Feeding kids is one of many daily jobs we have as moms that like an office gig, has its fair share of challenges, but without any of the pay. If you’re like me, you’re constantly searching for healthy dinner recipes as well as easy and healthy snack ideas for kids. Not only do I get tired of the same snacks every day, but I also want new ways to make the most of snack time and get more nutrition in my kids’ diets.
If you, too, feel like you’re all out of ideas and you’re ready to cut down on all the processed foods, read on for 15 healthy snack ideas for kids that you can feel good about whether you’re dropping the kids off at day care, serving after-school snacks or traveling with the kids in tow.
WHY YOU NEED HEALTHY SNACK IDEAS FOR KIDS
Don’t get me wrong: a bag of crackers, pretzels or cookies have saved me on more than one occasion, especially when there’s no food in the house or I’m rushing to get the kids out the door in the morning amidst all the crying about what to wear and mommy, she’s not sharing!
Yet most of the easy kids’ snacks you’ll find in the grocery store are so highly-processed you can’t even call them food.
Most are made with refined carbohydrates, and are high in sugar, sodium, saturated fat, artificial ingredients, preservatives, and artificial food dyes.
Most lack the fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals kids need in their diets.
There are also the seemingly healthy snacks like Welch’s fruit snacks.
My kids love them too, and the company does a really good job of calling attention to the fact that they’re “made with real fruit.”
Take a closer look at the ingredients however, and you’ll discover that they certainly are made with real fruit—albeit a fruit puree—but they also contain corn syrup, sugar, and some of their flavors have artificial food dyes.
Seriously, is this what you want to feed your kids? I didn’t think so.
More bad news about highly-processed snacks: diets high in these foods are linked to high blood pressure, high blood sugar which can lead to pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes, childhood obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease—a condition that’s on the rise in kids.
Studies show eating refined carbohydrates and sugars, pesticides, preservatives, and artificial food dyes leads to altered thinking and behavior and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Another thing to consider is that there’s been a ton of research in recent years about intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut occurs when the tight junctions in the large intestine open and allow undigested food particles and pathogens in, which in turn elicits an immune response.
Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to various conditions including allergies, asthma, fatigue, autoimmunity, migraines and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Last, but definitely not least, is one of personal opinion. I think many parents think: What’s the big deal? They’re just kids.
And although your kid may have a normal weight and he’s healthy overall, the way I see it is that kids are blank slates.
We want to give them the best possible start in life and set them up for healthy habits now.
But it’s not just me who thinks this way. Experts say the more fake food kids eat—and the longer they eat them—the higher their risk for a long list of chronic health conditions down the line.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD KIDS SNACK?
In the U.S., our kids snack all the time: at daycare, pre-school, mom’s groups and on playdates.
They snack in their strollers, in the car, on the playground and after sports.
At school, young kids have a mid-morning or afternoon snack.
At my kids’ school, some parents pack snacks in their kids’ lunchbox. Kids can also buy snacks (chips, cookies, ice cream, etc.) at lunch time, which is there for no other reason than to offset the financial shortfall the school district faces.
Of course, there are also after-school snacks and after-dinner snacks.
So you may have wondered like I did, how often should kids snack?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to support a kid’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.
Most kids don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables every day to begin with, 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 chances to choose healthy foods and eventually become adventurous eaters.
Yet snack too many times a day, and it can displace calories at mealtime and it may be why your kid isn’t hungry when dinner time rolls around.
There’s no hard and fast rule about when and how many times a day kids should have snacks but some experts have a bit of insight. “A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about 1-2 hours before the next meal begins,” Jo Ellen Shields, MED, RD, LD, co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, said in this article.
According to Jill Castle, RDN, in addition to 3 meals a day, school-aged kids need 1 to 2 snacks a day and teens need one snack a day unless they’re athletes or are having a growth spurt.
When offering snacks, you should also pay attention to portion sizes so the snack doesn’t turn into a meal.
HEALTHY SNACK IDEAS FOR KIDS
With so many snack food labels calling attention to health claims like all-natural, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, high in fiber, made with real fruit, no sugar added and sugar-free, it can be difficult to choose a healthy snack for your kids.
That’s why I suggest you focus on real food and some minimally-processed snacks.
Cutting down on processed foods takes time and although you can’t expect your kid to be on board right away, you can make it happen!
1. Vegetables any which way
Vegetables are packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, have fiber to satisfy your kid’s hunger and they can encourage kids to love vegetables at other meals.
Chances are, you probably won’t have much luck serving raw vegetables the first few times around and can you blame them?
Raw vegetables are ho-hum, so make them tasty!
Try serving baby carrots, celery, jicama (cut up like sticks), slices of cucumber, bell peppers, broccoli or cauliflower with hummus, guacamole or a plant-based dip like bean, beet, artichoke or spinach.
Homemade dips are always better because you know what’s in them.
If you’re buying a store-bought dip however, read labels carefully and avoid added sugars and artificial ingredients and compare brands for calories, saturated fat, sugar and sodium content.
Another way to serve vegetables that will appeal to your kids is by trying different cooking methods like roasting or sautéing or serving vegetables spiralized, cut up like fries or even pureed.
2. Fruit and cheese
Cheese is high in protein and calcium and when it’s paired with fruit, it’s an easy, delicious combination.
Some yummy combinations to try include tomatoes with mozzarella, figs with brie, watermelon with feta, pear and blue cheese, or apple and cheddar.
Making smoothies is a great way to get in several servings of fruits and vegetables in one sitting.
When making smoothies, stick to an 80/20 ratio of vegetables to fruit to cut down on the sugar.
Include some protein by adding your kid’s favorite nut butter, chia seeds or protein powder.
Any blender will do but I’m a big fan of Vitamix because it’s a high performance blender that makes not only smoothies, but juices, dips, breads and so much more.
4. Chia seed pudding
Chia seeds are high in protein and fiber, a good source of calcium and the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show support cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, prevent chronic disease, and support brain health.
Chia seed pudding is one of the best healthy snack ideas for kids because it’s a great alternative to most store-bought puddings that are high in sugar and have artificial ingredients.
You can find recipes for chia seed pudding but it’s pretty simple: your choice of milk, the chia seeds and flavor-filled add-ins like cacoa or cocoa powder, pure vanilla or almond extract, cinnamon, or a drizzle of real maple syrup or honey.
Combine everything in a mason jar and let it sit overnight. You can also top chia seed pudding with fresh or frozen fruit for more fiber and some sweetness.
5. No-bake energy bites
I love no-bake energy bites because they take minutes to make and are a healthy snack option for kids.
Depending on the ingredients you use, they can be a good source of protein, fiber and healthy fats. Most recipes call for rolled oats, nuts and seeds, raisins and other types of dried fruit.
They’re also bite sized—perfect for toddlers!—and an easy option for school lunch, after-school sports or when you’re traveling.
6. A piece of fruit with nut or seed butter
Ideally, a health snack should be made up of fiber and protein and the combination of fruit and a nut or seed butter is a great choice.
Pair bananas, apples or pears with peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower seed butter, or pumpkin seed butter.
7. Healthy snack bars
Snack bars are a great choice especially when you’re tight on time, but not all are created equal.
When buying a healthy snack bar, look for those that use whole food ingredients, have a good amount of protein and fiber, and are low in sugar and sodium.
8. Trail mix
Kids love variety and just like the no-bake energy bites, trail mix has lots of options.
Nuts and seeds are high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats, but many store-bought trail mixes are filled with salty nuts, too much dried fruit, “yogurt-” covered raisins, chocolate chips and candy.
If you want to have control of the ingredients, make your own: pick the nuts and seeds, and use unsweetened dried fruit. If you’re going to add chocolate, stick to dark chocolate, which has antioxidants and has just the right amount of sweetness without too much sugar.
Black beans, red kidney beans, chickpeas and edamame are all quick and easy healthy snack ideas for kids.
Not only do kids love finger foods but these are also a great grab-and-go option when you’re out and about.
10. Dried fruit and nuts or seeds
While fresh fruit is ideal because of the high amount of nutrition it provides, dried fruit with nuts or seeds is still a great choice.
When buying dried fruit, read labels carefully and look for products where dried fruit is the only ingredient.
For cranberries, chose those that are sweetened with fruit juice, not sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners, Cynthia Sass, RD states in this article.
Also, avoid dried fruit with artificial preservatives like sulfur dioxide and other additives. Above all, watch portion sizes.
11. Hard-boiled eggs
Eggs are loaded with protein—one large egg has nearly 7 grams—and hard boiled eggs are quick and easy: boil a dozen and you’ll have plenty on hand for snacks throughout the week.
You can serve a hard boiled egg alone, or pair it with vegetables or fruit.
Yogurt is high in protein, a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12, and rich in gut-friendly, immune-boosting probiotics.
When choosing a yogurt however, read labels and stick with brands that are low in
sugar and made without artificial ingredients and preservatives.
With 17 grams of protein per serving, plain Greek yogurt is a great option. Add raspberries which are high in fiber, and a dash of cinnamon and pure vanilla extract for extra flavor.
Unlike refined carbohydrates, whole grain carbohydrates like those in popcorn have fiber which stave off hunger and keep blood sugar levels steady.
Non-GMO, trans-fat free and low in sodium, SkinnyPop is one of my favorite brands.
Muffins or mini-muffins can be a healthy snack option but most store-bought brands are made with refined carbohydrates, are low in fiber and high in sugar.
Read labels carefully or consider making your own with healthy ingredients like pumpkin puree, spinach or zucchini, for example.
15. Hummus and mini pitas
Kids love dip and hummus is a great option because it’s packed with protein, fiber and the healthy fats kids need in their diets.
Pair with mini pita bread pockets or small pieces of pita bread and you have a healthy and satisfying snack.