When I meet with parents or talk to family members and friends with children, I am often presented with this question: What kinds of snacks should I feed my child? First of all, I want to commend parents on caring enough to ask! As I mentioned in my last post, planned snacks play a valuable role in children's diets by supporting their energy and nutrient needs, enhancing their confidence in eating, and nurturing lifelong, positive eating behaviors. So, now that we know why snacking is important, let's dive into the how. Here are my three of my trustiest tips for building healthy, nutritious, and tasty snacks for children.
- Remember Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility in Feeding: 1) Parents are responsible for what, when, and where children eat and 2) Children are responsible for whether and how much. Essentially, parents are in charge of purchasing, preparing, and serving a variety of healthful foods to the child at regular meals and snacks and to trust her to eat the right amount that she needs. Regarding when, it's best to keep snacks 2-3 hours before a main meal, like dinner, so that your little one will have a better appetite.
- Mix and match food groups to provide a quality source of carbohydrate, protein, and/or fat. Thinking of snacks more like mini-meals may be helpful. Including foods from more than one food group helps provide a balance and variety of essential nutrients. Want some examples? Combine whole grains with fruit; vegetables with milk; whole grains with milk; fruit with milk; whole grains, fruit and meat/beans; or vegetables, fruit, and meat/beans. See 10 of my faves below.
- Make it fun! If you haven't noticed, most children's toys incorporate vibrant colors, a variety of textures, and an assortment of shapes. They learn and explore the world around them through their senses, so run with that. They also have vivid imaginations that we can tap into to bring the fun factor up a few notches. Instead of broccoli, how about "dinosaur trees"? Instead of peanut butter and raisins on celery sticks, how about "ants on a log"? Instead of peas, how about "power peas"? In fact, Brian Wansink and colleagues at Cornell University found that when vegetables were given fun names, children ate 50% more vegetables! I personally like "ninja sticks" or "magic spears" for asparagus.
10 Easy, Nutritious, and Tasty Snacks for Kids
- Fruit and yogurt parfaits: Layer low-fat vanilla yogurt with fresh fruit, such as berries and banana, and sprinkle with crunchy granola.
- Mini-pizzas: Top a toasted whole wheat English muffin with marinara sauce or fresh tomato slices and sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese and veggie toppings.
- Pita Triangles with Hummus Dip: Cut whole wheat pita bread into triangles and serve with hummus for dipping.
- Ants on a Log: Spread peanut butter, other nut butters, or low-fat cream cheese on celery sticks. Top with raisins or dried cranberries.
- Trail Mix: Mix dried fruit, nuts, and whole grain cereal together in a snack-sized baggie.
- Fruit and Dip: Dip fresh fruit, like apple slices or strawberries,in low-fat yogurt or nut butter.
- Veggies and Dip: Dip raw veggies, like "X-ray vision baby carrots", cherry tomatoes, snap peas, cucumber, or "dinosaur broccoli trees", in plain low-fat yogurt, hummus, guacamole, or bean dip.
- Crunchy Apples: Spread natural peanut butter (or other nut butter) over apple slices and dip in granola.
- Fruit and PB Wrap: Spread natural peanut butter (or other nut butter) over a whole wheat tortilla. Top with banana slices and raisins or chopped dates. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon. Roll up and cut into kid-friendly portions.
- Smoothies: Blend fresh or frozen fruit with low-fat milk or yogurt and a splash of 100% fruit juice. Or try a green smoothie with some Super Spinach!
Pick one, try them all, or try a spin-off of your own. Whatever you do, have FUN!
What are your favorite nutritious snacks for kids?