Snacks are an important part of a child's eating schedule. They help curb hunger and keep them feeling energetic throughout the day. Childhood sets the foundation for a lifetime of healthy habits. It's important to give your kids healthy snacks and healthy snacking habits.
Are Snacks for Kids Safe?
In general, it’s safe to give your kids snacks. But to set up healthy habits, give snacks with intention. Some kids graze throughout the day, always eating and never feeling truly hungry or full. It’s important for kids to learn hunger signals to keep a healthy weight through childhood and into adulthood. Snacks also keep kids from getting "hangry": crankiness caused by hunger.
How much should kids snack? Younger kids need three meals plus two snacks per day. Older kids and teenagers need three meals and one snack per day. Older kids and teens may need two snacks if they play sports, are very active, or have a growth spurt.
When should kids snack? Offer kids snacks a few hours after meal times and at least 1 or 2 hours before the next meal. School-age children should always have the option for an after-school snack. If your child does after-school activities, make sure to pack them something yummy and healthy.
Seven healthy snacks for kids. So, you've worked out a snack schedule. Now, what do you feed your kids? Here are seven healthy snack ideas you can try:
- Fresh fruits
- Dried fruits
- Fresh vegetables (serve with hummus for a more appealing snack)
- Carrot sticks
- Celery sticks
- Bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Peanut butter on toast
- Tuna on toast
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Yogurt with fruit
Snacks to avoid. Everyone deserves a treat now and again, but keep things like candy, cake, chips, and ice cream out of the house at most times. If these snacks aren’t around, they will be easier for kids to avoid. That doesn't mean you shouldn't serve cake on your child's birthday, for example. Experts just don’t recommend it as a daily after-school snack.
Try to avoid serving too many processed foods. This means anything that comes in a box or a bag. These foods tend to have more added sugar and salt than other foods and don't offer as much nutritional value as fruits, vegetables, and lean, natural proteins.
Other Things to Think About
In addition to the content of the snacks themselves, healthy snacking habits are important!
Keep healthy snacks in sight. Put produce out in a basket where kids can see it. Put healthy snacks at eye level for kids or toddlers in the fridge. When kids are feeling munchy, they’re more likely to grab what catches their eye. Give your kid their own snack drawer or cabinet that they can reach. Fill it with healthy options they enjoy. When they’re hungry, encourage them to pick something out for themselves.
Encourage snack independence. Young kids can get their own snacks if they’re simple enough. Baby carrots, sliced bell peppers, or whole-grain cereals are good for many children. Even preschoolers can learn how to wash fruit or spread peanut butter on toast with your supervision.
Designate a snack area. To avoid mindless snacking, keep eating to one or two areas of your home. It may be your normal dining area, a space in the kitchen, or both.
Don't allow snacking with screen time. Studies have shown that eating while watching TV can lead to overeating. Keep eating to the snack area, and don't allow your child to use a TV, iPad, or smartphone while eating.
Teach your kids about food. Show kids that eating all colors of the rainbow is important. You can even teach them about agriculture and where their food comes from to give them more information about healthy nutrition and food production.
Snacking on a budget. Save money on fruit by going with frozen over fresh. It has the same nutritional benefits and often costs less. You can also buy frozen fruit in bulk without worrying that it will go bad before you have the chance to use it all. Frozen fruit is great in smoothies or as a topping for yogurt or cottage cheese.
Busy teenagers. As kids get older and more independent, you have less control over their snacking. They may get a job or have a busy social calendar. Setting up good snacking habits in young childhood and offering teens healthy, convenient on-the-go options are two great ways to keep snacks healthy.