Do your kids frequently moan, "I'm huuuuuuungry!" approximately 17 minutes after they've already eaten? As a parent, that can be really frustrating—but it's also important to figure out why they're saying it. Children can definitely eat out of boredom, just like grown-ups do. But another issue is that what they're eating may actually not be filling them up. Snack staples like pretzels, gummy fruit snacks, fish-shaped crackers, and even many granola bars simply don't have much staying-power, so kids are hungrier sooner.
If you're looking for a snack that will satisfy, here are five ideas:
In a study from Cornell University, kids who were served a combo snack of cheese and vegetables were satisfied after eating fewer calories than those who munched on potato chips. That's probably because protein-rich cheese and water- and fiber-rich veggies are both naturally filling foods.
In research, adults who had half an avocado at lunch reported less desire to eat up to five hours later compared to those who didn't have avocado. But even a kid-sized portion should be super satisfying since avocadoes are rich in heart-healthy fats that can keep hunger at bay. Spread mashed avocado quarter on a piece of whole grain toast to add extra fiber.
Fruit is high in fiber, which sops up water and swells as it passes through the digestive system, making you feel fuller. Raspberries are one of the highest-fiber fruits, packing a whopping 8 grams per cup (that's about a third of what school-age kids need for the whole day). If fresh aren't available, get frozen berries (just make sure they don't contain added sugar). Add them to yogurt, which is rich in protein.
Popcorn is a tasty source of whole grains. In one study with adults, those who munched on six cups of popcorn reported feeling more satisfied than those who ate just one cup of potato chips—and they also took in fewer calories when given a meal afterwards. Popcorn is big on volume, which the brain sees as being more filling. Skip packaged microwave popcorn and make it yourself on the stovetop—it's simple!
Nuts contain protein, fat, and fiber, which are all satisfying nutrients. In research, adults who ate walnuts at breakfast were less hungry at lunch than those who didn't have them. You can serve nuts straight up or paired with dried fruit, or blend nuts or nut butter into smoothies. Another perk: In a study in the journal Nutrition Research, when kids and parents regularly ate almonds, their overall diet quality improved and they had healthy changes to their gut bacteria. (Just remember that whole nuts are a choking hazard for children younger than four.)
Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist's Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.