6 Remedies to the Pre-Dinner Snack Dilemma

The Snack Dilemma

As a dad, every day is full of food dilemmas: is this meal healthy enough? Should I make them try everything on their plate? How to get five fruits and vegetables a day? One that comes up a lot is, should I feed my kids after school, so close to dinnertime?  Will it ruin dinner? I have a few rules that help me through.

Veggies and Hummus

Rule 1:  If they are hungry, let them eat.

If your kids are anything like mine, they come back from school famished. When I look into their lunchbox I understand why.  They are left alone to feed themselves during their measly 20 minute lunch period and half of their food is never touched or thrown away. It’s a wonder they make it through the rest of the day.  Their blood sugar plummets and their mood is either manic, cranky, or morbid.  If they want food, I give it to them.  But what to give them, that’s the question.

Rule 2:  It isn’t a snack, it is the first course of dinner.

If you think of the hour and a half before dinner as a time for having the first course of your meal or an appetizer rather than having a snack, it is easier to imagine what kind of food is appropriate.  This guides me toward real food and away from the “snack foods,” which do threaten to fill them with empty calories. If I can get the veggies into them during this time when they are hungry, then I don’t have to pester so much during dinner.  My six “go-to” first courses are all a mix of fruits/vegetables and a protein:

  • Nut butter and apples.
  • Cut up vegetables (carrots, green beans, cucumber slices) and hummus (or any healthy creamy dressing).
  • Cheese slices and apples, or grapes, or any fruit
  • Yogurt and frozen blueberries.
  • Chick peas and Italian dressing or black beans and salsa – literally I just open a can of beans, mix it with dressing or salsa and just give them a spoon.
  • Bananas cut in slices with coco powder.

Would they rather have cheezits, granola bars or popsicles?  Sure.  Do I offer them, no.  Those are empty calories that crowd out the rest of the good stuff.

Rule 3:  Make it special

Never miss an opportunity to make food intentional and meaningful.  Light a candle, use a napkin, sit on the floor like a picnic or outdoors in the yard if the weather is nice.  And sit with them – be with them.  Play music or do a crossword puzzle.  If you have to make dinner, put their snack at the counter with you so they can watch you cook.

Rule 4:  Talk if they want but let them guide the discussion.

There is nothing more futile in my house than asking my kids how school was or what they did – it is like asking me about work after a long hard day.  They have been talked to for the last 6 hours. Silence is just fine.  Just being next to them or reading them a story is a great way to show you love them and care in a way that doesn’t feel pestering.

There are two other strategies that I have if I think they may want to talk.  First, I might tell a story from my day.  Stories inspire stories, and if you share first they might follow suit.  Then I might ask a question that is a little out of the ordinary, like “tell me a story about something surprising that happened to you today?”  or  “What is one thing you learned today that you think I might not know.”

If you have advice of your own – post it in the comments below. Sometimes my ideas don’t work… and I always need new ones!


John SarroufJohn Sarrouf

John is a father of two – Elijah (8) & Esme (5) – and the Director of Program Development for The Public Conversations Project based in Watertown, MA. John is a professional mediator and dialogue facilitator who spends much of his time leading conversations with parents and families about the opportunities and challenges of family dinners

[Photo credit: (ccl) SweetOnVeg]

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