Parents want to feed their kids nutritious foods, but when it comes to snack time, it can be a challenge to find easy, on-the-go options that are also healthy and unprocessed.
"Snack time is difficult because parents want to grab something quickly, whether it's after school, between practices or on the way to a game," says Mariana Skertchly, a dietitian at Children's Health℠. "It's easy to grab something that's packaged, but most packaged foods are processed, starchy and high in sugar and do not provide a good balance of key nutrients."
Healthy snacks not only help kids get the fuel they need to learn and grow, but also cement healthy eating habits for mealtimes. Skertchly shares some of the best healthy snacks for kids and tips for parents to help manage the snack time rush.
5 tips to make snack time easier and healthier
There are usually two obstacles for parents to get their kids to eat healthy at snack time: 1) families are pressed for time, and 2) kids can be very picky eaters. Fortunately, Skertchly has a few tricks up her sleeves that she often shares with parents to quickly fill hungry bellies with nutritious food kids enjoy.
Tip #1: Plan ahead
Whether you plan a day ahead or for a week's worth of snacks, Skertchly encourages parents to choose which snacks they'll make or pack ahead of time. Just a few minutes of planning before you grocery shop makes it much easier to grab a healthy snack later that week.
"A snack menu – just like a dinner menu – can help ease the snack time rush and allow parents to prepare snacks ahead of time," Skertchly says. "It's also a great way to get kids involved and help them feel a sense of control over what they'll have at snack time."
Tip #2: Include fruits and vegetables
Snack time should also include a fruit or vegetable. For picky eaters, parents can make it less of a battle by letting their kids pick which fruit or vegetables they want to try for the week. Mandarin oranges, applesauce, banana, carrots, grapes, celery sticks and sugar snap peas are all easy, on-the-go snacks that kids like.
Tip #3: Choose a whole grain
Skip enriched flour and focus instead on whole grain. Pick up whole-grain pretzels, popcorn or whole-wheat crackers for a filling snack that delivers the nutrients they need.
Tip #4: Make snacks together
Invite children into the kitchen to make healthy, unprocessed snacks together. Trail mix, energy balls and homemade granola bars are an excellent opportunity to get kids excited about eating healthy and connect with family.
Tip #5: Pre-portion snacks
Snacks divided into baggies or measured into cups make for quick, healthy options for kids on the go. It makes it easy for kids to head to the pantry or refrigerator and choose something unprocessed rather than reaching for a bag of chips.
Quick, healthy snack ideas for kids
Simple is better when it comes to offering your child a healthy option at snack time. Skertchly's favorite snack ideas for busy kids (and parents) include:
- Cracker stackers with cucumber, cheese and turkey
- Fruit kabobs
- Grapes and a string cheese
- Homemade trail mix: Try ingredients like a variety of nuts, dried fruits, popcorn, goldfish, peanut butter chips, dark chocolate, banana chips and shredded coconut
- Low-fat yogurt with fruit or granola topping
- Mandarin oranges and nuts
- Peanut butter and apples
- Peanut butter and bananas
- Pickles and a string cheese
- Raw vegetables and dipping sauce (hummus, ranch, Greek yogurt)
"Be sure to include a healthy fat or protein with the snack," encourages Skertchly. "It keeps kids feeling fuller, longer."
As a final tip, Skertchly encourages parents to give children snacks only at regularly scheduled snack times or if they are truly hungry. This helps avoid mindless snacking and helps teach children to pay attention to hunger and satiety cues.
See more tips to reduce the amount of processed foods in your family's diet.
Download a free recipe e-book
Looking for easy meal ideas to keep your family healthy? Download 10 Easy and Healthy Weeknight Suppers to receive dietitian-recommended recipes your kids will love.
Interested in learning more about healthier habits for your family? Read more about pediatric weight management programs that include Get Up & Go, COACH, bariatrics and nutrition clinics.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.