We all know kids love their snacks, and eat them just about everywhere and anytime, whether it’s at daycare and school, after-school and after-sports, mid-morning and after dinner. Yet it’s not all healthy snacking, and in fact, most of it is made up of ultra-processed foods— fake foods that have more than 3 ingredients and also include sweeteners, oils, flavors, colors and preservatives.
Foods like cookies, candies, ice cream, chips and other salty snacks.
In fact, according to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from ultra-processed foods. What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.
Although prying the packages away from little hands isn’t always easy, you can make healthy snacking a priority in your family. Here are 11 ideas to try.
1. LIMIT THE ULTRA-PROCESSED SNACKS
Goldfish and “veggie sticks” seem like they’re a better option than potato chips, but these snacks are ultra-processed too and made with tons of unhealthy ingredients.
They can also be high in sugar and sodium, and low in fiber, protein and the healthy fats kids need in their diets so it’s ideal to limit or avoid them altogether.
2. MAKE REAL FOOD THE STAR OF SNACK TIME
One of the best healthy snacking tips is to focus on real, whole foods which will give your kids the nutrition they need.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to support your child’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.
Most kids don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables every day anyway, so snack time can be a way to pack in more.
Snacks also give kids plenty of opportunities to learn what they like to eat—
and what they don’t—and opportunities to choose healthy foods and eventually become adventurous eaters. Some ideas include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Cereal (high fiber, low sugar)
- Yogurt (low sugar)
- Tortilla roll ups
- Beans, peas or edamame
- Nut and seed butters
- No-bake energy bites
- Pureed pumpkin
- Kale chips
- Hummus, bean dip or guacamole
- Green smoothies (homemade, otherwise read labels)
- Homemade, energy bites or muffins (low sugar)
3. READ LABELS TO FIND A HEALTHY KIDS’ YOGURT
With a countless array of options in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, it can be challenging to find a healthy yogurt brand for your kids.
Those with M&M’s, cookies or crackers are high in sugar but many seemingly healthy options can be as well. Even if the brand is organic, low-fat or made with fruit, it can have as much sugar as a candy bar so read labels and compare brands.
Related: How to Choose a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt
4. THINK TWICE ABOUT SPORTS SNACKS
If your kid has a team snack after soccer practice, you’ve probably wondered as I did, are they really necessary?
This all depends on your kid’s age, the sport, how much energy they’re expending and how long they’re moving for.
For example, a 3-year-old playing soccer for an hour probably doesn’t need a snack while a 10-year-old who plays basketball for an hour may.
5. BE CHOOSY ABOUT GRANOLA AND SNACK BARS
There’s no doubt that granola bars and snack bars are really easy and convenient.
Since they healthy ingredients like oats, fruit, nuts and seeds, you might think they’re also healthy for kids, but many brands are ultra-processed, low in protein and fiber, and high in sugar.
When looking for healthy snack bars, read labels carefully and compare brands.
Although you shouldn’t scrutinize calories, some of the snack bars have enough calories to be a meal for kids.
Also, consider the protein, fiber, saturated fat and sugar content and avoid those made with artificial ingredients, preservatives, and food dyes.
6. PRIORITIZE PROTEIN
Protein is one of three essential macronutrients (the other two are fat and carbohydrates) found in the muscles, bones, skin, hair and in every cell in the body.
Protein is important for a host of different functions in the body, and necessary for a child’s growth and development.
Most kids already get enough protein in their diets, but it’s good idea to serve protein-rich snacks because it provides the calories and energy kids need, satisfies their hunger, balances their blood sugar and can help prevent weight gain and childhood obesity.
7. CURB ALL-DAY SNACKING
Although there’s nothing wrong with eating healthy snacks, kids shouldn’t be grazing on snacks all day.
They may be getting more calories than they actually need, and what they’re eating can displace the nutrition they need from meals.
All-day snacking is also not a habit we want to teach our kids for the future.
Snacking is meant to stave off hunger in between meals, yet kids may snack because they’re bored, tired, or dealing with tough emotions so it can be tough to know if your kid is actually hungry or not.
Do your best to have regular meal and snack times and make sure your kids are drinking plenty of water since hunger can often be mistaken for thirst.
At meals times, serve a combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats which satisfies hunger.
Also, limit the screen time and get your kids moving and playing outside.
8. PUT HEALTHY SNACKS FRONT AND CENTER
Kids will eat what’s visible and accessible, whether that’s a jar of cookies or a piece of whole fruit.
To encourage your kids to make healthy choices, store washed and cut up fruits and vegetables in clear glass containers in the refrigerator or in a bowl or basket.
Another idea I love is Ashley’s (Instagram: @veggiesandvirtue) snack drawer, a separate compartment that she fills up each week with healthy snack options her kids can grab at snack time.
9. MAKE SNACKS TOGETHER
Getting kids to choose healthy snacks isn’t always easy, but if you prepare them together, they’re more likely to eat them.
You can also make this a fun family activity.
Search for healthy, delicious snack ideas together, head to the grocery store or farmers’ market to pick up the ingredients, and make a large batch to last you all week.
10. DON’T BRING JUNK FOOD INTO THE HOUSE
If the only snacks your kids will eat are ultra processed snacks, don’t buy them.
When they’re out of sight, out of mind and your kids are hungry, they’ll have no choice but to pick healthy snacks.
Instead, make junk food a treat—on the weekends or occasionally.
11. PAIR VEGGIES WITH A DIP
If vegetables are bland, boring and tasteless, your kids won’t eat them.
The solution? Add a dip which makes vegetables more appealing.
In fact, according to an August 2013 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adding herbs and spices to a reduced fat dip increased preschoolers’ willingness to taste, like and eat raw vegetables.
Try hummus, guacamole, bean dip, or simple mix of olive oil and vinegar. I recommend you make your own dip so you can control the ingredients.
If you do purchase a ready-made dip however, read labels because many are high in calories, saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and artificial ingredients.
12. MAKE FROZEN TREATS
My daughters would rather eat frozen blueberries than fresh blueberries as a snack. I’m not sure why but maybe because it’s different and fun.
Serve frozen fruit alone or add it to Greek yogurt for a protein-packed snack.
You can also put frozen bananas in your Vitamix for a healthy, sweet treat or make green smoothie popsicles with spinach and fruit.
13. SERVE HEALTHY SNACKS IN A CREATIVE WAY
Kids love choices and offering a few healthy snacks at one time can empower them to eat healthy.
Fill a muffin tin or bento box with fruits, vegetables, cheese, and nuts and seeds, for example. Or get skewers and make fruit kabobs—also a fun activity to do with your kids.
14. MODEL HEALTHY SNACKING
If you want your kids to eat healthy, you can’t be chowing down on chips yourself.
In fact, a recent study out of Finland found that kindergarten-age children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if their parents ate them as well.
However, as an emotional eater, I’ve found this to be tough, especially when I’m feeling stressed out and I’m shoving chocolate in my mouth.
Yet when my kids are around, they also keep me on track because I can’t very well be eating junk when I told them they can’t or “the kitchen is closed!”