Make Snack Time Easy: How to Create a Self-Serve Snack Station at Home

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, a mom and consultant dietitian who works with Clif Bar & Company

The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition-related activity.

As a parent, you’ve got a lot on your plate right now: Balancing work with childcare. Supervising online learning. Wiping down doorknobs. And fielding approximately 197 snack requests every day from your kids.

If snack time is literally eating into your productivity (and chipping away at your sanity!), here is a solution that can help: Create a self-serve snack station, a snacking command center of sorts, located in an accessible place, where you stock nutritious items your kids can grab and eat.

A self-serve station means fewer interruptions for you, but it also means more independence for your kids. Done right, it can help your kids learn to listen to their own hunger and fullness cues, and make good food choices for themselves.

Why Snacks Matter for Kids

Snacking between meals can be helpful for kids. Children, with their smaller bellies and shorter attention spans, may not get enough at meals to sustain them. Snacks serve a few important purposes. They help curb hunger, supply quick energy needed for active play, and deliver key nutrients that may have been missed at mealtime.

What Makes a Good Snack for Kids?

Some “snack foods” (think chips and cookies) aren’t exactly loaded with the nutrition kids need. Ideally, snacks should offer the nutrients that kids need to support their day-to-day activities as they grow and develop, such as:

  • Protein: Protein supplies amino acids that kids need for growth. It’s also a satisfying nutrient that is especially good at quelling hunger between meals. Protein is found in lots of different foods (even veggies) and in grab-and-go snacks like dried chickpeas, nuts and seeds, and CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein, which has five grams of hunger-busting protein in each bar.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body and the brain and are perfect for fueling activity and playtime. Carbohydrates are found in snacks like fruits, dairy, and whole grains. When comparing snacks, choose those made with whole grains like popcorn, whole grain crackers and CLIF Kid Zbar® snack bars which have 10-12 grams of whole grains per bar.
  • Fiber: Fiber slows digestion and helps keep kids regular. Like grown-ups, most kids are falling short on fiber.1 Snacks like fruits, veggies, and whole grains provide kids with plenty of fiber.
  • Healthy Fats: Unsaturated fats are found in snacks like nuts, seeds, and avocado. They help make snacks more satisfying.

How To Create a Self-Serve Snack Station

There are lots of ways to stock your snack station. First, consider the age of your child. Younger children may need prepped snacks such as food portioned into containers and baggies, while older kids can handle assembling easy snacks like apple slices and peanut butter on their own.

You’ll also want to consider the type of activities your kids will be engaging in between meals and the kinds of snacks and nutrients needed to support them. For example, whole grains and energizing carbohydrates should be the focus for fueling active playtime, while satiating protein can help bust hunger while doing homework.

Second, consider the kinds of foods your kids like--and the kinds of foods you’d like them to eat more often. Then find a healthy balance. For instance, it’s okay to stock a few indulgent snacks, but be sure to balance them with wholesome and nutritious options.

Finally, pick a location for the snack station. You can gather everything into a basket or bin on the counter or designate a spot in a drawer or cupboard. Just be sure your child can reach it without your help.

To help get you started, here are some ideas for filling your snack station:

  • Snack bars such as Clif Kid Zbar® and Clif Kid Zbar® Protein
  • Popcorn
  • Dried fruit
  • Freeze-dried veggies
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Applesauce cups (look for unsweetened)
  • Fruit cups (look for those packed in juice)
  • Apples, bananas, clementines and other shelf-stable fruit
  • Dried chickpeas or edamame
  • Jars or squeeze packets of nut and seed butter
  • Baggies of whole grain cereal
  • Containers of trail mix
  • Shelf-stable cups of hummus or guacamole

You can also create a snack station for your fridge with perishable munchies like hard-boiled eggs, single-serve cartons of milk (dairy or non-dairy), sliced fruit or rinsed berries, washed and chopped veggies, cheese sticks, and cups of yogurt. Your kids can select items from each snack station to eat together, such as veggies dipped into hummus or yogurt topped with trail mix.

How To Involve Your Kids

Ask kids to help. When it comes to creating a snack station, enlist the help of your kids. Be sure to give them a say in what goes into the snack station. Encourage them to help brainstorm ideas for what to stock and invite them to participate in portioning out snacks into grab-and-go bags and containers.

Talk about how to choose a snack that fits their need. Discuss hunger and fullness using a scale from 1 as “super-stuffed” and 10 as “famished,” as well as the best snacks for different levels of hunger and kinds of activities. If they need a quick burst of energy for active playtime, a snack such as fruit, whole grain crackers, or a CLIF Kid Zbar® snack bar can do the trick. For serious hunger between meals, a snack with more hunger-busting protein can help, such as nut butter and crackers or a CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein bar and a glass of milk.

Teach good snacking habits. Yes, snacks can be helpful, but sometimes we reach for snacks when we’re just bored. And sometimes we’re not actually hungry for a snack, so it’s okay to skip and wait until mealtime to eat. Help kids identify why they’re reaching for a snack and how to address their feelings, whether boredom, hunger or otherwise.

Consider a snack schedule. It’s frustrating when kids don’t come to meals hungry because they’ve been snacking all day. If you find that your kids are nibbling non-stop, establishing a snack schedule is smart. Consider making a schedule and incorporating snack time alongside online learning, outdoor play, and other activities. Sketch out snack breaks mid-morning and mid-afternoon that make sense based on your mealtimes. Try to keep snacks at least 1.5-2 hours away from meals so kids come to the table hungry.

References

  1. Kranz S, Brauchla M, Slavin JL, Miller KB. What do we know about dietary fiber intake in children and health? The effects of fiber intake on constipation, obesity, and diabetes in children. Adv Nutr. 2012 Jan; 3(1): 47–53.