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When you go to the grocery store or your favorite big box retailer (ahem, Target!) looking for a healthy snack bar for your kids, the amount of choices on the shelves can make your head spin. Just a few years ago, it seemed that the healthy snack bar market only consisted of options for adults, but now I’ve noticed a ton of brands have come out with kid-sized versions as well.
In fact, according to a recent report by Grand View Research, the global snack bars market was worth an estimated 20.5 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow by more than 6 percent by 2025.
Of course, this growth is in response to consumer demand.
We’re more interested than ever before in health and fitness, and we’re busy so we need easy, convenient and healthy snack options.
There are plenty of seemingly healthy choices and bars made with good-for-you ingredients like fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds, but sifting through all the ingredients and comparing labels is way too time consuming.
So let me make your life easier and walk you through everything you need to know about choosing a healthy snack bar for your kids, plus some of my favorite brands and homemade recipes.
Benefits of a Healthy Snack Bar for Kids
Kids love their snacks and serving up healthy options is aways a good thing.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to add nutrition into your child’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.
Although it’s always ideal to serve fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods to maximize nutrition, a healthy snack bar with dried fruit for example, can be an opportunity to get more servings in your kid’s diet.
Offering healthy snacks also helps to balance your kid’s blood sugar, stave off hunger and prevent overeating.
How many snacks should a child eat a day?
There’s no hard and fast rule about when and how many times a day kids should eat snacks.
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 having a growth spurt.
“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.
Cons of serving kids snack bars
Despite the benefits of healthy snacking, experts say kids are snacking too much—a trend that’s responsible for the one-third of children who are overweight or obese.
According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers, candy and dessert bars.
What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.
When kids snack non-stop, they’re also less likely to be hungry when mealtime rolls around. So although a healthy snack bar can have its place in your kid’s diet, it can also displace calories from other healthy, whole foods they might otherwise get at meals.
Something else I think that’s important to consider is our snack culture and the habits we’re teaching our kids.
Relying on snack bars (or any other type of processed snack) every day teaches kids to eat out of a package instead of eating real food.
Convenient makes our lives easier, but kids are missing out on valuable lessons like eating mindfully, shopping for healthy food, and preparing and cooking healthy meals.
If we want to raise healthy kids who not only accept, but crave healthy foods, we need to teach them these life lessons.
How to choose a healthy snack bar
Before you head to the store, there are some things to consider as you look for a healthy snack bar.
While you shouldn’t scrutinize calories, some of the snack bars have enough calories to be a meal for kids.
Also, when considering things like the amount of protein, fiber and sugar, you have to think about your kid’s overall diet. If your kid is already getting too much sugar from other snacks for example, you’ll want to think about the amount of sugar in the bar you choose.
Pay attention to protein
Protein promotes satiety so it’s the first thing you should look for on a label, especially because a lot of snack bars have little to none.
Look for filling fiber
Most kids don’t get enough fiber from fruits, vegetable and whole grains. In fact, 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 39 percent don’t eat any whole grains.
When you’re looking for a healthy snack bar, be sure to choose one that’s high-fiber. Not only is fiber filling, but it balances blood sugar levels, is heart-healthy, supports gut health, helps to prevent weight gain, and can help prevent and cure constipation.
Related: How Much Fiber Do Kids Need?
Also, sugar is sneaky and can be hidden behind at least 61 different names like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. When looking for a healthy snack bar, read labels and look for those with the least amount of sugar possible.
Avoid these ingredients
It’s best to avoid bars that have rice, due to concerns of arsenic, as well as artificial ingredients, preservatives and food dyes.
Look at saturated fat content
The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids’ health.
Fats are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger. They’re essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.
While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.
So look for bars that have healthy fats like nuts, peanut butter, chia seeds, and flaxseeds, for example.
Some of my favorite healthy snack bar options
I’m a big fan of KIND bars because they use whole ingredients like fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds and most are low in sugar. They have a wide selection of bars, including protein bars, breakfast bars and nut-free bars as well as their KIND Minis which are a good option for kids.
Larabar is one of my favorite brands because they only use between 2 and 9 whole food ingredients, some of their varieties are nut-free and they’re delicious. They also have bars with ingredients like spinach and kale, and a superfoods line with bars made with turmeric, ginger and cacao. While they also have a set of bars for kids, they don’t have fruits and vegetables and have less protein and fiber.
RX Bar are a protein bar brand that prides themselves on simple, whole ingredients that are clearly labeled on the front of the package. For little ones, stick with their kids’ bars which have the right amount of calories, protein and fiber and come in kid-friendly flavors like PB&J and chocolate chip.
This Saves Lives
This Saves Lives kids bars are made with fruits and vegetables and whole oats, only have 5 grams of sugar and are allergy- safe. One thing to note is that this is not a high-protein bar and some of their varieties have more fiber than others so read labels. What’s unique about the brand and something you can feel good about however, is that for every bar that’s purchased, the company sends life-saving food packet to a child in need around the world.
Or make your own healthy snack bar
I love to make homemade Larabars with my kids because it’s fun and they learn how to prepare healthy snacks. So if you’re so inclined too, here are some recipes to try.