As summer winds down and kids head back to school, it’s a great time to try some new, kid-friendly, healthy snacks. Studies show the number of calories kids consume from snacks is on the rise with as much as 25% to 35% of their daily calories coming from snack foods. The problem isn’t the snacking itself, but what kids are snacking on – the largest increases have been in salty snack and candy consumption, while desserts and sweet drinks continue to be major sources of calories.
Children have higher nutrient needs than adults, so snacks play an important role in providing the fuel needed for bone growth and brain development. When healthy choices are offered at the right times, snacks help manage hunger, while also boosting nutrition, focus and energy.
Offering snacks at predictable times, and not too close to meals, decreases grazing and increases the odds they’ll be hungry at meal time. Consistent snack and meal times can also help kids recognize hunger and fullness cues, a key factor for maintaining a healthy weight as a child and as an adult.
The type of snack also matters. One study published in 2016 showed that adolescents who chose healthy snacks, such as fruit, performed better academically than students who chose sugary foods, sugar-sweetened beverages, instant noodles or fast food. The majority of snacks should be fruits and vegetables because most kids don’t eat the recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which provide the fiber, vitamin A and vitamin C their growing bodies need.
There’s a common misconception that fresh produce is an expensive snack, but they’re actually less costly than many sweet or salty snacks. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the average cost of a serving of fruit or vegetable (includes fresh, frozen and canned) is 25 cents per serving. A single-serve bag of chips or cookies is far more expensive on a per serving basis.
Fruits: In addition to fruits that are fresh, local and in season, there are many other healthy options to keep on hand.
- Unsweetened applesauce, fruit cups and canned fruits are always good to have available in the pantry for an easy, low cost option. Dried fruits with no added sugar, such as raisins, apricots, apples and dates make easy, on-the-go snacks.
- Frozen fruits, such as grapes, blueberries, strawberries, peaches and mangoes add variety in texture and are refreshing on a hot day after school.
- Smoothies are a healthy way to incorporate more than one fruit or vegetable. Make extra and freeze the leftovers in small cups or popsicle molds for a refreshing smoothie cup or pop later. Most premade smoothies purchased at the grocery store are loaded with added sugars and fruit juice.
- When life is too busy to prepare your own snacks, purchasing individual servings, such as sliced apples and baby carrots, or pre-chopped fresh fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store can be a valuable time saver.
Vegetables: Sometimes it can be challenging to get kids to eat vegetables because their taste buds favor sweet foods. As they get older, their taste buds continue to develop, so the most important strategy is, “Try, try again”. Over time kids are more likely to eat vegetables and a variety of foods if they’re repeatedly exposed to a variety of choices. If you’re child isn’t keen on vegetables, serve a small portion, but continue to include it as part of the daily choices. Eventually most kids come around to eating more vegetables.
- Fresh is always great, but frozen is a very healthy option too because the nutrients are locked in during the freezing process.
- Blending vegetables into smoothies, soups and pasta sauces is great, but it’s also important to offer vegetables in their whole form, so kids can see and learn that vegetables every day are part of healthy choices. Even if they don’t eat them, keep trying!
Aim to include two different food groups at each snack opportunity. Try these delicious kid-friendly snacks to get started:
- Sliced Apple + Almond Butter
- Fruit Kebabs + handful of Cashews*
- Caveman Foods Dark Chocolate Caramel Cashew Mini bar + Strawberries
- Baby carrots + Guacamole
- Homemade Trail Mix: almonds + raisins + pumpkin seeds
- Grass-fed Yogurt + Fruit + Sunflower Seeds
- Fruit Smoothie Pop + handful of Almonds*
- Sliced Hard-boiled Egg + Sweet Potato Chips
- Celery with Cashew Butter, topped with Shredded coconut
- Cucumber slices with Almond Butter, topped with Raisins
- Banana sliced lengthwise, topped with Sunflower Seed Butter & Chopped Dates
- Almond Milk Yogurt with chopped Caveman Foods Dark Chocolate Cashew Almond bar
There are so many ways to create delicious, healthy, kid-friendly snacks for school, on-the-go and at home. We’d love it if you’d share your snack ideas with us!
*whole nuts are not recommended for children < 4 years old due to the risk of choking.