How many times have your kids asked for snacks today? Are we in the double digits?
It can feel frustrating and overwhelming when your kids want a zillion snacks each day, and yet what they are asking for might not be the healthiest options. Finding healthy snacks for kids can be challenging, especially if your little one is a picky eater.
One of the best ways to help children develop healthy habits and healthy bodies is to provide healthy food for them when they are young. In this blog post, we will discuss 5 Nutritionist approved ideas to make snack time healthier. Easy tips to improve your child's snacking habits so that they get the nutrition they need while still enjoying the snacks that you are offering - definitely a WIN-WIN!
Do kids need snacks?
Children need snacks to maintain healthy energy levels and to get the nutrients their growing bodies need. In general, I recommend that you offer your younger children three meals and three snacks daily. As kids get older, 1-2 snacks per day may be enough.
However, not all snacks are created equal. Many snacks that kids love or even that seem healthy, aren’t offering quite as much nutrition as you’d guess.
Many unhealthy snacks are high in added sugar and other nutrients that are not nourishing your child’s best health. That's why it is important for parents to cultivate healthy habits, even at snack time.
What does "healthy" mean?
There are many different pre-purchased “healthy” snacks that are marketed to kids, but it's important to know what exactly the term “healthy” means. For today, our criteria for healthy is that the foods are low in added sugar, contain no artificial colors and are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, most of the time. Usually, the ingredient list has less than 5 items on it, and you can pronounce most if not all of them. Whole, unprocessed foods will usually meet all those requirements.
Tip 1: Pair Two Foods
For optimal nutrition and satisfaction, I recommend that you offer different food groups when giving your kids snacks. Not only does this give you the opportunity to make a more satisfying snack, but it also gives your child more variety throughout the day.
Some healthy food pairings are:
● Freeze-dried strawberries and dry cereal or pretzels
● Crunchy chickpeas and air popped popcorn
● Carrots and tortilla or veggie chips dipped in guacamole
● Steamed veggies and hummus
● Cut up fresh fruit and cubed chicken
● Berries and yogurt (or dairy free option) for dipping
● Homemade yogurt parfait popsicles (see recipe below)
Offering more than one food item is also helpful for gently exposing picky eaters to different foods that might be out of their comfort zone for now. Keep the pressure off (no forcing a bite) and just make the experience fun.
And if your children are usually having processed and packaged snacks that you’d like to get away from, offer the new foods with the packaged snack instead of just taking the packaged snack away.
Tip 2: Vary presentation
It takes anyone a while to get used to something that feels new. And for kids – especially our picky eaters – new can mean scary and uncomfortable!
Think about carrots. Baby carrots are one way to offer carrots to your kids as a snack, but there are other options, too!
You can offer carrots as a pureed pouch with carrots in the mix, shredded carrots for a different texture, roasted carrots for a different flavor, and even peels of a large carrot (feel free to call them ribbons!).
Each time your child has a chance to get to know the food in a low-pressure environment, it helps to build their confidence and eventually try it (and maybe even like it!).
Tip 3: Keep the portions small
If you’re working on new foods, snack time is a great opportunity because if they don't eat much (or any) of the new food, dinner is right around the corner. By the time dinner is here, everyone tends to be more tired and less patient, so it can feel more difficult to make progress at that time.
When offering new foods at snack time, keep the portions of the new food small. For your child, it makes the experience less overwhelming.
And if age-appropriate, use toothpicks or other fun tools to serve the food. This keeps the experience more fun and playful for our kids, especially kids who can get overloaded with too much sensory information.
Silicone muffin cups, skewers or special bowls with their favorite characters are fun ways to offer snacks making them even more appealing.
Tip 4: Compare
You know what's fun and less pressure? Exploring!
Instead of forcing your child to “just take a bite,” make the new food feel fun. This is lower pressure and more fun for everyone, not just your kids.
Try buying a few different varieties of a new food next time you're at the grocery store. For example, four or five different kinds of apples. And during an afternoon when you have some free time, ask your child to describe how the apples are different in terms of size, color, and smell.
Which one smells the best?
Next: cut very tiny slices of each type of apple and invite your child to try them. Which apple is the sweetest? Most sour? Crunchiest?
Have fun ranking and exploring, which is way more fun than commanding your child to try a bite!
Tip 5: Involve your child
The more that you're able to offer your child the opportunity to be involved, the better. For example, if you're shopping for healthy snacks at the grocery store, ask your child which two healthy snacks they want to try this week.
Next: You can also offer choices when it comes to how foods are prepared. For example, would your child like their apple sliced or diced? Would they like to eat it with a dip, like a nut butter? Do they want their avocado cut up or smashed onto toast or made into guacamole and served with a veggie chip?
Kids can do far more tasks in the kitchen than most parents would guess. Will it be slower and messier to get them involved? At first, yes! But with time, their skills will grow (and the mess will slowly diminish).
Your child is going to be more open-minded about foods that they've helped to prepare.
Here’s a quick popsicle recipe for you and your kids to try making at home. You will need to purchase the molds and some popsicle sticks, but both are inexpensive and can be found at your local craft store or online.
Yogurt Parfait Popsicles
● 1 cup plain Greek yogurt (or coconut milk yogurt for dairy free)
● 1 tablespoon raw honey
● ½ cup Strawberries, or other fruit
● ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
● 6 Popsicle sticks
Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture evenly into Popsicle molds and place in freezer for 1 hour.
After an hour, insert Popsicle sticks and return to the freezer for another 10 hours or overnight. Once frozen, remove from freezer and let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before unmolding.
Makes 6 tasty Popsicles.