HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Healthy snacks for kids

Hey Hounds,

Is this an impossible quest?

I have an 8yo and a 10yo (step-children) both of whom are pretty healthy. However, they are displaying the usual trends for American kids of wanting to eat snacks full of sugar, sucrose, fructose, maltodextrone, high fructose corn syrup, and all the other euphemisms that the food industry uses to disguise the fact that these snacks are WAY less healthy than the things we ate as kids thirty years ago.

And along with this trend are lbs of fat beginning to accumulate around their tums.

Any suggestions, either for home-made (I allow them the occasional blast of choc-chip cookies - I know, I know) snacks that won't kill them, or for store bought snacks that aren't ill disguised attempts to raise their sugar consumption exponentially.

Thank you,

- Sean

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I struggle with this constantly as I refuse to buy junk food, but my incredibly picky daughter craves starches, sugar and chocolate of all kinds. I let her have pretty much unlimited mozzarella cheese sticks, raw carrots, apples, grapes and strawberries. She likes to snack on sliced salami and bagels and cream cheese, but I have to keep an eye on these. I sometimes buy pretzels but usually refuse because she eats them too fast. She likes the bran muffins we make together, sometimes with mashed banana added.
    My less-picky son likes microwaving his own quesadillas and nachos with preshredded cheese and Trader Joe's tortilla chips. He will eat any kind of fruit, but especially likes it if it's cut up in the fridge. I also buy Trader Joe's fruit popsicles.
    They like my "real" popcorn so much that they've lost the taste for microwave popcorn (although Newman's and Whole Foods make healthier versions of microwave popcorn), so I'm teaching them to make it themselves in a pan with oil and then melted butter.
    Other than occasional muffins and cookies, I don't have time to make "special" snacks -- they're pretty much on their own, it's all I can do to make dinner a few nights a week. Don't know if this helps, but that's what they eat at my house.

    1. Fruit of any kind is always an option for my kids. they love bananas and apples with natural peanut butter. Yogurt is a big one for us too along with grahm crackers and applesauce, cheese and crackers (I try to buy whole wheat), homemade fruit juice pops, smoothies made with frozen strawberry, milk, and a squirt of honey. There are so many healtier choices that kids can and will make if the junk isn't available for them. If my kids don't want what I have in the fridge or pantry then they aren't hungry and can wait til dinner!

      1. Have you tried any of the Kashi cereals? The Kashi Go Lean "Crunch" is really nice AND it's good for a snack, slightly sweet and loaded with fiber. Also have recently been introduced to Tropicana Fruit Smoothies, which contain no dairy and only fruit concentrates...no HFCS or added sugar, at least not on the ingredient label...drawback: 11 ounce bottle costs .99 on SALE, usual price is $1.49 or something, though they may be available at Costco or Sam's for less. But, they might be nice for lunchbox or afternoon snack. Will they eat yogurt? I remember I was in 4th grade in 1967 over at a friend's house when I first tasted Dannon Strawberry yogurt and I just could not get over the tangy deliciousness of that, I still remember it to this day. Also finding an activity or sport they like is good...it's a shame how schoolkids hardly have phys. ed. anymore. Now I sound REALLY old...heh!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Val

          My kids love fruit with yogurt on top and a sprinkle of Kashi crunch all over it!! Love the Kashi. And the dark chocolate cherry granola bars are a big hit.

        2. Envirokidz is an organic line of cereals and snacks that are low in sugar, have some fiber and taste terrific. They have a rice crispie bar that comes in 3 or 4 flavors without the added junk.

          We also keep Veggie Bootie (Robert American Gourmet Co.)in the house for the kids to munch on. It is a low fat corn/rice/soy snack that is a better alternative to chips.

          We also make fresh fruit smoothies and banana bread.

          1. My son really likes nugos (nutrition to go) and he's a picky eater. They're pretty good for him, with vitamins, fiber and no transfats. If you get them at Costco they're not horribly expensive.

            Sometimes I give him a small handful of chocolate-covered almonds from Trader Joe's as a treat.

            If you have a melon baller, a bowl of mixed melon balls is fun and healthy.

            Also, kids are more likely to eat produce they've helped to grow. Try carrots, radishes and snow peas.

            Good luck. I know it's tough.

            1. I am a very big kid and love to snack on dry cereal, like Cheerios, or Fruit Loops when I was younger and more reckless.


              Toaster oven grilled cheese sandwiches (I made these when I was six years old.)
              Toaster oven open-faced 'pizza' toast with mozz. and a bit of spag. sauce from a jar kept in the fridge especially for this purpose. (I made these when I was 8.)

              1. Of course, activity level is incredibly important in discouraging weight gain and promoting healthy lifestyles. What's more with greater exercise, the body tends to crave more healthy, natural, untampered-with food.

                That said, quesadillas made iwth La Tortilla whole wheat tortillas and TJ's soy blend cheese are really good served with ff sour cream or salsa.

                My favorite snack as a kid was rice cakes topped with apple butter or apricot jam. I also liked non fat plain yogurt sweetened with equal, and topped with sugar free applesauce. I also now mix total yogurt (ff) with splenda, and some high fiber cereal. The sugar free fat free Jello pudding is also good made with non-fat milk. Or, make protein shakes out of vanilla soy milk, frozen strawberries, protein powder, bananas, and/or any other fruits. You can throw in some graham cracker crumbs as well to make it cheesecake like.

                Kids tend to enjoy food that they make themselves and is silly. Build mice out of pears with dried cranberries for eyes, or peanut butter made eyes. Make forest scapes... broccoli for trees, fat free dip for the lake in the middle, carrots for fallen tree logs, cauliflower for other shrubbery, green beans for tall reeds, cherry tomatoes halved to be "alien ladybugs". Oatmeal as the sea with boats made out of mango slices and graham cracker squares for sails, etc. You get the idea.

                1. Thanks, everyone. Chowpatty, your regime sounds remarkably similar to the one I'm trying to institute, so I'll keep pushing in that direction.

                  And I'll explore all the other tips.


                  - Sean

                  1. Peanut butter and banana(hence my name) is like candy to me. So tasty it feels like a snack but I eat it for breakfast. I use reduced fat peanut butter making it a little less fattening...It's fun to let them spread the PB themselves

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PBnBanana

                      My kids love making PB Banana Pops. Take half of a banana, insert popsicle stick, spread on natural PB, roll in crushed granola, freeze. When ready to eat pull out of freezer and eat immediately. You don't have to freeze, enjoying right away is a great option too!

                    2. also celery with peanut butter & raisins.

                      many kids also like dried fruit, seems like more of a snack. My son loves dried strawberries & apples.

                      1. YYes - I was shocked when I started to notice what went into so-called healthy snacks, like yogurt that are filled with sugar. So, we slowly reducing the amount of sugar and junk in our kids diet. For instance we now flavor our own yogurt, and add less sugar. We started with whole fat yogurt, which needs less sugar, and slowly reduced the sugar and moved to fat-free. My kids now eat with 12 g total sugars (including the natural in the yogurt) fat free yogurt. My kids like it with cocoa powder and vanilla or almond extract. In all your favorite recipes, look at slowly reducing the sugar and maybe even fat (although some fats are necessary), and watch healthy eating become second nature.

                        Nuts are big in my house. My kids now eat them plain. Natural peanut butter on brown rice cakes or apples (core out the middle and stuff it with peanut butter and raisins!).

                        Super good quality fruit makes a huge difference. We do a veggie and fruit CSA and the excitement of what it is in the box, combined with the high quality sweet produce makes my kids more likely to try it.

                        We get the mozzerella (part-skim) not in sticks to avoid the extra sodium.

                        Finally, this seems odd, but because my son and I have Celiac disease, we don't cook with wheat flour and have found a lot of alternative flours (like garbonzo/fava flour, teff flour) that are chock full of fiber, protein and goodness. You can make muffins, adding some of these things in and it will improve the nutrition.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: jsaimd

                          Yes--many of the so-called natural/healthy/organic yogurts and other snacks are loaded with sugar, evaporated cane juice (sugar) and other sweeteners. Healthy Handfuls snacks are pretty low-sugar and have some fiber, too.

                          Here is a snack bar I make for my kids that they really like:

                          I also routinely substitute whole-wheat pastry flour for white flour in pancakes, muffins, quick breads etc.

                          1. re: doctor_mama

                            Thanks for the link. I've never offered my son granola bars until I started making them just a few weeks ago. He entered Kindergarten and they requested a healthy snack like a granola bar, which had me chuckling because most cookies are healthier than store bought granola bars!!

                            Sometimes I feel that the general public is so misguided when it comes to feeding children that I don't want him out there observing the weird choices people are making. I know that's a bit extreme, but I took part in a parents meeting yesterday where the leader carefully explained that children won't eat veggie trays if we serve them for holiday parties and that it's unfair to substitute a great toy for a 'goodie bag' full of low quality candy because the children will be devastated! That voice will be stuck in my head for week!

                            So in addition to the usual veggies and humus and the usual suspects, I've found that my son (and all his friends who's mothers aren't they to say 'you don't like that'!) love edamame. They're delicious and the interactive nature of them really appeals to children.

                            I also try to keep a roll of vegetable sushi or kimbap (korean veg roll) on hand so that he can grab a piece or two for a quick snack.

                            1. re: Kater

                              Can you tell me more about kimbap? Is this something you buy, or make yourself?

                              I'm with you about the cluelessness of most people. Hungry kids will generally eat what's in front of them. So I just put out carrot sticks and hummus, fresh unbuttered popcorn, cut up fruit, grape tomatoes, etc. and my kids graze.

                              1. re: doctor_mama

                                Here's a really good link that provides instructions and visuals:


                                I have started making kimbap (or gimbap) myself but until recently I only purchased it. In my area it is available at each of our Korean groceries and at one larger Asian market.

                                I like to send kimbap for lunch because it's got a substantial vegetable content, some protein from the egg and crabstick (but no raw fish) and rice so it seems fairly complete. And I've never put mayonaise inside or had it served that way, as the link suggests so the fat content is not bad.

                                It's not hard to make once your practice and while it's best right away, I don't mind holding it in the fridge for a day or two.

                                Oh, and here's a link to a recipe. There are no photos but it gives a more thorough explanation of the ingredients than the site with pictures:



                                1. re: Kater

                                  Thanks for these links. We know a Korean woman who makes these for her kids... she puts chicken nuggets in the middle!

                                  1. re: doctor_mama

                                    People (apparently) also put SPAM in them! I think it may be because the first wave of Korean immigrant settled in Hawaii and they have that whole weird SPAM culture there!!

                        2. Another way to make popcorn (that I don't think I could have gotten through college without) is to take regular popcorn, put 2-3 T in the bottom of a brown lunch sack, flatten, fold the edge of the top three times and microwave on the popcorn setting (works for my microwave, it may take more or less time depending on your microwave), toss with some salt or other seasonings, and you are good to go, no need to use the stove or an air popper.

                          1. The only snacks I was allowed as a child, and they are now my favorites (hmm, is there a correlation?) were popcorn (not microwave), crackers and pb, and veggie sticks with a small amount of homemade dip.
                            I was not allowed yogurt or granola bars, but instead allowed homemade cookies and milk. The 'no yogurt' rule might have been a little strict, but I definitely understood about the granola bars. My mom hated yogurt herself, therefore didn't know about plain yogurt and it's nutritional merits.
                            My friends were all allowed to eat junk I and was jealous - not anymore. They still eat junk and it shows. Show your kids how to eat simple, natural foods. Most of the cereals mentioned in above posts do have their merits - high protein, high fibre, but some are terribly high in sugar, ie. Go Lean Crunch (BTW - I love the stuff).
                            I also disagree with feeding children artificial sweeteners, even Splenda. Instead have them eat REAL, unsweetened food, or lightly sweetened with honey or maple syrup - they they learn to enjoy natural food and will lose their taste and cravings for extra-sugary foods. The safety of artificial sweeteners has not been proven, esp. in children.
                            If kids are active enough, you won't have to worry so much about their snacking habits.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: thenurse

                              I don't think it's a good idea to feed kids fat free stuff, either. It's highly processed. Kids do need fats, cell walls are made from them, as well as your brain. Much of it relies on soy products for mouthfeel. I don't think phytoestrogens in soy products are good for pre-pubescent kids. Or anyone, for that matter. Though I wouldn't fear actual unprocessed soybeans like edamame.

                              Then again, I just read Real Food by Nina Planck and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon, so I'm a little militant about unprocessed food right now. Don't mind me.

                            2. All great advice, with one problem, our daughter is allergic to peanuts, ruling out PBJs unfortunately.

                              And if all that isn't enough, today there is a marvelous piece in the NY Times about what nannies feed to the children, and how parents struggle with this issue. Check it out.

                              - Sean

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Sean Dell

                                As soon as I saw that article I immediately thought about The Nanny Diaries. It was a popular beach read a few years ago written by a pair of former nannies. Suffice to say their experience was the precise opposite... parents laid down exacting food rules for the nannies to follow and gave their children chicken nuggets when they actually had to do a feeding themselves! ; )

                              2. hmm, kids? I'm trying to get my husband to snack more responsibly and there are some great tips here!! Thanks, everyone. When I get home from the grocery store, I cut up carrots and celery into dipping sticks and have them in containers of salted water in the fridge. When he is inclined to munch he usually goes for that. For dipping he'll use peanut butter or I make a fat free (shh, he doesn't know) cream cheese with a little bleu cheese added to it.

                                1. Just got this list of suggestions from Meals Matter for healthy snacks for kids:

                                  1. very good answers and a lot of options here. The NYTimes recently posted an interesting article "Snack Time Never Ends" (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/din...) providing with a complete overview of the challenges kids are facing nowadays in terms of healthy snack option, nutrition info etc.

                                    The thing to remember is to give your kid low fat snacks ranging from 60 to 150 calorie servings max so that it doesn't turn into an extra meal. Dont allow snacks to be too close to lunch or dinner as well. Fresh fruits like bananas or clementines, yogurts, applesauce pouches, roasted chesnuts are among the good options !

                                    Laurent • community manager | Materne

                                    1. One thing I *try* to do to cut down on the processed foods is give them a piece of quick bread in their lunches. Many of them can be made with way less sugar and fat than stated in the recipe and more grains. Their favourite is pumpkin bread, heavy on the cinnamon. We add flax, oats, whole wheat flour etc.

                                      I think there's a thread on healthy cookies here somewhere, which had some intriguing ideas. although I haven't actually tried any yet.

                                      1. I got my best snack idea from my son. When he was 12 he wanted to make a breakfast that he could eat on the go. He took a whole wheat tortilla and spread a bit of peanut butter down the centre, added a banana and rolled it up. (I would have added honey but he said the banana is sweet enough). For snacks I do that but slice it up into chunks.

                                        From this briliant little gem prompted the following 'rollups":
                                        refried beans and grated cheddar
                                        turkey pepperoni and light cream cheese

                                        smoked salmon cream cheese and cucumber
                                        strawberry cream cheese and melon

                                        Take your favouite combinations and roll them up in a tortilla. Slice in chunks and way you go. Makes a yummy treat when you have to bring something to school to share for a class party. Let everyone else bring the chips, pop and cupcakes - you are super momma!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: julesincoq

                                          Take a large container of 2% natural yogurt (no stabilizers or gelatin) and drain off all the whey then stir in finely chopped green onions, carrots, celery, red peppers, dill, minced garlic, black pepper and sea salt, to make a garden veggie "cream cheese" that is naturally low in fat with no weird fillers or chemical additives. Spread on multi-grain bread bread, bagels or serve as a dip with veggie sticks for an excellent snack that's high in protein, calcium and fibre.

                                          A tuna salad made with beans, diced veggies, vinegar, herbs and Italian tuna packed in oil needs no mayonnaise, though a couple of spoons of drained yogurt can add creaminess instead of mayo if you wish. Take an end portion of a whole wheat or multi-grain baguette (1/4 - 1/3), dig out the interior (snack on it while making the sandwich) and stuff the tuna and bean salad in. Makes a non-messy sandwich that is hearty and delicious.

                                          Another idea is a healthy banana-nut quick bread or homemade yogurt and fruit popsicles. Thai black rice pudding might be a fun twist, made with coconut milk, whole grain black sticky rice and chopped mangoes. The mangoes add sweetness so you can cut back on sugars. Use evaporated cane sugar or agave syrup to sweeten. Make your own "jello" with gelatin packets or agar agar/Irish moss and 100% fruit juices. When the gelatin is half-set in the fridge, drop in some fresh fruits and set completely. Bean dips, tzatziki with pita and veggies, hummus or eggplant dips are good. Bake your own corn tortillas to dip in homemade salsa. Use leftover rice to make fried rice, which the kids can eat cold from the fridge or nuke for a minute or two.