Healthy Snacking for Kids
Ask a parent of a young child if they are carrying a snack and chances are, you’ll be shown a myriad of options. From fish crackers, to juice boxes, granola bars, fruit snacks and mini cookies, snacks are plentiful and everywhere. Snacks are important for children as they fill the nutritional gap between meals. But are we providing the right snacks for our children? Research suggests that parents are relying more heavily on energy dense, ultra-processed, sugar-filled, convenience treats to fill our kids bellies between meals. In fact, a recent study reported that snacks make up more than 30% of a child’s total energy intake! That’s a lot! As important as it is to provide snacks to our children, it is equally important to provide nutrient dense snacks that are not coated in sugar.
Does it seem like your children are constantly snacking? Many children end up grazing on snacks throughout the day, which can lead to decreased appetite at meal times and disruption in hunger and fullness cues. The solution? Planned snacks. Most young children will need something to eat every 3 hours, which translates to roughly 3 meals and 2-3 snacks during the day. A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and 1 to 2 hours before the next meal. This will help encourage a healthy appetite at all meals. If your children ask for snacks outside of the set meal or snack schedule, gently remind them of their next opportunity to eat and offer a glass of water instead.
Just as we want our meals to be balanced, our snacks should be too. Vegetables, fruits, protein, and starches are all important for different reasons. Vegetables and fruits contain vital nutrients, including fibre, which keeps us full and helps maintain regular bowel movements. Protein sources such as yogurt, cheese, hummus and eggs, help our bodies grow and keep us full between meals. Starches, or carbohydrates, fuel our brains and give us the energy we need to keep moving throughout the day. When we combine these items, we reap the benefits of complete nutrition. Instead of stocking up on crackers, cookies, and granola bars, try offering vegetables sticks with hummus and a yogurt cup.
Tip: eat the rainbow by providing snacks with bright and vibrant colours!
Snack portion size is equally important to having balanced snacks. It is important to remember that snacks are just that, snacks. When children continuously consume large snacks, they tend to take in more calories than required, which in turn can result in long-term health consequences such as diabetes and obesity. For children aged 3-5, follow the serving sizes below:
Vegetables: ½ cup raw or cooked vegetables
Fruit: 1 small fruit, ½ cup of sliced fruit or berries, ½ cup fruit sauce
Starches: ½ slice of bread or small bagel, 4-5 small whole grain crackers, ½ cup cold cereal, ¼ cup cooked pasta or rice
Protein: ½ cup of milk, ⅓ cup yogurt, 1 tbsp nut butter, 1 egg, ½ ounce cheese, 1 ounce lean meat
When possible, it is recommended to provide your children with fresh, homemade snacks such as apple slices with peanut butter. However, that is not always feasible. Prepackaged snacks can be a good option when you are short on time or are away from home during snack time. Unfortunately, many store-bought snacks have too much added sugar, sodium and fat and not enough nutrients to keep children’s tummies full. When purchasing prepackaged snacks for your children, try to follow these simple guidelines for choosing snacks:
Sugar - less than 10 grams of sugar in 1 serving
Fibre - more than 2 grams of fibre in 1 serving
Fat - less than 5 grams of fat in 1 serving
For more information on how to read and understand food labels, read our previous blog post: Nutrition Labels 101.
Healthy Snack Options
Have you run out of healthy snack options for your children? Look no further. Here are some easy and healthy snacks to offer your children:
Cucumber, celery, sugar snap peas or carrots with hummus or greek yogurt dip
Cheese and whole grain crackers
Small homemade muffin with yogurt or a glass of milk
Grapes and cheese
Celery with almond butter and raisins
Whole grain pitas with bean dip
Fruit slices or berries with cinnamon yogurt dip
Hard boiled egg and whole grain crackers
Yogurt parfaits with granola and your favourite fruit
Chia seed pudding and blueberries
Homemade trail mix with your favourite nuts, seeds and unsweetened dried fruits
Whole grain waffle slices with peanut butter yogurt dip
Smoothies with fresh or frozen fruit, milk and unsweetened yogurt
Whole grain cereal and milk
Roasted chickpeas and cucumber slices
Guacamole and whole grain pita
Kale chips and yogurt
Mini whole grain bagel with banana slices and seed butter
What are your go-to healthy snacks? Comment below or share your pictures on Instagram and use the hashtag #FLIPSnacks.