Your kids come out of school and ask the inevitable question, “Can I have a snack?” The fact is that kids need to refuel approximately every four hours to keep their energy up and snacking is not bad. It’s what you decide to give them that matters the most.
Cookies, chips, and soda can sometimes add up to 600 calories or more, which could be the equivalent of a meal. These snacks are usually empty calories, high in sugar, which gives instant energy but are followed by a crash. Schools were not helping matters by offering poor choices in vending machines, but that is changing with the new Smart Snacks guidelines. That change doesn’t have to be limited to school, though. Bring Smart Snacks into your home as well.
Follow these tips for providing the absolute best for your children nutritionally while still having snacks be tasty:
- Keep it simple and look at the big picture! Shoot for snack that hits two or three food groups: protein, dairy, fruit, veggies, whole grains, or healthy fats rather than micromanaging the calories or specific ingredients.
- Combo it! Kids eat about 72% fewer calories when given a cheese and veggie snack, which is less boring and more satisfying, versus a pile of chips.
- Make it cool! When you offer a snack, ask your child what their favorite superhero would eat. In a study where 6 to 12 year olds were asked about what Batman or Spiderman might eat and then asked to make their own snack choices, 45% chose apple slices over fries, thereby lowering their calorie intake.
- Serve it up on kid-sized plates! Smaller dishes result in smaller portions. Adults, worried about your intake? Use smaller dishes too!
So what can you serve your kids? Here are some ideas:
Do the Dip!
Nothing satisfies like a crunchy-smooth combo of dipping sticks and saucy spreads. To keep calories low and nutrients high, pair 1 cup of fruits and veggies with a dip. Just be sure to stick with the recommended serving size!
- Dip sparingly: almond butter, peanut butter
- Dip moderately: guacamole, tzatziki, black bean dip, hummus
- Dip freely (almost!)
Grab and Go
In the real world, sometimes pre-packaged snacks have to suffice. Don’t sweat it: These options are all healthy picks, says Rachel Meltzer Warren, R.D.
- Yogurt tubes: Of the squeeze yogurts out there, Chobani Champions has the least added sugar and no artificial coloring.
- String cheese: It’s a good source of protein, which keeps kids feeling fuller longer. Meltzer Warren’s pick: Horizon Organic Mozzarella String Cheese. “I try to use organic dairy as much as possible to limit kids’ exposure to synthetic hormones and antibiotics,” she says.
- Applesauce: “I like Earth’s Best Kids because it has no added sweetener,” says Meltzer Warren.
- Fruit cups: Look for Dole Fruit Cups that are packaged in 100 percent juice.
- Granola bars: “Some come dangerously close to candy bar territory,” says Meltzer Warren. Her fave? Annie’s Organic: “They each have 8 grams of whole grains and are relatively low on the sugar scale.”
Keep the crunch but lose the grease with these healthy options.
- Get Fruity: Slice apples or pears very thinly. Lay slices in a single layer on parchment paper and bake at 200°F for two hours, flipping once.
- Veg Out: For beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, and parsnips, slice and toss with olive oil; bake at 350°F for 20 minutes. Flip and bake for another 20. Kale chips? Tear leaves into bite-size pieces and toss with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes total, flipping once.
Pair protein with quality carbs for a filling fruit-and-cheese combo that’s sure to please your kid’s palate. Serve 1.5 ounces of cheese (about three small cubes or 1 ½ slices) or 1/2 cup cottage cheese with about a cup of fruit slices.
- Cheddar with apples, pears, grapes, or stone fruit
- Feta with apples or pears
- Gouda with apples, pears, grapes, or stone fruit
- Swiss with apples or pears
- Cottage cheese with stone fruit, berries or melon
- Mozzarella with melon or berries
- Provolone with melon.
Mix It Up!
“Trail mix is a healthy, protein-rich favorite in my house,” says Maryann Jacobsen, R.D. “Your kids can build their own by choosing their favorite ingredients—just keep the proportions in check.” To make a big batch that you can store in a jar or plastic baggie, use this easy formula:
- 1/2 cup sweet treat
- 1 cup nuts/seeds
- 1 cup dried fruit
- 2 cups whole grain
Tip: Save those little plastic cups that applesauce and diced fruit come in. They’re about ½ cup—the perfect size for a single serving of trail mix.
For more tips on nutritionally sound snacks read Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School by Jessica Crandall, Rachel Warren, and Maryann Jacobsen.