5 Tips for Summer Snacking
It's officially summer!! This brings later nights, a sense of freedom and fun, and tons of time outside for our family. But no matter how hard I try to set expectations, we have a hard time keeping to a daily schedule like the school year. And my kids are always hungry. And not just hungry, but starving. Anyone else relate? Chances are, YOU may feel this way, too! But, good news! I have five tips for better summer snacking for the whole family. And whatever I preach, I practice myself, so I promise these are not far-fetched and unattainable for families. Let's get to it...
Stay Hydrated (with water!)
Not coffee, tea, juice, milk, or sports drinks. WATER. Many people, kids, and adults alike, mistake thirst for hunger. This means you are snacking haphazardly and when your body needs to be hydrated. I recommend drinking a glass of water (or 8 oz if you drink from a chugger like me) at every meal before you grab a snack and anytime you feel thirsty. These natural checkpoints will help you remember to drink. If you or your kids still feel hungry for a snack after about 20 minutes of drinking a glass of water, then go ahead and reach for that snack. Still not sure if you're dehydrated? Your urine should be clear or the color of light lemonade. Any darker than that, and you're not drinking enough!
But My Kids (or I) Don't Like Water
I get it. Water can be thick, bland, and boring. But our bodies are made up of 60% water, so we really should be refueling with it. And all the other drinks I listed above usually have unneeded sugar, and preservatives added. Here are a few ways to make water more appealing and varied:
Add some bubbly seltzer. Remember, though, clear doesn't mean calorie-free, so check the labels. And "sugar-free" flavored seltzers can lead to overeating later (we'll discuss this in a later blog), so stick to literal carbonated water like La Croix.
Make a big pitcher of water and flavor it with fresh or frozen chunks of fruit, sprigs of mint, or cucumber slices. Doing this also brings in another sense, smell! And don't forget about the green light snack at the bottom of your glass.
Try a splash of 100% fruit juice with no added sugar. This will help lighten up the water, and you can try different fruit juices each week.
Minimize Snack Varieties in Your Pantry
Does your pantry ever feel like it's exploding? Do your kids request a snack at the store only to eat one, and then it sits in a dark corner until you have had enough and end up throwing it away? Yep, me too. Too many snacks in the pantry leave the family always craving the next pre-packaged something. Have each person in your family (who snacks) pick ONE snack for the week or until you run out. You can choose if family members will share this or if that is that person's snack for the week. One of these pantry snacks can be consumed per day. That's it. End of discussion. This expectation might be hard at first, but I promise it works. Annie and Jack have had this rule for years now, and they don't even think about asking for a pantry raid if they already visited it.
Need some suggestions for great high fuel and satisfying pantry snacks?
Popcorn, pretzels, freeze-dried or dried no sugar added fruit, rice cakes, nuts, unsweetened applesauce, fruit leather, low sugar protein, or granola bars
Fill in the Snack Gaps with Fruits and Veggies
We are a protein and sugar-heavy society. We seriously lack fiber. Men need about 30-38 grams per day, while women and children need 20-25 grams. I challenge you to add up your fiber in one day. I bet it will be half of what you need. Lucky for us, fiber is found in fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains. So filling in your snack time with whole food options (instead of pantry options) will significantly help boost your fiber intake.
Fiber is excellent for digestive health, keeps you fuller longer, and can reduce blood sugar spikes (i.e., often presented in tantrums in young children). Here are some of our favorite fruit and veggie snacks:
Avocado whole wheat toast, mashed avocado for dipping, apples and peanut butter/honey/cinnamon/Nutella, straight up bowl of berries, pears (not the fruit cups with syrup!), bananas, carrots with hummus or ranch (I tell my kids to dip and not use the carrot as a spoon for the dip LOL), broccoli with hummus or ranch, roasted sweet potato
So How Much and How Often?
I am not saying you can never indulge in "fun" snacks. We have chips and cheese crackers and mini muffins in the house. But only occasionally. We truly follow an 80/20 rule. We eat right by our bodies about 80% of the week. This means that Jack will grab a bag of mini muffins once, maybe twice a week. All the other times, we follow the expectations above. Food is fuel but also information for our body. According to Precise Nutrition, "Every food decision we make sends a message to our body. Every food choice is an opportunity to direct, shape, and remake our health. Our body composition. Our performance. Our well-being." Food is powerful.
How much then? The size of your snack should be the size of one fisted hand. As an adult, this could mean a large apple with a serving size of peanut butter. As a child, that could mean half an apple with a serving of peanut butter. Two-fisted hands are going to be the size of your meal.
How often should we be snacking? Eating every 2.5-3 hours is entirely acceptable. Spoiling meals happen when snacking occurs less than 2ish hours before mealtime. In our house, there are no more snacks available after 3:30 pm during the summer, knowing dinner is generally between 5:30-6 pm. If one of the kids is absolutely famished (and could be rightfully so if you've had an active summer day!), then offer a glass of water and a whole food, preferably a fruit or veggie, to hold them over.
What if I don't want to snack? Then don't! Brian is not a snacker and usually doesn't take part in our snack picking ritual. BUT, if you find yourself overeating at meals, you may want to consider adding some whole food snack options to your day to make sure we are fueling and informing our body correctly.
The Bottom Line
Changing family habits isn't instant gratification. You can't expect these changes to come easy or that years of bad habits will change overnight. These tips are for health, nourishment, and longevity for every family member. We all want each other around for a long time, and at the best we can be, right?
The bottom line is to stick to whole foods. Companies of pre-packaged snacks spend lots of money in their food labs, perfecting their recipes for the easiest and tastiest consumption. The less you have to chew, the more you'll consume. (Does this topic interest you? Check out this article: "The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food.") Whole food this summer will get those jaw muscles working, and your family fueled for all kinds of fun activities!