Putting the 'healthy' back in snack foods for kids
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Beth Labenz, SNAP-Ed Educator
Sometimes parents hear the words "snack foods" and think of expensive, sugary, fattening, or salty treats that aren’t needed for a healthy diet. But giving your child healthy, filling school-day snacks that also taste good is easy — and cheaper than you think!
Add fruits and vegetables
Besides being low in calories and full of fiber and vitamins, fruits and vegetables cost less than typical unhealthy snacks. For example, the average cost of a serving of fruit is 25 cents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, while a single serving bag of chips or a candy bar can cost 69 to 80 cents.
When you wash, slice, and bag veggies and fruit after you get home from the store, then you have healthy snacks ready to toss in your children’s school lunch boxes or backpacks on those busy mornings when time is short. Try cutting fresh veggies such as cucumbers or celery into sticks and add a low-fat salad dressing or hummus in a small, leak-proof container for dipping. Fresh fruits always work as snacks, and other fruit options, such as cups of unsweetened applesauce or canned fruits (buy pre-portioned or portion them yourself) are healthy choices that need little preparation.
Try low-fat dairy
Low-fat dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese sticks can be purchased in ready-to-eat portions that make healthy, filling, tasty snacks. Yogurt and cheese are packed with calcium, which is great for growing bones. Just be careful of the amount of sugar in yogurt. Compare brands and types of yogurt to find the least amount of sugar. Remember that 4 grams of sugar equals 1 teaspoon of sugar, so a serving of yogurt with 24 grams of sugar has 6 teaspoons of sugar!
Cut down on sugar by purchasing plain yogurt and adding your own fruit. Frozen fruit is often less expensive than fresh fruit and is already washed and chopped for you. Combine frozen fruit and yogurt in a leak-proof container for a filling school-day snack.
Eat lean protein
Wrap high-protein, low-fat, low-sodium deli meat around a cheese stick for a tasty, filling snack during the school day. Cheese slices and apple wedges also make a flavorful, filling snack. Boil eggs ahead of time and keep them on hand for a quick, inexpensive high-protein snack.
Unsalted nuts are rich in protein and great for the brain because they also contain healthy fats. Add them to trail mixes or just eat them by themselves. Keep the portion size down to a small handful because they can be high in calories.
Switch to whole grains
MyPlate guidelines advise making half of the grain foods you eat each day whole grains. Snack time is a great time to get whole grains into your child’s daily diet. Whole grain snacks include components such as whole wheat bread, whole grain pita pockets, and whole wheat crackers. Granola bars can be whole grain as well. Look at the label to find bars with a fat daily value (DV%) of less than 5 percent and the lowest number of grams of sugar possible. Popcorn also is a healthy whole grain snack if you limit the amount of salt or butter.
Ditch sugary soft drinks
Regular soft drinks are high in calories and sugar with no nutritional benefits. Give kids water or low-fat milk for snack breaks instead, or add sparking water to 100 percent fruit juice for a bubbly treat.
Your kids need to keep their stomachs full and minds focused and open to learning during the school day. Make sure their backpacks or lunch boxes are filled with healthy, tasty, filling snacks throughout the school year!
Center for Science in the Public Interest. (n.d.) Healthy school snacks.
ChooseMyPlate.Gov. (2016). 10 tips for healthy snacking.
Fruits & Veggies — More Matters. (2016). Nut nutrition database.
Simple snack solutions for the whole family — Seven tips for snacking that involves satisfying options with less fat and sugar, and fewer empty calories.