Jen Haugen, RDN, LD, Down-to-Earth Dietitian
Have your kids asked for a snack today? Are you trying to steer your kids in the direction of choosing healthy snacks more often? How do you get kids to eat healthier in general? It can be overwhelming to handle all the snacking requests on top of making all the meals, while also wondering about which foods are the healthiest options. And it can be frustrating when you offer something healthy, but the kids get upset and want something different.
I’m covering all of this right here to help you discover new strategies to boost your kitchen confidence and help your kids eat healthier at the same time. It takes five easy steps, the healthy snack edition.
Do kids need snacks?
Yes, they do! Kids need healthy snacks to maintain energy levels and get the nutrients their bodies need. It’s almost impossible to get everything in at mealtimes, so snacks are a must. In general, the formula would be for younger kids to have three meals and three snacks daily. And as kids get older, one to two snacks a day is generally enough.
And we are looking for healthy snacks for kids – the ones that provide the biggest bang for the buck. The eating habits we teach while our kids are young will translate into them eating healthier as they grow into adulthood. Personal story…my son who is now in college strives to have healthy snacks during his day and will actually make a point at times to tell me what he is having because he knows how important it is. And he will still ask for nutrition advice too, another sign that your kids are always hungry for knowledge. So teaching them while they are young helps them build healthy habits for a lifetime.
What does a healthy kids snack look like?
While some snacks may be high in sugar or saturated fat, there are many healthy snack options for kids. Focus on healthy snacks that are low in added sugar, have a lot of vitamins and minerals and fiber too.
Here are five easy steps to getting your kids to eat healthier snacks:
Tip 1: Pick Two Food Groups
This is like the “pick 2” or “pair 2” you see sometimes offered at restaurants. Same concept but applied to home. This gives your kids a bonus because two food groups are higher in nutrition compared to just one food group.
Here are some healthy snack pairings:
Peanut butter and crackers
Crackers and hummus
Carrots and peanut butter
Apples and cheese cubes
Grapes and cheese cubes
Whole grain tortilla chips with guacamole or fresh salsa
Cheese and crackers
Berries and yogurt
Tuna salad and crackers
Egg salad and crackers
Half of a peanut butter sandwich
Offering more than one food item at snack time is a great way to expose picky eaters to different foods to help them get comfortable with them. Keep the pressure off – no force feeding – and just make the experience fun.If there is a food you are trying to lessen in your child’s diet, consider offering a new food from above with that favorite food they have for a few days instead of taking it away completely.
Tip 2: Make Healthy Kids Snacks Enticing
When food looks fun or is fun to prepare together, it’s much more likely to be enticing to eat. For example, you and your kids could make homemade granola bars in this fun Snack Bar Maker in less than 5 minutes. Then pop them in the freezer and they will be ready to eat.
Or what about a smoothie Popsicle made at home? Whip up a batch of smoothies and any remaining mixture can be frozen into a Popsicle. You can even do this in 9 minutes using the Quicksicle Maker.
Or, try cutting carrots with a crinkle cutter to give them a different shape! Each time your child has a chance to get involved in the snack recipe, or gets to make a choice during the preparation, like “Would you like your granola bar to have raisins or dried cranberries in it?” is an opportunity to build their confidence in trying new foods in a new way. And eventually, they will try it if you keep getting them involved. (And maybe even like what you made!)
Both of my kids would choose to whip up tuna salad after school as one of their popular snacks, or when they were younger, ants on a log (celery, peanut butter and raisins). They are listening and always watching.
Tip 3: Keep Snack Portions Small
If you are working on new foods, keep the portion small. If they don’t eat much of it, it’s okay. The next meal is right around the corner. Small portions also come across as less overwhelming too. You can use fun utensils (like toothpicks if age appropriate, or mini forks and spoons), to create a more playful environment.
One of my favorite ways to offer after-school snacks is to serve them as a snack tray. You can add various foods to the tray like fruits, vegetables, dips, cheese cubes, or nuts and trail mix as options, and kids can choose what they would like.
Tip 4: How To Get a Picky Eater to Try Healthy Kids Snacks
I used to teach a lot of kids cooking classes and when something was brand new for a student, we went on an adventure where we explored the new food with all our senses so they could grasp it better. And almost every time after this exercise, they actually took a bite! So how do you do this?
Here’s how it works:
For example, purchase 3-4 different types of apples the next time you are at the grocery store.
At snack time, ask your child to compare the apples with you.
Ask them to use their senses to describe the food. What does it look like? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? What does it sound like when they take a bite? What does it taste like?
When you have your child get involved in this way, it makes them feel important and that they have a say in what you are buying. Have fun with it!
Tip 5: Get Your Kids Involved
The more you are able to get them involved, the better. This means with shopping for healthy snacks at the grocery store, and asking which snacks they want to have in the week ahead as well.
You can also ask how they want the snacks prepared – for example, sliced or diced? With dip or without dip? Which dip (from two choices you give them)? The more they can be involved, the more they will learn, the more they will have fun, and the more they will build those healthy habits!
What questions do you have about getting your kids to eat healthier? Share them below!
Would you like a fun kids cooking class with your mom friends and their kids all virtually to help everyone get in the kitchen? Let’s set it up!
Set up your virtual cooking class
Here are some kitchen safety tips for kids as well, so they can be safe in the kitchen. I highly recommend showing your kids this video!
I hope these dietitian-approved tips help you help your kids eat healthier snacks both now and into the future. If you would like more snack ideas, click here.
Purchase healthy snacking tools here!
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