As a parent, it can be so hard to come up with healthy snacks for kids. And when your kiddos are asking for snacks multiple times a day, it can be a challenge to know what to do.
How do I get my kiddos to eat healthier snacks, not just the sugary, processed snacks they are asking for? If this sounds like your house, please know that you’re not alone.
One of the best ways to help kids build healthy habits is to provide healthy food for them when they’re young.
Here are 5 ways you can improve your child’s snacking habits. These will help them get the nutrition they need while still enjoying their snacks!
Do kids need snacks?
Kids need snacks to maintain energy levels and get the nutrients their growing bodies need. I recommend that you offer your younger children three meals and three snacks daily. As kids get older, 1-2 snacks per day may be enough.
You want to make sure that your giving your kids the high quality snacks that will fill them up and help them grow. And, unfortunately, not all snacks are created equal. Many snacks that kids love or even that seem healthy aren’t offering quite as much nutrition as you’d think.
What does “healthy” mean?
There are a lot of “healthy” snacks for kids out there. But it’s important to know what healthy really means.
You want to focus on snacks that are low in added sugar and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Not every snack needs to meet these criteria, but most of them should.
It is also important to cultivate healthy snacking habits now so that the habits can continue into adulthood.
Tip 1: Pair Two Foods
For optimal nutrition and satisfaction, offer a couple of food groups at each snack. Not only does this provide a more satisfying snack, but it also gives your child more variety in their diet.
Some healthy food pairings are:
● Freeze-dried strawberries and dry cereal
● Carrots and tortilla chips dipped in guacamole
● Yogurt parfait
● Apples & peanut butter (or ants on a log!)
● Trail mix
Offering more than one food item is also helpful for exposing picky eaters to foods that might be out of their comfort zone. Keep the pressure off (no forcing a bite) and make the experience fun.
If your kids are used to eating packaged snacks, offer the new foods with the packaged snack at first.
Tip 2: Vary presentation
It takes anyone a while to get used to something new. And for kids – especially our picky eaters – new can mean scary and uncomfortable!
Think about carrots. Baby carrots are one way to offer carrots to your kiddos as a snack, but there are other options, too!
You can also offer carrots as a pureed pouch with carrots in the mix, shredded carrots for a different texture, roasted carrots for a different flavor, and even peels of a large carrot (feel free to call them ribbons!).
Each time your child has a chance to get to know the food in a low-pressure environment, it helps to build their confidence and eventually try it (and maybe even like it!).
One of my boys wasn’t willing to try fish – he didn’t even want to take part in our family’s Salmon Sunday! After introducing it in low pressure situations every week (and some help from older brother!), we now have another salmon eater in our house.
Tip 3: Keep the portions small
If you’re working on new foods, snack time is a great opportunity because if they don’t eat much (or any) of the new food, dinner is right around the corner. By the time dinner is here, everyone tends to be more tired and less patient, so it can feel more difficult to introduce new foods at that time.
When offering new foods at snack time, keep the portions small. For your child, it makes the experience less overwhelming.
And if age-appropriate, use toothpicks or other fun tools to serve the food. This keeps the experience fun and playful for our kids.
One of my favorite ways to offer after-school snacks is to serve them in a muffin tray so kids can try a little of everything.
Tip 4: Compare
You know what’s fun and lower pressure? Exploring!
Instead of forcing your child to “just take a bite,” make the new food feel fun. This is lower pressure and more fun for everyone, not just your kiddo.
Try buying a few different varieties of a new food next time you’re at the grocery store. For example, four or five different kinds of apples. During an afternoon when you have some free time, ask your child to describe how the apples are different.
Have fun ranking and exploring: this is way more fun than commanding your child to try a bite!
Tip 5: Involve your child
The more that you’re able to offer your child the opportunity to help, the better. For example, if you’re shopping for healthy snacks, ask which two healthy snacks they want to try this week.
You can also offer choices when it comes to preparation. For example, would your child like their apple sliced or diced? Would they like to eat it with a dip, like nut butter?
[Insert favorite dip recipe, here]
Kids can do far more tasks in the kitchen than most parents would guess. Will it be slower and messier to get them involved? At first: yes! But with time, their skills will grow (and the mess will slowly diminish).
Your child is going to be more open-minded about foods that they’ve helped to prepare.
Favorite snack recipes
You could even try a dessert hummus!
Being a parent in an environment with so many snack options can be challenging.
If you want help navigating snack time, we have options for you!
See one of our dietitians, check out our Picky Eating webinar, or follow us on Instagram for regular tips for feeding your kiddos.