Snacks make up a good part of any child’s diet, and consuming healthy snacks helps bridge hunger between meals, prevents overindulging on less healthy foods, and keeps their energy levels up. When it comes to quick and easy back to school snacks, choose those that have relatively low added sugar, low saturated fat, vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber. Here are a few great choices for kids of all ages:
- Whole grain or enriched grain crackers with part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks
- Pretzel thins with nut butter or hummus
- Low-sugar yogurt with a cup of your favorite cereal
- Seaweed snack packs (low in calories, provide fiber, and have no added sugars)
- Fruit kebabs (to make it more fun, add a mini marshmallow between the fruit pieces)
According to a recent NHANES study, 28 percent of a child’s caloric intake should consist of snacks as long as they provide great nutrition. For serving sizes, children can eat three meals and two snacks per day starting as early as age one. Children ages 2-18 should not have more than 25 grams of sugar per day, which is approximately 6 teaspoons. Another way to look at it is to make sure sugar is less than 15% of the total calories in a food item.
When reading food labels when choosing snacks for your kids, sugar should not be one of the top three ingredients listed. Companies can be sneaky by writing ‘organic molasses,’ ‘natural honey,’ or similar terms on labels, but these are all forms of sugar. Milk is a great snack alternative, as it provides vitamin D and calcium for growing kids. Portion sizing on the label will help avoid over-consumption.
Take your child’s eating habits and abilities into consideration when trying to select the right snacks. A handful of nuts is a healthy snack choice, but only give them to your child if they are 4 years or older and can chew hard foods well. Natural popcorn is also a great source of fiber but is a choking hazard in young children.
Snacks are just as important for teens, as their bodies are still growing and developing just like your little ones. Since most older kids will want to choose or buy their own snacks, the most important thing is to encourage them to choose healthy options. Keep your fridge and cabinets stocked with nutritious and convenient options like fruits and vegetables, yogurt, bread for a slice of avocado toast or nut butter, and a wide array of lower-sugar cereals that they can scoop into a cup when they’re on-the-go to ensure their bodies are getting the nutrients they need.
The above information was contributed by Dr. Dyan Hes.