Smart snacking can help children meet daily nutrient requirements that may be missed at meal times. Children need snacks, or "mini meals", to help them get enough calories (energy) throughout the day. So, choosing healthy foods that add nutrients to their diets is essential.
Certain foods may cause choking in younger children. Avoid feeding raw vegetables, popcorn, nuts or peanuts, and dried fruits — such as raisins — to children under 3. Quarter hot dogs lengthwise and then cut into small pieces. Slice grapes in half.
Once children begin attending school, their food options expand beyond what you choose to buy at the grocery store. But you still have some control over what's in the refrigerator for their after-school snack. They'll typically grab whatever's close and easy.
If cookies are available, they'll eat cookies. If there are no cookies, fresh fruits and raw vegetables will sound much more appealing. Try to have a selection of vegetables already cut up and ready to eat in the refrigerator.
- To avoid weight gain, keep portions small.
- Plan ahead and buy healthy snacks at the supermarket - you will save money and will make better choices.
- Provide kids snack choices and make the choices you offer reasonably nutritious.
- Pre-portion your child's snacks into small plastic bags to grab on the go or put a snack-sized serving on a plate.
- Designate an area in your refrigerator or cupboard for healthy snacks that you have selected and your kids like - let them help themselves without having to ask for permission.
- Combine snacks from at least two food groups, like a protein and a carbohydrate, to pack more nutrients into your child's diets - it will be more filling
- Space snacks far enough away from meals so appetites are not spoiled!
Here are some quick, easy and healthy snacks:
- String cheese and fruit (canned or fresh)
- Nonfat cottage cheese or yogurt with fruit
- Smoothies with milk or yogurt and sliced bananas or strawberries
- Whole-wheat crackers with cheese or peanut butter
- Yogurt with fresh fruit or granola
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt with fresh berries
- Raw vegetable sticks with low-fat yogurt dip, cottage cheese or hummus
- Apples and cheese - pears and other fresh fruits work too!
- Baby carrots
- Fruit salad
- Applesauce cups (unsweetened)
- Frozen fruit bars
- Dried fruit such as raisins or plums and nuts
- Cereal - dry or with milk
- Baked potato chips or tortilla chips with salsa
- Pretzels (lightly salted or unsalted) and a glass of milk
- Bagels with tomato sauce and melted cheese
- Flavored rice cakes (like caramel or apple cinnamon) with peanut butter
- Popcorn - air popped or low-fat microwave
- Whole-grain crackers or english muffin with peanut butter
- Vanilla wafers, gingersnaps, graham crackers, animal crackers or fig bars and a glass of milk
And a few creative snack ideas:
- Toast one-half of a whole-wheat English muffin. Top with one slice Canadian bacon, a tomato slice and one slice low-fat American cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts.
- Mash half a banana into 2 teaspoons peanut butter and spread onto a whole-grain bagel. Large bagels contain up to 400 calories, so choose a smaller 2-ounce bagel.
- Mix 1/4 cup cold leftover chicken or convenience-type chunk chicken with sliced seedless grapes, 1/2 tablespoon sunflower seeds, 1 tablespoon plain yogurt or fat-free mayonnaise, and a dash of curry powder. Stuff into a hollowed-out green pepper or half of a whole-wheat pita pocket.
- Spread 1 tablespoon part-skim ricotta cheese over one-half of a small cinnamon-raisin bagel. Sprinkle with cinnamon if desired and top with a thinly sliced apple.
- Layer a soft mini corn or flour tortilla with 2 tablespoons shredded low-fat cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. Microwave until the cheese melts. Slice into bite-sized pie shapes. Dip into some salsa if desired.
- Spread 1 ounce ricotta cheese over a brown rice cake. Layer with fresh strawberries or a tablespoon of sugar-free spreadable fruit. Or try using a spread of herbed goat cheese and sliced olives.
- Top a small baked potato with 2 tablespoons fat-free plain yogurt and sprinkle with Cajun seasoning.
- Spread 1 tablespoon fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt or 100 percent fruit jam over a slice of whole-grain crispbread.
With planning and a little preparation, you can have healthy snacks on hand, both for your kids and for you!