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Healthy Snacks for Kids: Nutritious Ideas for Your Little Ones

Not all snacks are created equal

Healthy Snacks for Kids: Nutritious Ideas for Your Little Ones

Photo: iStockphoto

Kids and snacks are practically inseparable, and wherever kids go, snacks are sure to follow. Whether they're at school, daycare, or home with you on weekends, snacking is a regular part of a child's day. When done right, snacks can boost energy, satisfy hunger, and provide essential nutrition between meals. However, not all snacks are created equal, and some are more nutritious than others.

To share expert tips and guidance on all things snacks, we've called in Colleen Wysocki, MS, RDN, CLC to help us crack the code on a healthy snack routine for kids.

What makes a healthy snack for kids?

What children eat in childhood can influence their eating habits and overall health as they grow. "According to a 2023 study in the journal Nutrients, everything from picky eating to obesity and diabetes, and even heart disease have been linked to childhood dietary patterns," explains Wysocki. Wysocki suggests selecting snacks that include fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, or dairy to maintain a balanced diet and support a child's health and development.

With that in mind, here are some key components to focus on when preparing snacks for your kids:

Include whole Foods

Choose snacks made from whole foods. According to Wysocki, whole foods are minimally processed, unlike ultra-processed foods that contain ingredients you wouldn't typically find in your kitchen. Examples of whole foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and dairy products like yogurt and cheese.

15 Healthy Toddler Snacks They're Sure to Love Canva/Getty

Add protein or fat

Protein and fat provide satiety and sustained energy, especially when paired with carbs. For instance, a rice cake is a good snack on its own, but add some peanut butter for lean protein or avocado for healthy fats, and it becomes a much more satisfying and energizing snack. Plus, protein and fat slow the digestion of carbohydrates, preventing blood sugar spikes and crashes that can leave kids feeling tired and irritable.

Consider fibre

Carbs are the body's preferred source of energy, and kids need a lot of them. Choose ones packed with fibre, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, to make them count. Fibre improves digestion, stabilizes blood sugar levels, and will help kids feel fuller for longer, especially on those long school days.

Be mindful of added sugar

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While desserts and sweets have a place in a child's diet, they're not the best choice for snacks. Foods high in added sugar can spike blood sugar levels, leaving kids cranky and moody. If your kiddo is craving something sweet, try fresh or dried fruits first. And on those days when cookies or a donut are on the snack menu – pair them with some protein or healthy fats to prevent those dreaded hangry meltdowns.

Avoid choking hazards

Steer clear of foods with choking risks, especially for kids under age 4. These foods are typically small and round or foods that are sharp, sticky, gummy, super slippery, or rubbery. You can still offer these foods, but make sure to prepare them safely by cutting them into appropriate, safe pieces or adjusting their textures. Some common choking hazards include hot dogs, firm fruits and vegetables like raw carrot sticks or apples, whole grapes or blueberries, whole or large chunks of nuts (like trail mix), and popcorn.

Easy and nutritious snack ideas

Now that we've covered the essentials of a healthy snack let's put it into practice. Here are some of our favourite easy snacks for kids:

Peanut butter sandwiches

Peanut butter sandwiches aren't just for lunch—they make awesome snacks too! They take less than a minute to prepare, don't need to be refrigerated, and can be easily tossed in a backpack for a day at the park. Wysocki recommends selecting whole grain bread and peanut butter made without added sugars for your sandwich fixings. And if you have to be careful of peanut allergies, swap out peanut butter for mashed avocado, hummus, peanut-free nut butter, or a couple of slices of grilled cheese.

young child eating a piece of toast with peanut butter on it iStock

Whole grain crackers and dip

Crackers are a classic kid snack, and pairing them with a dip keeps kids satisfied until lunch. Look for crackers made with wholesome ingredients and at least 2 to 3 grams of fibre per serving. For example, Better With Buckwheat crackers are made with whole grains like buckwheat and cassava flour, packed with fiber-rich psyllium husk, and contain zero grams of sugar.

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When it comes to dips, choose ones made with protein and healthy fats, like guacamole, hummus, bean dip, chopped hard-boiled eggs, or even ranch dressing made from plain Greek yogurt.

Fruit and cheese

If your kiddo is craving a salty and sweet combo, slice up some fruit and pair it with cheese. There are so many tasty options that even the pickiest eaters will find something they love. Try apple slices with cheddar, fresh berries with gouda, string cheese with sliced pear, or mix melon or peaches into cottage cheese.

Granola or protein bars

Bars are the ultimate 2-in-1 snack, and if you choose right, you can find ones that combine whole grains and protein in one convenient package. They're perfect for on-the-go snacking or tossing in a school lunch,  and there are a bunch of options to choose from. Look for bars without added sugar and naturally sweetened with fresh or dried fruit instead.

We love Once Upon A Farm's Refrigerated Oat Bars—they're made with whole grain oats, have 4 grams of protein per bar, and are sweetened with fruit. Skout Organic Kids Snack Bars are another great choice. They are gluten-free and made with fresh and dried fruit and sunflower seeds.

Snack preparation and planning tips

In a 24-hour period, kids might eat two or three snacks each. If you've got multiple kids, you're prepping many snacks throughout the week. To make things easier, here are some prep and planning tips for snack time:

Batch-cook

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We love prepping big batches of healthy homemade snacks to have ready for the week—perfect for lunches, after-school hunger, or even stocking the freezer to make life easier on those busy days. Here are some of Wysocki's delicious and nutritious homemade snack recipes:

Involve kids in the kitchen

Get your kids involved in prepping snacks for the week. They can help slice veggies (with kid-friendly knives, of course!), portion out servings, or organize the pantry after a trip to the grocery store.

Mom and daughter cooking together in the kitchen iStock

Keep a well-stocked pantry

Create a list of all your kids' favourite snacks and tape it to your pantry wall. Choose 4 or 5 snacks from the list each week and add them to your shopping list. This keeps your pantry stocked and saves you time when you're planning grocery trips. Rotate the snacks regularly so your kids enjoy a variety of different foods.

Navigating store-bought packaged snacks

While we encourage parents to serve fresh, homemade whole foods whenever possible, sometimes you just need a quick grab-and-go option to toss into backpacks or school lunches. Here are some tips to better navigate the snack aisle:

  • Check out the ingredient list: Wysocki recommends looking at the ingredient list to determine the level of processing. If the list is long and includes unfamiliar ingredients, it's likely ultra-processed, so it's best to skip it.
  • Review the nutrition label: Pay attention to how much of each nutrient is in a serving, especially added sugars and protein content.
  • Avoid food dyes: Wysocki suggests skipping foods that contain food dyes or artificial colours (like Red Dye No. 40 or Yellow 5). Recent research suggests these additives may impact a child's neurobehavioral and renal function.

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Dahlia Rimmon is a pediatric dietitian and freelance writer. When she’s not preparing yummy snacks for her kids, Dahlia delights in traveling and hiking with her family. She lives with her husband, children, and puppy in the Midwest.

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