If your kids are anything like mine, they come home from school starving. If I don’t have a snack ready for them, they rummage through the cupboards or refrigerator until they find something they want. Our goal should be to make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks. With a little planning, we can make snacks a healthy part of our kids’ diets. We can tackle hunger and good nutrition at the same time.
Why should we care what our kids are eating for snacks? Kids are eating more snacks than ever, and the calories that come from snacks are also increasing. Unfortunately, the snacks that kids are choosing are not the most nutritious. Studies have shown that kids that snack more often have lower quality diets.1 Most foods that are eaten as snacks are high in sugar and saturated fats and have few vitamins and minerals.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way! Snacks are a great way to add more healthy foods into kids’ diets (the ones they may not be getting enough of in their regular meals). Focus on plant based food, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Also, include foods from two or three food groups to make the snack more nutritious and satisfying.
We can start having more healthy choices available for our kids by overhauling our snack cupboard. A healthy snack shopping list is important—if you don’t buy the food for healthy snacks your kids definitely won’t eat them. Here are some ideas of foods you can use to re-vamp your snack supply in the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
|In the Pantry
||In the Refrigerator
||In the Freezer
- 100% whole grain crackers and breads
- Nuts, like pistachios
- Fruit, like apples, papaya, and grapes
- Dried fruit, like raisins and dried cherries
- Applesauce or other 100% fruit sauces
- Whole grain dry cereal, like toasted oat cereal
- Nut butters, like almond butter
- Whole grain pasta
- Whole grain pretzels
- Beans, like black and garbanzo
- Low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese) Soy, rice, or almond milk
- Vegetables, like cherry tomatoes, baby carrots and red peppers
- Fruit, like blueberries, grapes, and watermelon
- Hard boiled eggs
- Whole wheat tortillas
- Edamame (soybeans)
- Frozen fruit, like berries and peaches
- Frozen low-fat yogurt sticks
- Whole grain waffles
Thinking about and planning snacks makes it easier to provide healthy snacks that will get eaten. Here are a few snack tips:
- Available: have a snack already prepared after school or put healthy snacks in front of the refrigerator/cupboard/counter. For example, a fresh berry and yogurt parfait right in the front of the refrigerator is more likely to be chosen then strawberries that are unwashed and uncut and a yogurt hidden in the back of the refrigerator.
- Tasty and visually appealing: include food you know your kids will eat and present it in a fun and attractive way. You do want your kids to try new things, but introduce new foods with foods that they are familiar with. For example, try a new fruit, such as mango, cut up with a familiar fruit, such as apples. There are many ways to make healthy food appealing. For younger children, arrange food in a fun way on a plate (like a face). For older kids, keep fruits and vegetables fresh: a bowl of fresh cut watermelon on a hot day is going to be more appealing than soft apples in a fruit bowl.
- Portable: have healthy snacks pre-packaged in baggies or cut up in small containers for cars or backpacks.
- Fun: change things up and be creative. Don’t have the same snack every day. You could have a routine snack for each day of the week, like every Monday fruit salad and yogurt, but have one day that is a surprise snack day (so you can try a new snack idea each week).
Snacks can be a great way to add more nutrients and healthy foods to a kid’s day. So, get out your shopping list and start planning some fun and healthy snacks!
Healthy Snack Ideas
- Small bags of trail mix (whole grain cereal or pretzels, dried fruit (unsweetened), nuts, a few chocolate chips)
- Berry and yogurt parfait (layer vanilla yogurt and berries, then top with nuts or granola)
- Black bean quesadilla (whole grain tortilla with low-fat cheese, beans, and salsa)
- “Bugs on a log” (celery and peanut butter with pistachios and raisins on top)
- Whole grain waffle topped with yogurt and applesauce
- Vegetables and whole grain pitas with hummus
- Pasta salad with whole grain pasta and vegetables
Kids Eat Right, American Dietetic Association. (2010). The State of Family Nutrition and Physical Activity, Are We Making Progress? http://www.eatright.org (last accessed November 30, 2011)