Children should only be allowed two snacks of 100 calories or less a day in a bid to tackle spiralling obesity rates, health officials warned this week.
Public Health England (PHE) has urged parents to clamp down on “a grazing culture,” after research found half of children’s sugar intake is being consumed between meals.
The findings showed that each year, children are consuming almost 400 biscuits, more than 120 cakes, buns and pastries, around 100 portions of sweets and nearly 70 of both chocolate bars and ice creams – washed down with more than 150 juice drink pouches and cans of fizzy drink.
As a result, steering children away from sugary treats can seem an insurmountable task. So, in a bid to cut back, we spoke to three parenting bloggers to find out how they do it, and to pick up some tips for simple, easy recipes and healthy snack ideas (they're likely to go down well with both children and adults).
Introducing Sarah Barnes, founder of lifestyle blog Taming Twins; award-winning food and parenting writer Emily Leary of A Mummy Too; and Ciara Atwell, founder of My Fussy Eater, whose first cookbook My Fussy Eater will be published by Bonnier in April this year (scroll down for her top five nutritious snack recipes for children, including chocolate orange energy bites and fruit ice cream made from just two ingredients).
For Sarah Barnes, mum to two six-year-old twins, providing choice and being organised are the secret to minimising unhealthy snacking – and to spending less cash, too. "It’s when you’re caught short that you end up reaching for the stuff that’s less healthy than you would like," she explains. "It’s important to give children lots of choice – and if the choices are all healthy, that’s quite a good tactic.
"Fruit seems obvious, but you can get stuck in a rut: if you give them an apple every day, they're likely to get bored. Colourful choices like plates of berries can be more appealing."
This is more of a challenge when you're on the move. "I think it’s really hard when you’re out and about," she admits. "There’s often not a lot of healthy options to hand so it’s about being organised before a day out. It saves money as well."
Her top recommendations are hummus and carrot sticks, rice cakes with peanut butter and her popular homemade mini quiches.
Barnes also notices that limiting snacking means her twins eat more at main meals. "It's good for routine and for eating as a family," she says. That said, she stresses that it's good to indulge sometimes. "Total abstinence isn't a very responsible approach, because you can’t learn to modify what you eat and make healthy choices if you never have anything sugary. Teaching balance and the importance of an overall healthy diet is so important."
A Mummy Too
"We don’t want to get to a point where we’re terrified of giving our kids a cake or a cookie," says Emily Leary of A Mummy Too, who founded her blog in 2011 to celebrate family, food and photography, and has since amassed 29.5k followers on Instagram alone. "There have been calls to ban cake sales at schools, but it should just be about teaching kids to recognise hunger and showing them what healthy habits look like, recognising when a treat is appropriate and when a treat is becoming a habit.
"As long as they’re empowered with those things, then they can go off to university and work and know what choices to make." For Leary, a mum of two young children, leading by example is key. "There’s no point telling them that they must eat healthily and then munching on a packet of crisps or a chocolate bar at every opportunity. It’s about making healthy habits the norm," she explains.
"Help them to manage their own hunger. If they’re eating good balanced meals, then in theory, they shouldn’t be hungry all the time. It’s also important to help them to recognise the difference between hunger and boredom. They might need something entertaining to do, or they might even be thirsty. That said, they might be genuinely hungry. We don’t want to be so afraid of overfeeding our children that we’re not listening to their bodies, so to an extent we need to trust them."
Leary suggests choosing snacks wisely, and is full of ideas for better snacking: "A bag of crisps is 150 calories, which is really calorie dense – whereas strawberries aren’t, their mostly water, so you can eat masses of them.
"If you take half an apple and cut it into slices, spread on some peanut butter and sprinkle on some blueberries, that’s almost like a fruit pizza and comes in at about 100 calories. If you make it with them it’s an event in itself and kills off the boredom factor too.
"When my kids are in a nibbly mood I make banana oatmeal bars which are literally just mashed banana and oatmeal (it looks like thick, thick porridge) which you just spread out on a lined baking tray, bake and then cut into bars. A small bar is about 100 calories. It’s great for slow energy and not so sugary that they’ll boost and crash.
"One of the most popular recipes on my blog is a no added sugar fruit muffin. It’s still a muffin, but lets be realistic kids sometimes want a muffin."
My Fussy Eater
Ciara Attwell started her blog My Fussy Eater in 2014 in an attempt to get her "very fussy eating daughter", then aged 3, to eat a better and more varied diet, and to put some fun back into meal times.
Here, she shares five recipes from her debut cookbook, which will be published in April.
Strawberry chocolate chip muffins
These strawberry and chocolate chip muffins are packed full of oats, banana, Greek yogurt and honey and take just a couple of minutes to whip up in a food processor. They can also be made in bulk and frozen.
- 200g plain flour
- 50g porridge oats
- 200g greek yogurt
- 1 medium banana
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 0.5 tsp baking soda
- 125g chopped fresh strawberries
- 50g dark chocolate chips
- Preheat the oven to 180c / 390f.
- Place all the ingredients except the strawberries and chocolate chips in a food processor and blitz until the mixture is smooth. Add in about 3/4 of the strawberries and chocolate chips and stir with a spoon.
- Line a 12 hold muffin tray with paper cases and spoon the mixture into the cases (you should be able to make between 10 and 12 muffins depending on their size).
- Add the remaining chopped strawberries and chocolate chips on top.
- Bake the muffins in the oven for between 15 and 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clear.
- Allow the muffins to cool in the tin or on a wire rack before serving.
Cheese and chive chickpea dip
A creamy and cheesy dip made with chickpea is packed full of protein.
- 200g cooked tinned chickpeas, drained 200g cottage cheese
- 75g grated mature cheddar cheese
- 1 tbsp milk
- 2 tbsp chopped fresh chives salt and pepper to taste
- Add the chickpeas, cottage cheese and grated cheese to a food processor and blitz until smooth.
- If the consistency seems a little too thick add the milk and blitz again.
- Stir in the chopped chives and then season with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately or store in an air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Chocolate chia shake
This healthy chocolate shake for kids is packed with energy boosting chia seeds and is much lower in sugar than a regular milkshake.
- 500ml whole milk
- 100g plain greek yogurt
- 1 banana
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tsp honey
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Put all the ingredients into a blender and blitz until completely smooth.
- Serve immediately.
Chocolate orange energy bites
These delicious, healthy, no bake chocolate orange energy bites are a super easy gluten free snack the whole family will love. They're perfect to make in bulk and keep in the fridge for an instant snack.
- 100g porridge oats
- 100g peanut butter (or another nut butter)
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp shredded coconut
- 1 tbsp orange juice
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- Zest of 1/2 an orange
- 2 squares of dark chocolate
- Place all the ingredients except the chocolate into a large bowl. Mix with a spoon until well combined.
- Roll the mixture into 10 equal sized balls and place them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up.
- Melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the energy bites. Return them to the refrigerator for another 10 minutes.
- Eat straight away or keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Strawberry ice cream
This is a simple, healthy ice cream recipe is made with just two ingredients.
- 4 bananas
- 250g strawberries
- Hull the strawberries and chop them in half (or quarters if they are very big). Chop each banana into 5 or 6 pieces.
- Place the fruit in a ziplock bag, squeeze out the air and seal.
- Place in the freezer for at least 6 hours or overnight if possible.
- Remove the fruit from the freezer and transfer it to a food processor. You may have to let it defrost slightly for a few minutes to break the chunks of fruit apart.
- Blitz the fruit until it is smooth, like the consistency of a smoothie. Pour into a loaf tin or other freezer-proof dish, cover with cling film and freeze for an hour.
- Remove from the freezer and serve in a cone or in a cup.