sit with fussy eaters to encourage them, but don’t force them to accept larger portion sizes.

Create a portion size policy and share it with parents.

  • For more information and practical support on portion sizes for your environment from a professional nutritionist or nutritionist, contact the Early Years Nutrition Partnership at