Are you tired of fetching snacks for your preschooler every 20 minutes?
I know I was.
So I created a snack station to give my four-year-old some independence and allow her to help herself when she was hungry.
Here are some tips to get you started and some pros and cons of setting up a snack area for little kids.
The Benefits of a Snack Station
Your preschooler gains independence because they can get a snack when they are hungry without asking you.
This may not seem like a big deal, but it’s a huge step for your child.
Suddenly they have more control over their own body. And they’re able to solve their own problem (hunger) themselves.
You don’t have to stop what you’re doing to fetch more snacks all day.
How many times have you been in the middle of doing something only to have your 4 year old come up to you asking for a snack? A billion? Yeah, me too.
Now if they ask for a snack, you can simply say “you can get something out of your snack basket.”
Your child can start to make their own food choices.
Choices are important when you’re three or four years old. You don’t have a lot of say in what you do or when you do it.
Options are freeing to a preschooler. They can choose between a salty or a sweet snack. Goldfish or applesauce? It’s up to them!
Okay, There Are Cons Too
Yeah, it’s not a perfect system. I get that. So here are the cons.
Your kid may just eat because they’re bored or want something to chew on.
I know I have this problem sometimes. My kid does too. I can tell when she’s just absentmindedly grabbing a snack because she’s bored.
It’s important to ask questions like “is your tummy hungry or do you just need a drink?” Sometimes they’re really just thirsty.
They might spoil their lunch or dinner by eating too many snacks.
Fed is best. So don’t worry too much if your snacks are somewhat healthy and they don’t eat their meal.
But if you’re worried about not eating enough during dinner, maybe think about setting time limits on the snack basket and cutting them off an hour or so before dinner.
Choosing a Location for Your Preschooler’s Snack Area
You’ll need to find a container or cabinet that works for your kitchen.
It needs to be a place your child can easily reach and see their snack options.
We don’t have cabinets low enough for my four year old to reach. So we put a basket on the corner of the kitchen table. My mom has a cabinet at her house she can get into.
If you plan to have cold snacks, you’ll need to find a spot in your fridge that your child can reach. We use the bottom shelf on the door.
So really she has two snack stations. One for cold snacks in the fridge and one for pantry snacks.
If you are putting your snacks in a pantry, make sure your child can open the pantry door unassisted. There are some with the snap closed thingies that are hard for little ones.
You can still put a basket or container in the pantry to separate your child’s snack station from the rest of the food.
It’s easier for your child to navigate their snack choices if they know they can pick from a certain bin. That way they don’t have to look all over the cabinet, and they won’t eat things you’d rather they not eat.
Setting Snack Bin Rules
You can make rules for your snack station however you see fit. Here are some examples.
Ask a parent for permission before getting a snack.
Use this for a while in the beginning at least so your preschooler can learn appropriate snacking times. And how to not eat 5 snacks at once.
Setting a time limit on snacks.
No snacks after 4:00pm until after dinner so they won’t be munching on Cheerios five minutes before their meal is ready.
You can put away the whole basket if you’re using one. I’ll move mine to where she can’t reach it if it’s close to dinner time.
One snack at a time.
We ran into a problem of baggies all over the house of half eaten snacks. So I instituted one snack at a time.
She has to put the snack back in the basket if she wants something else. Or return the baggie to the counter to be reused. Or throw away a non reusable baggie.
Once you’re out, you’re out.
One way you can do the snack basket is to fill it once a day in the morning with all of the snacks for the day.
Then when they run out of snacks, they don’t have any left. No asking for more. You got your snacks. It’s not my problem if you ate all 5 before noon.
Snacks must be eaten in the kitchen.
There are certain snacks you don’t want all over your house. So you could make this a rule.
Toot knows that she can’t take applesauce, fruit, or yogurt into the living room, but she can bring crackers or dry cereal.
You can make up your own rules that work for your child. These are just some examples.
Snack Ideas for Preschoolers
You don’t have to buy individual snack sized bags of everything. You totally can if that makes it more convenient for you.
I like to use snack sized Ziplock bags to portion out my daughter’s snacks.
I will reuse them at least once if they don’t get anything on them. Environment, saves money, and whatnot.
I try not to put any snacks in the basket that could also be dessert or treats. The closest I get is chocolate Cheerios. But you can do whatever you want.
Pantry snack ideas:
- Goldfish crackers
- Wheat Thins
- Cheerios (any variety)
- Other dry cereal such as Apple Jacks (nothing small like Rice Krispies)
- Fruit cups
- Applesauce cups
- Peanut butter crackers
- Cheese crackers
- Veggie straws or chips
- Half of a bagel or a mini bagel
- Half a peanut butter sandwich (no jelly)
- Popcorn (sifted for kernels)
You might still need to help them get the lids off of applesauce cups or fruit cups, but they’re healthier options.
And you’ll probably need to wash your apples before you put them in the basket or before they eat them.
Fridge snack ideas:
- Yogurt tubes
- Grapes (pre-cut up)
- Baby carrots
- Deli turkey or ham
- Cheese sticks or cubes
- Broccoli florets
- Mixed berries
- Bell pepper slices
The cold snacks might have to be prepared that morning. I will usually cut up some grapes to put into a ziplock bag in the morning if we have them.
Yes, you still should cut up grapes for kids under 6.
My Routine for Our Snack Basket
Once a week I will pick out snack options while grocery shopping. I like to get something different every week.
Rotating snacks keeps them from getting burnt out on one thing. She randomly decides she doesn’t want Cheez-Its for three months because she’s four.
Depending on my mood, time, and the food itself, I’ll pre-portion out the whole package into Ziplock bags.
I only do this for pantry snacks I know my husband and I won’t eat.
Then I stuff most of the bags back into the container or put them up in the cabinet. One or two go into her snack basket.
I use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion out most snacks. You don’t need to fill the bag. They only need a small amount. Their tummies are small.
Every morning I check her basket and add snacks to it for the day.
Usually this happens while I make coffee and feed the cat.
I try to put at least 5 snacks maybe up to 7 or 8 in the basket. There are usually 2 or 3 left.
I vary up the types of snacks. If we have bananas, they go in her basket because they go bad faster than anything else.
I check her shelf on the fridge and add snacks. Usually I wash and cut some grapes and put them in a bag at some point in the day.
Her cup gets filled and put on her fridge shelf.
It’s also important to have easy access to a drink.
I used to keep a cup of milk and a cup of flavored water in the fridge for her every day, but lately she’s only been drinking the flavored water.
We use the squeeze flavors with no sugar or calories.
Do You Have a Snack Station for Your Preschooler?
Let me know in the comments below!
Check out these realistic meal ideas too. I wrote some for toddlers but they work for preschoolers too.