Secrets of Healthy Snacks for Kids
Learn how to read between the lines on a label to find healthy -- and tasty -- snacks.
Decoding 'Fruit' Snacks
Many snack foods marketed for kids claim to be "made with
real fruit" or to provide other nutritional benefits associated with fresh
fruits. But many of them are made with little more than sugary corn syrup with
a dash of fruit juice and have little nutritional value.
Brandeis says the FDA requires that all food labels list the
percentage of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of vitamin A, vitamin C,
calcium, and iron the food provides. By reading that part of the label, parents
can get a good idea of how closely a "fruit snack" resembles the real
"Look on the food labels and see if they are getting any
vitamins or minerals from that product," Brandeis tells WebMD. "If they
see a bunch of zeros or really low numbers you can probably think to yourself
that it's not as healthy as it seems."
Brandeis says foods with more than 10% RDA of those vitamins or
minerals are considered a good source of these nutrients and those with greater
than 20% are excellent sources.
Mixing Makes Better Snacks
Experts say one of the most common problems in children's
snacking habits is eating too much of one kind of food, like crackers or
Rather than offer just one food item as a snack, Brandeis says
the goal in healthy snacking should be to combine at least two food groups,
like a protein and a carbohydrate. Not only will a combo snack pack more
nutrients into kids' diets, but it will be more filling and tide them over
until their next meal, which is the whole point of snacking anyway.
Examples of kid-friendly healthy snack combinations
- Sandwiches made with meats or peanut butter
- Crunchy vegetable sticks with low-fat ranch dip
- Hummus and pita wedges
- Yogurt parfait with low-fat yogurt and fruit
- Slice of leftover pizza
- Fruit smoothie made in a blender with fresh fruit, yogurt, and juice
- Sliced tomato with mozzarella cheese
- Melon cubes with a slice of turkey
- Hard-boiled egg with a slice of whole-wheat bread
- Low-fat yogurt with berries and almonds
- "Light" microwave popcorn with grated parmesan cheese
- Bowl of cereal with milk
- Banana slices with peanut butter
Brandeis says simply adding 1% or skim milk to cereal and
cookies or peanut butter to snack items like crackers and fruit is an easy way
to add calcium and protein to an otherwise carbohydrate-only snack.
Parents should also choose high-fiber carbohydrates such as
whole-grain breads, woven-wheat crackers, and cereals over refined
carbohydrates such as white bread and saltines.
Pay Attention to Portion Size
Another common snacking pitfall is not paying attention to
portion size. Instead of handing over a bag of chips, parents should
pre-portion their child's snacks and put servings of foods that come in large
containers in small plastic bags to grab on the go or put a snack-sized serving
on a plate.
Gonzalez says carbohydrates are not necessarily evil, but
parents need to limit the amount of refined carbohydrates found in candy,
cookies, white rice, and pastas that their children eat.
"Everything can be part of their diet as long as you
control it," Gonzalez tells WebMD. "What happens is that we tend to
forget about the other food groups, and then we put everything on