Tara Ross, Registered Dietitian with the HeartLife program at Prisma Health Upstate, is also a mom and an expert in the healthy snack department. Here are her tips for healthy snacks that keep kids happy in between meals. Make substitutions as needed for allergies and remember to avoid choking hazards for young children. And while homemade is great, Ross isn’t opposed to store-bought snacks to make life easier. See her list for some dietitian favorites that are ready to grab and go.
Remember to practice what’s called the division of responsibility to help minimize conflict. This simply means that your job as the parent is to decide what foods you’ll offer, when snack time will be, and where snacks should be eaten. Your child’s job is to decide if and how much they will eat. For older kids, it may be helpful to involve them in the planning process or offer a choice (would you prefer nuts or cheese with your apple slices?) but ultimately you still decide what is served.
Make snacks more balanced by including fiber, fat, and protein. Fiber can come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Protein and fat can be found in nuts, seeds, nut butter, cheese, meat, eggs, yogurt, and avocado. Many snack foods tend to be high in carbohydrates but low in fiber and protein, which can leave kids (and parents) less satisfied.
Prep snacks ahead of time to reduce snack time stress and use pre-portioned containers such as bento boxes to make storing and serving easy. Muffins made with oats or whole wheat flour, pureed fruit such as bananas, and Greek yogurt can be an easy high fiber, protein-rich option to make ahead. They work well for breakfast, too. If you have constant requests for pre-dinner snacks, consider putting out a veggie “appetizer” tray.
Don’t be afraid to rely on packaged snacks when you need to (hello, spring sports!). There are plenty of choices available that have less sugar, more protein, and more fiber. Just try to keep added sugars to less than 6 grams per serving and fiber to 3 grams or more per serving.
Healthy snack ideas:
- Fruit/dried fruit with nuts or nut butter (Use Sunbutter for nut allergies.)
- Make your own to-go pouches of fruit and nuts (Kids can help!)
- Ants on a log or apple “nachos”
- Fruit with a Greek yogurt dip
- Fruit with cheese
- Use grapes, berries, and precut fruit to save time
- Make skewers/kabobs to keep it interesting
- Greek yogurt with whole grain cereal
- Multigrain tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole (Add cheese for more protein.)
- Veggies with a hummus, guacamole, ranch, or yogurt dip
- Carrot chips/sticks, bell pepper slices, cucumber slices, sugar snap peas
- Make your own ranch dressing with a Greek yogurt base
- Mix half guac and half Greek yogurt for more protein
- Fruit and yogurt smoothies or popsicles (You can also add spinach or cauliflower.)
- Whole wheat or oat muffins made with added fruits, shredded veggies, and/or nuts
- Popcorn with nuts
- Whole grain crackers with reduced fat cheese or nut butter
- Mini whole wheat pita pockets stuffed with veggies and hummus or nut butter and sliced banana
- Homemade bagel bites: Mini whole wheat bagel or English muffin topped with low sodium pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese (toasted)
- Energy bites
- Half of a sandwich (nut butter and jam, turkey/chicken, or tuna salad)
Convenient snack products
- “No sugar added” or “packed in juice” fruit cups and applesauce
- Baby carrots, pre-cut broccoli/cauliflower, sugar snap peas, or snow peas
- Pre-cut fruit, raisins, dates, apple chips
- Jif Natural peanut butter to-go cups
- Sabra hummus to-go cups
- Hidden Valley Light Ranch to-go cups
- String cheese, cheese slices/cubes, Laughing Cow or Babybel
- Roasted chickpeas (Saffron Road or Simply Balanced)
- Crackers: Wheat Thins, Triscuits, Mary’s SuperSeed, Crunchmaster multi-grain, Wasa multi-grain
- Unsalted or lightly salted nuts (pre-portioned Emerald or Planters bags are an option)
- 100 percent whole grain bread, bagels, or mini bagels
- Greek yogurt cups/pouches: Stonyfield, Siggis, Chobani (limit added sugars to less than 6g per serving)
- Bars: Kashi Grain Free, KIND, Rx Bar, LaraBar, Trader Joes Chia bars, Perfect Kids (keep fiber at 3-5g and keep added sugar to less than 6g)