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.

Fresh fruit makes a great, healthy snack.
Fresh fruit makes a great, healthy snack.

Pre-teens or “tweens” are children 9 to 12 years old. Children at this life-stage begin to show signs of puberty and have varying appetite levels as their bodies undergo physiological and psychological changes. Keep in mind that each child goes through these changes at different ages and rates which can affect their eating habits. One day, your tween may be a hungry eater asking for seconds at meals and eating more snacks throughout the day, but the next day barely touch 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 and become more independent, they will more readily choose what, when and where they eat. Caregivers should encourage independence and healthy choices through available food options available to tweens.

Your child may be coming home from school hungry and wanting to eat everything you have in the house. Keep nutrition in mind and let go of the timeworn idea of spoiling dinner. Instead, consider an afterschool or before dinner snack as an extension of the meal. For example, provide the salad you had planned to go along with the dinner. 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, tweens in general are not meeting their calcium needs (about three cups of dairy per day), so make sure they forgo 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 and have healthy food available for them. If they are home alone afterschool, quick and 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 are also easy. 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 availability and 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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