Kids. Never. Stop. Eating. Rightfully so. They are constantly growing, physically and mentally, and it’s our job to provide them with the right foods to help them thrive. But, it’s definitely hard to keep up! My kids will eat breakfast, a snack or 2 between breakfast and lunch. Eat all their lunch. Then like 5 snacks after school and still eat all their dinner. No joke. It’s insane. So, I’m constantly searching for healthy snacks. And guess what? They are SO hard to come by.
Grocery store shelves are stocked with so much junk, it’s dizzying. And worse, much of it is marketed as “healthy” so you can easily be duped into picking something that you think is good, when in reality, it’s not. So how can you get past the junk to find the diamond in the rough? Below are a few tips to help you navigate the wild world of snacks:
1.READ THE LABEL. No, I’m not yelling at you. But, I purposefully put this bullet in all caps because it’s a non-negotiable. You must read labels. And I’m not talking the front of the package claims like “no high-fructose corn syrup” or “8 g of whole grains”. Ignore that. I’m talking about the Nutrition Facts Panel AND ingredients list. (The ingredients are listed in order, by weight, so you want something that has the good stuff listed first and the not-so-good stuff listed further down.) This is where you find the cold, hard facts and you can’t make an informed decision without starting here.
2. Is it healthy? Once you’ve read the label, you can decide if it’s a good choice for your family. The best type of packaged snacks are:
- Low in added sugar. This is not defined but, as a guide, know that 4 grams of sugar is equal to a teaspoon. If the snack has a decent amount of fruit in it, some of the sugar listed on the label is naturally occurring. Dairy foods also have naturally occurring sugar. A cup of milk has 12 g of naturally occurring sugar and an 8 ounce serving of Greek yogurt, for example, has 8 g. Eventually, the label will differentiate between added sugar and that which is naturally occurring but until then, you have to check the ingredients list.
- Less than 10% of calories from saturated fat. Lucky for us, that percentage is listed right next to the gram amount on the label. Too much saturated fat can negatively impact cholesterol levels.
- Contain some protein. Protein will keep your kids fuller longer and helps build and repair muscles.
- Contain some fiber and/or are mostly whole grain. Fiber and whole grains are important for regulating blood sugar, preventing constipation and reducing risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Do not contain preservatives, artificial colors or artificial sweeteners. Unless your child has a sensitivity to them, they are probably OK in very small amounts. But, since there are plenty of options without them, opt for snacks without them.
3.Simpler is better. Once you look through the packaged snacks, you’ll find most of them do not fit the guidelines listed above. It’s sad, but true. So balance your processed snacks with simple grab-and-go snacks like dried fruit, nuts, veggies with dip, popcorn and cheese sticks. And of course, ALWAYS offer fresh fruits and veggies. Click here to learn how to get your kids to eat more fruits and veggies.
4.Check your local health food store. Much of my kids snacks come from Sprouts. In general, they have a much larger selection of “healthier” snacks than say, a Vons or Safeway. They may be a bit more expensive but I’m willing sacrifice elsewhere to spend the extra money on healthier foods. Also, you can almost anything on Amazon so next time you order a book or gift for a friend, add some snacks.
5.Try new things. New products are constantly coming on the market. Ask around to see if your friends have tried anything new lately. When you’re shopping, look for familiar flavors. For example, I find new snacks with familiar flavors like cheese (for my son) or BBQ (for my daughter) fare better than new snacks with strong unfamiliar seasoning.
Even armed with this information, our kids will get plenty of snacks that aren’t “healthy”. But, try your best to keep MOST of them within these guidelines so your kids get the nutrition they need. Then, they can have the other 90% of snacks for special occasions, or as a bribe…I mean, treat.
P.S. I will recommend kid-friendly snack in my “Sunday’s with Samantha” and “Supermarket Saturday” posts, so stay tuned! But just so I don’t leave you empty handed, here are a few of my kids favorite snacks (as seen in the pic):