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Choosing Healthy Snacks

The snack food section of the supermarket, for both adults and children, continues to grow. However, it can be easy to get confused about what makes a nutritionally sound snack choice for small children. To help you at the supermarket, we’ve compiled a short guide to the things to look for in a nutritionally sound snack food.

Does it contain good nutrients?

Some examples of positive nutrients are fibre, protein or whole grains — these nutrients will contribute positively to your child’s overall dietary intake. Keeping in mind that young children do not need a lot of food, we ideally want to maximise the good nutrients that are being consumed. For instance, a slice of cheese contains protein, magnesium and calcium, among other key nutrients. If you compare this to a few rice crackers, which offer little more than processed carbohydrates, the cheese is a much better option. As a rough rule of thumb, any food that contains 3-5 grams of protein or 2-3 grams of dietary fibre, is more likely to be a good snack option.

What does the ingredient list look like?

Look out for foods that contain only a few simple ingredients — like milk, fruit, and vegetables — as it is likely to be a good choice as it’s in a natural state. On the other hand, processed snack bars and biscuits — with long ingredient lists — are more likely to be not so good for us nutritionally. For example, this might be a muesli finger which contains: Fruit and Fruit Juice, Muesli, Rice Flour, Sugar, Honey, Yoghurt Coating, Maize Starch, Skim Milk Powder and Citrus fibre. Looking at this long ingredient list, it is safe to say that no toddler needs a muesli bar that contains refined flours and added sugar when they are so young.

Does it contain concentrated sugars?

A quick scan of any ingredient list will also reveal if a food contains added sugar. Sugar may be listed as sugar itself, but remember it can also be disguised as honey, glucose, rice malt syrup, dextrose, barley malt, sucrose, and agave syrup. It is often reported that some sugars are better than others. This is with the exception of the natural sugars fructose, which is found naturally in fresh fruit, and lactose, which is found naturally in dairy. However, added sugar is still best avoided where possible, especially for young children.

How big should the snack be?

There is a big difference between a mini yoghurt tube and an adult sized serve of breakfast biscuits. Young children need small serves of food. So, if the snack is adult size or contains more than 150 calories, it is too big for them and too high in calories. For more information on nutrition and snacking for kids, see my articles below:

Is snacking a dirty word?

Let’s talk about snacking: how often should kids snack?

How much sugar is your toddler eating?

Am I overfeeding my child? Tips on portion control for all ages?