Kid-friendly, Healthy Snacks They'll Love-and Why It Matters

By: Claire Chiasson, RDN, LDN, Registered/Licensed Dietitian, Thibodaux Regional Health System

A healthy, well balanced diet during childhood is not only important for proper growth and development, but it also helps prevent various health conditions. Encouraging children to fill their bodies with nutritious foods plays a role in the prevention of certain diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers; and food can even affect a child’s mental health. Parents and caregivers can play an important role in teaching children to build healthy habits that will pay off in the long run and promote health and wellness.

How do snacks affect a child’s health?

A healthy eating pattern is one that is filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats while limiting added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats. One common issue with children’s diets is the large amount of added sugars in drinks and snack products like juice, cereals, candy, and snack bars. The body needs sugars from carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to provide important vitamins and minerals for healthy growth and development. Refined and added sugars that are added to most food products can contribute to hyperactivity, mood disorders, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Excess intakes of nutrients like sugar, salt, and fat can lead to weight gain and other health problems later on in life. When children fill up on sugary foods and drinks, there is little room for nutritious foods that their growing bodies need. The recommended daily intake of added sugars for children over the age of two is 25 grams or less per day, and some snacks and drinks provide this amount in just one serving!

Fill the gaps.

Parents can sometimes get overwhelmed when choosing a healthy snack that is right for their child. Snacks are an easy way to fill children’s bodies with important nutrients that will keep them full in between meals. Because children’s stomachs are small and fill up quickly, it may be hard to get a day’s worth of recommended nutrients in just three meals. Snacks can help to fill those gaps! It is important to ensure that snacks given to a child are nutritious and filled with nutrients like fiber and protein, which take longer to digest than regular processed foods. This will help a child decrease blood sugar spikes and crashes, and feel fuller and satisfied until the next meal.

Use quick-and-easy ideas.

Preparing healthy snacks for kids does not have to be time consuming. Here are some easy ideas.

  • Keep it simple by focusing on fruits and vegetables as the main source of carbohydrates, and pair them with a protein or healthy fat source like low- fat dip, peanut butter, or one ounce of nuts. This easy snack will provide nutrients and keep the child full.
  • Whole grain products are also a great choice for snacks. A whole grain contains all parts of the grain and provides more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined grains.
  • Choose a low-fat Greek yogurt topped with whole grain cereal or granola for another great choice that provides protein and carbohydrates.
  • Pre-packaging snacks like whole grain crackers paired with a low-fat cheese stick is another example of a balanced snack.
  • Store-bought granola bars are also great for children who are on-the-go. When choosing a snack bar, make sure the bar contains protein and fiber to promote satiety with very little added sugars and salt. Look for a bar that lists “whole grain” as one of the first two ingredients on the label.
  • A general rule of thumb when choosing a balanced snack bar is to have 3 grams or more of fiber and 5 grams of protein or more. Added sugars should be under 10 grams.

Natural sugar can be okay.

Sources of added sugars usually lack the nutrients children need for good health. Foods and drinks that contain natural sources of sugar provide nutrients like vitamins and minerals that help keep children healthy.

Make it a habit.

Encourage children to make healthy and nutritious choices at meals and snacks. This will promote healthy habits that last a lifetime.

For more information or to schedule a nutrition consultation with a registered dietitian, contact Thibodaux Regional Wellness Education Center, 985.493.4765.