Snack Battles

Parents and teachers often comment on the on-going battle about healthy snacks. The issue can be magnified for youngsters with autism when they have food allergies or an obsessive interest in one food or certain textures in foods. What can we do to win the war against unhealthy foods?

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1. REMOVE TEMPTATION. The first step in winning the “battle for healthy snacks” is to simply make unhealthy snacks unavailable. Kids can’t eat food that is not available. Without fanfare, replace all the sugar and fat laden snacks with healthier choices. It is not fair to tell a kid he cannot eat any candy if we keep Hershey’s kisses in a dish on the coffee table. If a youngster has significant food allergies or dietary restrictions, it is not appropriate to have forbidden foods sitting on the kitchen cabinet. Take all unhealthy foods out of the house.

2. AVOID TYRANNY. The second strategic move in the snack war is to be positive and pro-active. Don’t make a big deal in the change of snack choices. These kinds of shifts in eating habits work better if you just begin offering yummy, healthier snacks rather than making dictatorial proclamations like, “We are banning cookies and ice cream and chips from our house” or “Don’t ever let me catch you eating all those candies and chips. They are not good for you.” Those kinds of statements just add fuel to the fire and increase the cravings for forbidden foods. When it is time for a snack, just say, “Look, everybody. We have watermelon for snacks today. Come and get it!” If your son says, “But I want Oreos,” just say, “You can have watermelon or a bag of pretzels. Which one do you want?” Don’t give in to whining – that just teaches your kids that they can get what they want if they fuss long and loud enough.

3. OFFER YUMMY CHOICES. And the final strategy is to offer several choices of really tasty and tempting snacks. Keep five or ten options on hand so the youngsters have choices. And, of course, consider any special dietary restrictions. Scope out your grocery store shelves for frozen snacks, crunchy snacks, fruits, and drinks. You can find a wide variety of healthy, low-fat, low-salt, low-sugar, high-nutrition versions of all of the above.

TIP FOR THE DAY. Once you wave the white flag on the “snack war,” you can all enjoy this new era of healthy snacks for your family. It will pay big dividends for many years in the future.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me a confidential email at with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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