Feel like your kids are nibbling non-stop when they’re on summer vacation? Here are five tips for setting healthy limits.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Updated: July 26, 2018
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There's a popular meme on Facebook right now that goes something like this:

  • My kids during the school year: Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner
  • My kids during summer break: Breakfast, Snack, Snack, Snack, Popsicle, Snack, Snack, Snack, Snack, Snack, Snack

It has been shared so much because it rings so true! If you're home with kids all day, it can feel like meals have been largely replaced by one giant snacking free-for-all.

This can be a problem, especially if what your kids are snacking on isn't doing much for them nutritionally (think pretzels, gummy fruit snacks, cookies, granola bars) or if they're not coming to the table hungry for the meals you've made.

There's still time to get summer snacking under control. One or more of these strategies may work for you:

1. Keep A Snack Schedule: In an ideal world, you'd have set times for snacks, such as mid-morning and mid-afternoon, without munching in between so your kids would be good and hungry for mealtime. This works well for some kids, especially those who thrive on routines.

2. Create Serve-Yourself Snack Bins: This option is best for older kids, who can be more in charge of fetching their own snacks—and you can know that they're making a healthy choice. I have a bin on the counter with items like beef jerky, fruit cups, dried fruit, and nuts that my kids can help themselves to. You can do the same in the fridge with yogurt cups, string cheese, cut-up veggies in bags or containers, washed pieces of fruit, and individual cups of hummus or salsa.

3. Close The Kitchen: I learned this tip from Parents advisor and pediatric dietitian Jill Castle, who recommends using the phrase "the kitchen is closed" to set healthy boundaries around eating. You can use "the kitchen is closed" when you know you've offered your kids healthy meals and snacks and it's time to turn their attention somewhere else. Read more about this strategy.

4. Set Snack Limits: If snacking feels out of hand and is interfering with your child's appetite for dinner, set some reasonable limits. You could cut off snacking in the hour or two before mealtime. Or you could limit what's allowed. In my house, I've had a policy for years of "only vegetables" in the hour before dinner. That way, my kids can snack on carrots or have a salad to take the edge off their hunger and they come to the table already having eaten a serving or two of veggies (and they're not hangry).

5. Be More Mindful About Snacks: Whenever possible, have your kids eat snacks at the table, as they would meals. Serve most snacks at home, not in the car or out-and-about. And I always recommend serving "meal foods" at most snacks, not "snack foods". Serving a Snack Platter full of meal foods (with a snack food or two alongside if you'd like) is a sure-fire way for my kids to eat and enjoy foods like veggies at snack time. It may work for you too!

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She's the author of the forthcoming bookThe 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram

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