A lot of people ask me what I give children for snacks. My answer may take a bit of re-conceptualizing about what a snack really is.

I actually don’t even like using the word snack. In my mind, every time a child eats, it should be thought of as a meal. It may be a large meal or a small one, but it’s still a meal. I have them sit down and focus only on eating. I emphasize grains and vegetables way more than fruit. I also stay away from dry, crunchy things. Sure, children love them. But, I can do better than that. Running around on the playground with a baggie full of puffs is only going to lead down a road of mindless eating, poor digestion and blood sugar issues. The same thing so many adults suffer from with our irregular eating habits, eating on the run and at the desk while working.

Frequently, snacks are thought of as something that gets us from one meal to the next. Thinking this way can lead to also thinking that snacks don’t really matter and this is a bit dangerous when feeding ourselves and our children. I want every time I feed a child to matter.

Sometimes, those vegetables that were refused at lunch will be gold at the smaller mid-afternoon meal. If fed minimal amounts of processed foods and refined sweets, children will still tend to be in tune with their bodies and what is needed for balance at each meal. Those carrots may not have been calling to them at lunch and if we just give them a few crackers at “snack” we miss an opportunity for them to feed themselves what they are really needing.

So what do I do?

1.  I try to have every meal include at least one vegetable and most meals include a whole grain.

2.  Think outside the box. Save every little scrap of leftovers. For smaller children, that couple bites of pasta salad or garbanzo bean soup alongside a few bites of steamed carrot constitutes a snack. Leftover breakfast porridge with a few blueberries. Corncakes. Cooked beans mixed with some green peas. Rice pudding. Unsweetened pancakes with carrot jam. Chunks of roasted vegetables with a tahini sauce.

3.  Plan for when you will have space in the day for eating. I think about our schedule for the day and where we will be so I have an idea of where we can sit and focus on our meal. The best is when you can eat outside, but I have discovered all sorts of indoor places in Seattle where we can sit for 10 minutes and eat something small.

For those of you who would like a list of ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

fried mochi cubes or mochi waffles with fruit sweetened jam
leftover rice, nori squares and carrot sticks
soup with fried mochi cubes as dippers
corncakes with vegetable jam or puréed peas
beans, corn and peas mixed
edamame and sweet potato cubes
nori or collard green rolls
rice balls
blanched collard green squares with hummus or other spread
carrot sticks or green beans with bean spread
roasted root vegetables eaten with a toothpick
steamed tortilla with mashed beans and sweet potato inside
polenta or millet squares with a vegetable
crunchy romaine stalks or jicama with a tofu spread
baked tofu or tempeh cubes with a vegetable
stir fried grain with olive oil, chopped walnuts and grated carrot
kale and blueberry smoothie (let sit out so it’s at room temperature before eating)
puréed sweet potato or squash with fingers of steamed sourdough bread

I hope this helps!
What are your favorite veg-based small meals?