Healthy Snack Options for Kids
When the right foods are offered at the right time, snack foods play an important role in managing your child’s nutrition and development. Snacks provide much-needed energy to perform certain tasks, can help boost nutrition, and prevent kids from getting so hungry that they get cranky.
The best snacks to give your children are nutritious and low in fat, sugar and salt. Fresh fruit and vegetables are ideal, as are foods that contain whole grains and protein. Portion size is also important, so as not to interfere with main meals.
When we say that snacking is important, it’s imperative to note that we are not referring to grazing. There’s a big difference between snacking and grazing, which will prevent children from learning to recognise hunger. Snacks still need to be structured and timed, and your child should not have more than three snacks a day.
Snacks for toddlers
Toddlers are an age group that really benefit from snacking, providing they are offered nutritious options like those offered at Bellamy’s Organic. Toddlers have relatively small stomachs and appetites, yet their metabolism works super-fast. Meals are burned off quickly, meaning they need refueling often. In toddlers, often five to six mini-meals can be better than three larger meals.
Snacks for preschoolers
The desire for sweets at this age can be quite strong, but biscuits and lollies should generally be avoided. The best approach is to simply not have them in your home, but if you choose to purchase sweets, try to keep them out of sight.
Preschoolers are just learning to label their feelings, and as a result you’ll often hear them say “I’m hungry”. Before you rush to give them a snack, make sure this is the correct label, and not a case of them being bored, tired, or thirsty.
Snacks for school-age
School-aged kids are busy kids, and they need refuelling in order to keep up with lessons, sports, homework and after-school activities. As they are generally capable of understanding the importance of healthy food, serving nutritious snacks should by now be a little easier.
Avoiding junk food
Many packaged and processed foods are marketed for children, which can make teaching your children to choose balanced, whole foods somewhat difficult. That said, the earlier you introduce healthy habits, the more likely your child will grow to choose healthy alternatives over junk food – even when that means sitting next to a friend who’s chowing down on chips.
It’s unrealistic to expect kids never to eat processed or packaged foods, but it is possible to teach them that healthy options should always be considered first. Children that learn to swap their junk food choices with healthy alternatives have a better relationship with food than children who are merely forbidden from ever eating a naughty snack.
Teaching your children about “occasional foods” gives them the power over what they eat. If your own home is filled with nutritious options, this allows them to have the odd processed snack at a friends. The aim isn’t to make your children feel deprived, it’s to make them feel healthy.
Healthy snack ideas
For the under 5’s
- Fresh fruit such as apples, grapes, strawberries, mandarins, bananas, kiwifruit, nectarines, oranges, mango and pear
- Carrot, zucchini or celery sticks with homemade hummus or mashed avocado
- Cheese cubes with low fat crackers
- English muffins with ricotta cheese and banana
- Raisin or fruit toast
- Small amounts of dried fruit, such as sultanas, apple and apricots
- Fruit smoothie
- Yoghurt or custard
- Yoghurt sprinkled with muesli
- Frozen fruit
- Weet-Bix with low-fat milk
- Ricotta pikelets with honey
- Vegetable pikelets or savoury scones
- Hard boiled eggs.
For the over 5’s
- Fresh fruit
- Rice paper rolls
- Homemade hummus with pita bread or vegetable sticks
- Baked bean jaffle
- Rice cakes topped with vegemite or peanut butter
- Corn on the cob
- Plain popcorn
- Baked potato with tuna and cheese
- Scrambled egg and one slice whole wheat toast.
Smart lunchbox swaps
When it comes to what you put in your child’s lunchbox, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to sneak in more healthy options. Often, it’s just a case of swapping or adjusting an item, adding more fibre, reducing the sugar, and lowering sodium levels.
Some smart lunchbox swaps include:
Instead of a sandwich made on white bread – make sandwiches on brown bread for more fibre/
Instead of filling sandwiches with processed meat – load sandwiches with skinless shredded barbecued chicken for less preservatives.
Instead of a packet of chips – fill a zip-lock bag with air-popped popcorn for 240mg less sodium per 50g.
Instead of a fruit in jelly cup – choose fresh fruit for all the fruit goodness without the added sugar.
Instead of crackers and cheese – pack veggie sticks with homemade hummus to sneak more veggies into their day.
Healthy snack recipes
Some snacks have the right idea, but they still don’t measure up when faced with the healthy test. While reading labels carefully can help, your best bet is to try and make some healthy snacks at home.
Some great healthy snack recipes to try include:
Hummus is one of those dips that go with just about everything – spread it on crackers, use as a sandwich spread, or cut up some veggies and get dipping.
These spelt flour pizza bases can be topped with anything you like, and the homemade tomato sauce is delicious and nutritious.
Australia’s favourite “superfood” makes a great base for cookies, and these can be frozen in an airtight container for one month – if you can make them last that long!
What child doesn’t love pancakes? These make a great mid-morning snack and use honey and reduced-fat yoghurt instead of maple syrup and ice cream.
Muesli bars make great snacks-on-the-go, but pre-packaged bars can be hidden with little nasties. These are a great source of protein, keeping kids fuller for longer.
When the kids have had enough of hummus, this is a great alternative.
This nutrient-packed egg dish contains a wealth of healthy ingredients, and the black beans are a great source of fibre.
Healthy snacking is all about careful planning and a little common sense. Teach kids well from an early age, and their healthy eating habits will stay with them long into adulthood.