Now that I am a seasoned preschooler Mom I can offer some valid advice on the subject of snacks. If you have a child in preschool, chances are they observe a daily snack time. Depending on your school, they handle it different ways. Some schools provide the snacks for the kids – and they are restricted by budget. Or you might have a situation where the parents are in charge of snacks. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you send in your own childs snack and have full control over what they eat. Our school uses a weekly parent contributed snack schedule and we sign up for “snack weeks” where we provide snack for the class that week. Whatever your situation is, (aside from those who can chose their child’s snack) chances are you are allowing others to choose a snack for your child.
Like it or not, everyone doesn’t know what a “healthy” snack is. So kids are snacking on things like chocolate pudding cups, gummy fruit snacks (so bad for their teeth!!!), cookies, candy and whatever else people can find in the prepackaged snack aisle. I list these as evidence – these were actual snacks parents were sending in when we started preschool. I understand (more than I wish to) how BUSY life is. It’s much easier to grab a package of prepacked snacks at the store and be done with it. But many times they are loaded with extra sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fat, preservatives, food coloring or just plain have zero nutritional value at all. Preschoolers need to learn now, while they are still eager to accept healthy ideas, that snacks should have some kind of nutritional value.
Now before you get all “Oh give me a break, it’s just a SNACK, get over it.“, let me just say this. I am not as uptight as you might think. I don’t buy junk for my own home (usually) but if they eat a cookie or have ice cream at a party I don’t flip out and bring my own Frozen Rice Cream with Tofu Chunks as an alternative. Kids get treats. That’s ok once in a while. But between the holiday parties and the birthday’s… preschoolers are eating cupcakes and sweets every time you turn around. Already they gave my 2 year old cupcakes the first day of school for a birthday. (He is going to think you get cupcakes at preschool every day now!) So the rest of the week, should be a reprieve from all that and snacks should fuel their brains to power through the day. Not give them a high from corn syrup, trans fat, hydrogenated oils and food coloring.
But What Do I Do About It?
There are a few things you can do that I have tried and tested which seem to at least help push the class parents and the school in a better direction with regards to school snacks. (Warning: You may have to do this every year)
- If the parents provide snacks, you can speak to or write to the school director or teacher and request that they send a letter home explaining what a “healthy snack” entails. Some parents don’t think about it so it’ll be a nice reminder.
- Provide a written list of healthy snack ideas that they can share with the letter so parents have a reference. Providing a list also increases the chance that the school will follow through. Less work for them and more healthy stuff on the list from you. Win win.
- Be an example. When it’s your turn to bring snack, up the ante. Go out of your way to bring in something healthy. I’ve been up at the crack of dawn sectioning grapes into 15 little containers, or popping popcorn in the morning and putting them in bags. It’s a pain but it’s worth it!
If your school provides snacks then you’ll have more of a challenge ahead of you since the school runs on a budget and can’t usually afford fresh fruit daily.
- Again, speak to a director of the preschool program and voice your concerns. Nothing will change unless you try. Even if you get nowhere, at least you made an attempt. Find out what their rules are and see if you can help them make room for a healthy option one day a week to start. You can also try writing a letter – here’s a good one to start with from Green Plate Rule.
- Offer to bring snacks in for the class (if they allow it) on a semi regular basis. That way you can control it at least a few times.
- See if you can send your child in with their own snack. I don’t usually like this option but if the snacks are truly horrible then doing this might be your only option. I tend to not agree with options that single a child out of a group. I’d rather my son eat cookies than be odd man out. But that’s just me… you may feel differently and that’s ok too!
It might be uncomfortable to do these things. From experience though, if you don’t do it, no one else will. It’s not like you’re asking them to only serve organic food to the whole school. You’re just asking them to kick it up a notch in the healthy department.
List of Healthy Snacks to Share With your Teacher or School
- Whole grain crackers, pretzels
- Sliced up apples, pears, peaches, etc
- Grapes, Berries (cut in half for the wee ones – choking can be an issue so take heed)
- Bananas (Frozen on a stick works like a charm)
- Carrot Sticks (low fat cream cheese dip?)
- Celery (w/ peanut butter* or cream cheese)
- Veggie Sticks w/ Hummus
- Cucumber Slices (kids love these!)
- Air Popped Popcorn
- Small yogurts (low sugar)
- Greek Yogurts
- Low fat cheese and crackers
- Whole Grain Cereal (ex: Kashi Heart-to-Heart – look for high fiber, low sugar)
- Granola Bars (low fat, low sugar)
- Unsweetened Apple Sauce
- Fruit Kabobs (great for class parties)
- Oatmeal Bars
- Whole Grain Muffins (minis)
- Trail Mix (if there are no allergies)
- Dried Fruit or Fruit strips (without added sugar)
- Fig Cookies (I prefer Newman’s Own)
- Mini Whole Wheat bagels and cream cheese
- Mini Muffins (preferably whole wheat or oatmeal)
With this age group its best to keep it simple and remember that you can’t please every kid in class. It’s also important to respect any food allergies as well. I’ve been known to cop out and send in a box of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies when the week gets hectic, so no one will be perfect every time but if everyone tries, it’ll at least improve over Ding Dongs and Twinkies.
What are your snack ideas for preschoolers? I’m sure all you creative parents out there have some fun (and easily portable) snack recipes to share with me!
*IMPORTANT NOTE: I may not have emphasized it but always be sure to check with teachers about allergies in the class. If there are, you should always read the labels to make sure you’re avoiding those important ingredients.