How We Do Snacks and Sweet Treats

posted by Andrea | 04/13/2016
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snacks and sweets

Over the past month, I’ve gotten many emails and questions about how we handle snacks and desserts in our home — and since the Dekkers are all BIG fans of snacks and sweets, I figured it would be a fairly simple post to share.

Plus, I had so much fun digging up all those cute “messy face” photos of my kids from past years!

SNACKS:

My general thought about snacks is that they are completely fine as long as kids are still eating their meals well. 

Our kids are BIG snackers and I’m sure it’s because Dave and I also have multiple snacks throughout the day.

I know I personally get somewhat light-headed if I’m hungry, so I’ve gotten used to taking snacks with me ALL the time (even when I was in high school and college). Now, I just pack extra snacks and drinks along for my kids!

We have a fairly regular eating and snacking schedule:

  • 7:30 am (or whenever they wake up) = grapes and sliced cheese — weird, I know!
  • 9:00 am = breakfast (I almost always make pancakes, eggs, or waffles)
  • 10:00 – 10:30 am = salty or savory snack (veggie straws, crackers and cheese, pretzels, or goldfish)
  • 11:30 am = lunch
  • 2:30 pm = sweet and fruity snack (cookie, brownie or trail mix AND apples, grapes, berries, yogurt or frozen gogurt)
  • 5:00 pm = dinner (and dessert)
  • 7:30pm = banana for a bedtime snack

This has been our rough routine for quite some time and it seems to work really well for us.

They will often eat their morning “salty snack” while we are running errands (in the car or in the stroller) so I almost always pack this snack in their snack cups the night before. That way, I can simply grab their cups and waters and head out the door when we’re ready to leave.

If we are just at home for this snack, I usually let them eat it in the livingroom while watching a TV show — the snack cups are still nice because I can just grab them out of the pantry cabinet and hand them out. (Here’s a link to the snack cups we use — we LOVE them!)

At this point, we don’t really have any snacks that are totally “off limits” to our kids. Even extremely non-nutritious snacks like candy, fruit snacks, and Cheetos are all eaten in moderation in our home.

We obviously don’t allow snacking all day long, but we won’t ban snacks from our home either. In my experience, when something is totally off limits, the kids want it even more and don’t have the experience to choose proper portions or make more nutritious decisions later on in life.

SWEET TREATS:

Based on the large number of dessert recipes I share on my blog, it’s probably pretty obvious that Dave and I are suckers for sweet treats!

And ever since I started sharing my Peek Into Our Week posts (which include the previous week’s menu plan), I have gotten asked over and over again about the amount of baking I do on a weekly basis.

Yes, I bake alot. No, I do not bake every single day. 

In general, I bake 2-3 times a week and divide up the baked goods between the pantry and the freezer.

For example: 

  • If I make a pan of brownies, I’ll put half of them in the pantry and cut up the other half for the freezer. I usually put 4 smaller brownies in a zip-top bag, and put those bags in the freezer. Then, if we want a brownie sundae for dessert one night, I’ll just pull one bag of brownies out of the freezer, heat them in the microwave, add ice cream and toppings and we have a yummy dessert with almost no effort.
  • Also, any time I make cookie dough, I bake some of the cookies right away and divide the rest of the dough up into smaller freezer containers. Later, if we want cookies for a snack or dessert, I simply defrost one small container and bake 12-20 cookies at a time. This way, the cookies always taste freshly baked and they don’t have time to get stale.
  • Even when I bake a cake, cupcakes, or muffins, one-half to two-thirds of the goodies goes straight into the freezer — all pre-portioned for easy defrosting later.

We usually have 2 or 3 different baked goods in our pantry at all times, and an even larger assortment in our freezer. This way, we can have little bits of various sweet treats and desserts all the time without baking all day long!

The kids know that they may request baked goods as part of their snack, and we almost always have something sweet after lunch and dinner (as long as they eat their meal first). To them, sweet treats are just one of the many food choices they have.

Oh yeah, and we definitely DO have a “candy cupboard”!

I realize this might sound like an insane amount of sweets to have in the house (I will be the first to admit we have A LOT of sweets in our house!) but it’s how Dave and I were both raised as well.

Sweets were never really a huge temptation for us because they were always around. They were just part of our diet, and we learned how to handle them without going crazy and binge eating them all day long.

In the interest of honesty, I want to mention that we rarely ever prohibit our kids from having a snack that is offered to them from a friend or family member.

We feel like food is a very hospitable gesture, so even if someone gives our kids a cookie or candy right after they had a snack, I’ll usually just say something like, “if you’re hungry now, you may eat it; otherwise we will save it for later”. 

Often times, Nora will choose to save it for later if she’s truly not hungry — Simon will almost always choose to eat it right away 🙂

And even if the treat is given to them right before a meal, I’ll often say something like, “how about you eat half of it now and the other half after your meal.”

Nora is pretty good about knowing when she is full and putting the snack away at that point. She also knows that if she doesn’t eat her meals well, we will start to limit her snacks and desserts — so that is motivation for her to eat her meals well (Simon isn’t quite old enough for this motivation yet).

I know there are probably lots of opinions about how many snacks kids should have and what types of foods they should be snacking on, but I personally don’t want to make too many food decisions for my children. I want them to learn to think about what tastes good to them, what fills them up, what satisfies them, how they feel after eating too much of something, etc. etc.

I will set guidlines and boundaries (“Do you want grapes or strawberries with your veggie straws?” or “You may have a few M&M’s after you eat the apple.”) but I like them to learn to make decisions whenever possible.

Nora is just starting to realize that certain foods are more nutritious than others thanks to various things they are learning in school. I had to laugh the other day when she told me that we need to eat all the colors of the rainbow so we grow healthy and strong — and then proceeded to suggest that Skittles would be a very colorful food choice!

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I guess food has always been something I’m not willing to fight or argue about with my kids. I had too many friends in high school whose parents were WAY too strict about what they could and could not eat. The kids ended up trading (or trashing) half their lunches at school and eating junk food instead.

And once kids go off to college and have a huge buffet of food choices in front of them at every meal, I can almost guarantee that the kid who was denied sweets for his entire life won’t have the self-control to “just eat one”.

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So once again, when it comes to snacks and sweet treats, I fall smack in the middle of the “all things in moderation” camp!

My way certainly isn’t the only way (or necessarily even the “right way”) but it’s working for our family right now so I don’t plan to change anything anytime soon. However, I would like to know…

How do you do snacks and sweets in your house?

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37 comments

  1. Jacky

    10/12/2016

    I’m just going through my high school years and snacking was never really an issue until the last two years. I’m fairly tall and all of my many growth spurts demanded I consume almost twice as much as usual, so when I wasn’t on a growth spurt, you can probably see the issue.

    However, when I was younger, we always had fruit and veggies lying around as opposed to crackers or sweets. Our candy cabinet almost always had some leftover stuff from Halloween in it, so when I craved something sweet I usually managed to somehow crawl up there and grab a mini chocolate bar or lollipop or something. But since the fruits and veggies were always so much easier to get to and had always been my main snack, I got pretty used to eating berries and mango strips instead of candies. As for baking, it was almost nonexistent. We barely had time when I was small, even more so during the rat-racing years of elementary where we left home at eight and didn’t get back until nine or ten at night on many days. Even our meals were quick to make, maybe soup, frozen veggies, a rotisserie chicken we picked up from Safeway on the way home, sandwiches, and so on. My mom and I aren’t really the types who spend hours upon hours in the kitchen preparing food, more the grab-and-run type. I like the system you have in your house though, even if it is kind of strange to me. I can imagine that if I have kids, I would cut out the morning snack and just give them breakfast right away as that was how I was raised (and because I’m a really early bird, 4am or so wakeup). It’s interesting to see the differences in people’s home lives and ho it affects their eating habits!

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  2. Chris

    04/19/2016

    We don’t have kids (yet) but from the comments here I begin to realize how important it is how you are raised concerning diet,eating habits, sweets etc. It is kind of obvious but still never occured to me 🙂
    Having said that, snacks were always around in our home, too. Ironically, my mother is a kind of binge chocolate eater in the evenings and the rules my father had were: Don’t eat sweets if your are hungry, have something more hearty instead (i.e. sandwich) and begin with small portions because you can always have seconds after you finished that – and this stuck with me. I know have a partner with a major sweet tooth, he uses chocolate as a kind of comfort food and his mother has diabetes and eats several chocolate bars per week … But Andreas post and all your comments made me realize that I shouldn’t stress too much over snacks and food because this strategy tends to backfire 😉

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  3. Lynda

    04/18/2016

    I live in the “all things in moderation” camp too!! I feel this has made my kids very good at self monitoring their sweets intake 🙂

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  4. Beatriz

    04/14/2016

    In our house it was always fruit but mainly because my sister and I were big on fruit. We love fruit and sometimes candy would go bad in our house, even now I’ll take a mango over candy any day.

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    Andrea Reply:

    want to know something crazy… I do not like mangos!
    i LOVE almost all fruit… but not mangos (and I feel like almost everyone loves mangos!)

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  5. Renee

    04/13/2016

    When I make cookies I make a double batch, cook one pan and freeze the rest by scooping them onto a cookie tray with an ice cream scoop and flash freeze the balls of dough then transfer to a ziplock. It makes it so easy to cook up a dozen cookies any time because I can just grab a dozen preformed frozen balls. They only take a few more minutes from frozen.

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  6. Alicia

    04/13/2016

    We definitely have our fair share of sweets in our house too. I have a MAJOR sweet tooth, and so does my oldest, but the other’s could kind of take it or leave it. I am also trying to be better about all things in moderation, and not take it to one extreme or the other by completely banning all things sweet.

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  7. JoDi

    04/13/2016

    We grew up with treats and snacks too. My mom always packed some type of treat in our lunches, and we always ate dessert after dinner. We raised our son the same way. We always had healthy snacks as well as salty and sweet snacks in the house. We didn’t usually allow snacks right before meals, but snacks at other times were fine, and we did require him to eat all (or most) of his dinner before he could have dessert.

    And then there were times when the usual “rules” didn’t apply, like the time we had chocolate cake for breakfast, because who doesn’t want to have cake for breakfast at least ONCE in their life? LOL And pumpkin pie from Costco in the fall is perfectly acceptable for breakfast in my book! I’m not a fan of sweet things for breakfast, but I always buy at least one Cotsco pumpkin pie each year and eat a slice in the morning for breakfast with coffee each day until it’s gone.

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  8. Lauren

    04/13/2016

    We don’t eat a lot of sweets in my family. We almost never have dessert except for on holidays. My kids also aren’t big snackers, probably because my husband and I aren’t big snackers. They eat 3 big meals a day and then they have a snack between lunch and dinner. It’s normally something salty or a fruit or veggie.

    My mom has diabetes so I’ve always been a little more aware of our sugar consumption.

    I don’t treat sweets as forbidden it’s just not something we keep in our house. When we go out or they go to someone’s house they can eat whatever they want. They do get quite a bit of junk food when we go visit family.

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    Andrea Reply:

    I love that you let your kids eat whatever they want at someone else’s home. For some reason, it really bothers me when people refuse to eat, or don’t allow their kids to eat, food that is prepared for them when they are a guest at someone else’s home. It’s one thing not to like a certain food, but to simply refuse it because it’s not “healthy enough” just bothers me. A little junk food (usually) won’t hurt anyone 🙂

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  9. JJ

    04/13/2016

    Our families seem to be similar on so many levels! I like the idea of having the snack cup packed the night before even if staying home. Good idea! And if you ever do have cookies that make it out long enough to get too hard, just put them in a storage bag or container with a piece of bread. The bread will get hard, but the cookies will get soft. My youth group sent cookies in a care package and did this, and I was so confused why they sent a slice of bread with the cookies. But, they were soooo soft and fresh tasting! Haha!

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    Andrea Reply:

    wow — thanks so much for your bread + cookies tip. I actually didn’t know that, and will definitely be putting it to use soon!

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    Jen Reply:

    I have used the bread tip as well, but I find that the cookies get “soggy” and “mushy”. Instead, I have found that large marshmallows work just as well without the sogginess! In fact, I keep several large marshmallows in with my brown sugar to keep it from hardening. Works like a charm!

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    Andrea Reply:

    good to know — I’ll have to try both ways! I do think I would feel less “wasteful” using a marshmallow versus using a slice of bread 🙂

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  10. Julia

    04/13/2016

    What a healthy approach to eating, this is so refreshing! I am a registered dietitian & even I struggle with moderation sometimes because it’s not how I was raised. I agree that being too strict or not letting kids make choices can negatively impact their relationship with food. Research has shown that offering a variety of foods (mostly healthy, as you do) at specific times & letting kids choose helps them learn to recognize satiety cues & make better choices. Thanks for sharing how you do things!

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  11. wilma

    04/13/2016

    our main rule is: no dessert if you haven’t eaten (enough) dinner. dessert is usually fruit, sometimes yoghurt and berries. as for sweets, we don’t eat a lot. we just don’t have them in the house–i am basically addicted to sugar and would snack all day long–and it’s not because of how i was raised, i’m just hard wired like that, i think. that said, if i bake, they’re allowed to have treats. and we have cake for birthdays, etc. and when we’re out, the kids get more treats (shared cookie at starbucks, treats from friends, etc). i believe in all things in moderation, similar to you.

    as for snacks, they are usually fruit or veggies–at school or at home. and there are no snacks after dinner, except for maybe milk before bed. i do this because otherwise my second child would eat no dinner, knowing snacks would be coming (he’s a lot like me, haha).

    great post!

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  12. Heidi

    04/13/2016

    We have two “snack drawers” in our cabinet- one for sweet snacks and one for “not sweet” snacks. When the kids ask for a snack they’ll usually ask if it can be a “sweet” or “not sweet” and then they pick from the appropriate drawer. They feel a sense of control because they can pick anything out of the drawer but I’m still determining whether or not it’s a sweet snack. I put the same logic to packing lunches. At 4 and 6 they each pack their lunches, but they pick from the options on our “lunchbox cart” (an IKEA rolling cart) and fridge items that I prepackage. They feel control…I don’t pack lunches! Win win!

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    Andrea Reply:

    haha — we have 2 shelves for snacks and also divide them up by sweet and salty snacks 🙂 Our kids almost alway prefer salty in the morning and sweet in the afternoon!

    Also, I love the idea of your lunch-packing station!

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  13. Candace

    04/13/2016

    I love the idea of freezing half of the baked goods, and the cookie dough.

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  14. Avia

    04/13/2016

    I am much like you in that I haven’t limited really anything in our house. I have to admit though, My 3 & 1/2 year old does not have a sweet tooth (except chocolate) and loves veggies. So that really takes the pressure off me. You should see some women’s facse when they offer her a cookie and I suggest a carrot stick instead. They look at me like I’m abusive but that’s actually her preference. On the other hand, my 1 year old does have a healthy sweet tooth so we’ll see how that goes!

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    Andrea Reply:

    that’s crazy — and amazing! Simon is definitely more of a sweet tooth than Nora too!

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  15. julie

    04/13/2016

    We are definitely a family of grazers and i am similar to you in the sense that i get a little lightheaded if i don’t eat regularly. We stress to the kids that they need to gauge their own level of fullness, so i don’t worry if they don’t finish a meal, but i will hang on to it and that becomes their “snack” if they get hungry in the next couple of hours and we’re at home.

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    Andrea Reply:

    we actually do the EXACT same thing — it’s fine if they don’t finish their meal, but then the next time they are hungry, they have to eat the rest of their meal first.

    We aren’t as strict with Simon right now, just because he’s a lot younger than Nora, but it works pretty well with both of them. If I know they don’t like something, I’ll require them to take at least one bite and then eat all of the things they do like.

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    JoDi Reply:

    We had a one bite rule for foods our son didn’t like unless it was something he really hated, and then we didn’t expect him to eat it at all. We both grew up with mothers who forced us to eat things we didn’t like (and finish them, not just try one bite), and it did nothing to enhance our appreciation of those foods. There are still things I can’t stomach today mostly due to being forced to eat them as a kid.

    We had a 3 bite rule for new foods. I’ve always felt like it takes a few bites to get used to a new taste and decide if you like it or not!

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    Andrea Reply:

    this is basically what we do too. Also, isn’t it crazy how the smell (or even the thought of) certain foods can still bring back negative emotions years later!

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  16. Amy

    04/13/2016

    Thank you for the post! I follow a similar pattern with my son. What do you use for your “candy cupboard”? Do you have a certain shelf in the pantry? Or, do you keep it all in a container? I have been looking for some ideas now that my son is old enough to pick his sweet for himself. It also seems like the amount of candy we all receive during the holidays is larger than it was when I was growing up and I am looking for storage ideas so that he can have a little of it at a time.

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    Andrea Reply:

    We just have a very skinny cabinet next to our stove that we keep all our candy, gum, and mints in. We actually put our candy in a empty tissue box as it’s long and skinny — and the perfect size for our cabinet shelves! I cut the opening in the top a bit larger so the kids can easily see and pick what candy they want. Also, I freely toss candy I know they don’t like — or anything I don’t want them to eat 🙂

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  17. Michelle

    04/13/2016

    I want some of that strawberry pie right NOW! ahem…

    We have plenty of snacks and too little exercise for our kids. I don’t know how to get a better balance. We went out for ice cream the other day and my daughter asked for a snack when we got home… No! For the most part they are good eaters at meal times, green veggies are the exception. I still have to sneak those in.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Come over in June and you’ll probably get some strawberry pie 🙂
    Also, my kids will also ask for a snack RIGHT after a big meal… it’s so weird (and no, I don’t give it to them).

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  18. Allison

    04/13/2016

    Hi Andrea,
    I’m curious how you handle meals for your kids. You mentioned that you will limit snacks/dessert if your kids aren’t eating their meals well. How do you measure that? Do you ask them to clear their plates, or is more of a judgment call? Do your kids ever turn down dessert because they’re full? 🙂 I’m just curious and as I’ve appreciated your other food posts I thought your insight would be helpful as my own are a little younger than you and we are starting to encounter this.

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    Andrea Reply:

    We require them to try at least one bite of everything (I usually know what they do and don’t like). For the foods that they like, they have to eat everything on their plate in order to get dessert. If they don’t finish their food, they can come back and finish for a “snack” later (and then have a treat after).

    However, if I know they don’t like the food, I’m satisfied if they try just one bite and I don’t make them eat everything I put on their plate. Also, if I feel like they are legitimately full (like I gave them too much to eat) or just not feeling well, I won’t ‘force’ them to finish their food or eat it as a snack later. However, if they are too full to finish their food, they don’t get dessert.

    There are always exceptions to the rules, but in general, that’s what we do 🙂

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  19. ShellyL

    04/13/2016

    Can you share a little about how you freeze your baked goods? Do you have a post on this? I too have basically stopped baking because my husband and I would eat too much of whatever it was. Now that my kids are older, that may not be so much of a problem. 😉

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  20. Deni

    04/13/2016

    Forgot to mention that all of your recipes are awesome 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Deni!

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  21. Deni

    04/13/2016

    I agree 100% Andrea! My kids are 18 and 14 and I have always allowed treats in moderation.
    Both of my kids are healthy weights and have always had good dental check ups. I have to agree that when kids and adults are so strictly deprived of sugar, that’s exactly what they will overindulge in when given the chance. All things in moderation is what we live by and it works!
    I think you and Dave are doing a wonderful job raising your kids 🙂

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  22. julie

    04/13/2016

    Sounds like your kids are learning how to eat healthy. 🙂 We were never denied treats growing up, and we always required to finish our plates before getting desserts or snacks. I think the self-control when it comes to sweets is a little more involved than not being strict with the sweets. I can devour a package or batch of any baked good in one sitting or day if I don’t exercise great control. My sisters are the same. I think there is some possible unbalanced gut flora or genetics that plays a big part in that. We all, my kids and sisters are great eaters in the sense that we all eat and like varied foods, but sweets we must be extra careful with. I so enjoy your posts, they are straightforward and simple. Please don’t take that as an insult, it is not meant as one…it is just nice to read a simple, straightforward post when so many others are so wordy. Your blog is the only one that I visit daily and the food posts are my favorite even though I can’t eat your recipes without changing for my lifestyle. I am celiac. I know, weird, I can’t eat most of the recipes you post, but they are my favorite….

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  23. Christine @ The (mostly) Simple Life

    04/13/2016

    Sounds like you’ve found a really good method that works for you. I used to bake all the time but I have a hard time just eating one so I’ve pretty much stopped baking. I don’t usually crave sweets much now that we’re not eating them all the time. I do like a small piece of dark chocolate every day though ☺️ My parents didn’t limit sweets, but I still have a hard time overeating sweets. Candy doesn’t appeal to meal at all, but I can chow a whole pan of brownies in 2 days!

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