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5 Ways to Help Your Kids Choose Healthy Snacks

posted: 09/03/15
by: Blythe Copeland
preschool kids eating healthy snacks
iStock

A filling after-school snack can give your kids the burst of energy they need to tackle homework, sports practice, music lessons, or whatever else the afternoon has in store. But offering up packaged snacks high in fat, salt, and sugar isn't the best option, no matter how convenient they are; instead, try these five tips for raising healthy snackers.

1. Avoid packaged foods.

On busy days, packaged snacks win for convenience -- grabbing a granola bar out of the pantry or hitting the drive through for fries is the easiest option when you're going from school to baseball to piano lessons with no break. But avoiding prepackaged treats gives your kids a hard start on healthy eating, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Offer easy-to-eat fruits that don't require any prep (like apples, bananas, or berries); slice raw peppers, cucumbers, and carrots the night before and serve them with individual containers of hummus; keep a stash of nuts, raisins, or dried fruit in the car; or throw a cheese stick into your bag instead of a handful of cookies.

2. Know what you're serving.

When you can't avoid a packaged snack, read the labels -- and know what to look for. Healthy choices will be low in saturated and trans fat, added sugar, and sodium. Whole wheat bread, crackers, bagels, and other whole grains are better choices than refined carbohydrates and sugars; make sure the first ingredient on the label is "whole grain" or "whole wheat" (even "multigrain" doesn't always mean whole grain). Choose low-fat dairy options instead of full-fat, and pay close attention to added sugars, which can sneak into healthy-looking choices. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 3-4 teaspoons (or 12-16 grams) of added sugar a day for school-aged kids. For reference: one 4-ounce container of a popular nonfat yogurt has 13 grams of sugar, and 4 ounces of a sweetened applesauce has 22 grams (the high-fructose-corn-syrup-free has just 11). Something else to keep in mind: though artificial sweeteners aren't dangerous to kids, some studies suggest that choosing foods made with them can get tastebuds hooked on sweets, meaning they'll crave more.

3. Offer options.

Trying to ward off snack boredom? Come up with a few foolproof pairs of healthy options to keep things interesting: plain, low fat yogurt with berries and a drizzle of honey; low fat cheese and whole grain crackers; mini whole wheat bagels spread with peanut butter; whole grain cereal and milk; pretzels dipped in hummus; apples slices or grapes with cheese; microwave popcorn alongside dried apricots, cherries, or berries. Many store-bought snacks are also easier than you might think to DIY at home: try making your own versions of Goldfish crackers, fruit leather, granola bars, and graham crackers.

4. Measure portions.

No matter how healthy the snack is, one key to keeping it healthy is keeping an eye on portion size. Many kid-friendly snacks come in individual packages -- squeeze yogurt, fruit cups, mini boxes of raisins, string cheese -- but if you're sticking to a budget by buying in bulk, measure out portions and teach your kids to do the same. Serve favorite snacks in small reusable containers featuring favorite characters, quarter-cup sized bowls, or small snack bags instead of larger bowls, and offer seconds on fresh fruits and vegetables before getting out the bag of chips or candy.

5. Set specific times and places for snacking.

Growing kids may not always be hungry at the same time every day, but you also should try to limit grazing. Set dedicated snack and meal times to prevent hunger meltdowns, and encourage kids to sit at the table instead of eating while watching television or playing games. Giving children unlimited access to snacks -- an an unlimited quantity -- can interfere with their ability to figure out when they're actually hungry. Another must: Giving kids plenty of water --not juice -- throughout the day to keep them hydrated.