Tween snacking; afterschool and “tween” meals

Appetites vary among children at each stage and for preteens nutritious snacks are an important part of their overall diet.

Pre-teens or “tweens” are children 9 to 12 years old. Children in this life-stage begin to show signs of puberty. Keep in mind that each child goes through these changes at different ages and rates which can affect their eating habits. During these years, children can be expected to have varying appetite levels as their bodies are growing unpredictably. One day, she may be a voracious eater; asking for seconds or even thirds at meals and eating more snacks throughout the day but the next day barely touch her dinner and not ask for snacks between meals. Fear not! Allow your child to listen to their body’s hunger cues and give them permission to use that as their guide. Remember, pre-teens are responsible for whether to eat and how much to eat. Caregivers are responsible for what foods are available for snacks, offered at meals and brought into the home. Caregivers are also responsible for where and when meals are offered. As tweens grow into adolescence, they will be able to have more decision making in the what, when and where they eat as they become more independent.

Your child may be coming home from school famished and wanting to eat everything you have in the house. Keep nutrition in mind and try to release the old adage of spoiling dinner. Instead, think of an afterschool or before dinner snack as an extension of the meal. If your child will not make it to dinner, provide the salad you had planned to go along with the dinner to your child beforehand. Or offer sliced up fruit and vegetables with a small amount of cheese or milk. Snacks are needed to help us make it from one meal to the next. They are also a great opportunity to reach our daily recommendation for fruit and vegetable intake. For preteens, that is two and a half cups of vegetables and one and a half cups of fruit. Every snack served to children should include a fruit and/or vegetable. In addition to needing more fruits and vegetables, tweens in general are not meeting their calcium needs (about three cups of dairy per day), so make sure they bypass the soda and fruit drinks and have fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt or cheese available to them.

Many tweens are busy with afterschool activities or spend an hour or two at home alone. It is important to plan ahead and have food available for them. If they are home alone afterschool, quick ready-made snacks are a great idea. Whole fruit sitting out on the counter is a simple and healthy snack. Sliced cheese and whole wheat crackers is also feasible. Brainstorm with your child snacks she likes and that are easy for her to prepare by herself. Limit the use of the microwave if at all possible for safety reasons, especially for younger tweens who may be home by themselves. And of course, if you want your child to choose healthy foods, limit the temptation of less healthy, packaged snack foods. These foods are generally more expensive and less nutritious. Make healthy food an easy choice for your tween!

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