Healthy School Snacking 101
Written by Andrea Mcgrew
, 6 min read
Simply follow this healthy snack guide to help your child have a happy & healthy time at school.
Kids love snacks; in fact, 27% of children’s daily calories come from snacks. Snacks can keep younger children from getting so hungry that they become cranky, and they can keep older kids from overeating at larger meals. However, if the snacks kids are eating are from foods with little nutritional value, such as chips, snack cakes and soda, those empty calories add up quickly increasing your child's risk of unhealthy weight gain. While fruits, vegetables and foods that contain whole grains, dairy and protein are always a good choice, the best snacks are low in sugar, fat, and salt.
So how can you tell if a snack food is considered a healthy option?
- Look at the ingredient list
Focus on what comes first. Ingredients are listed in order of greatest to smallest by weight. So if strawberries appear as the first ingredient in strawberry jam, strawberries make up the majority of that food product. But here’s where it can get tricky. Ingredient lists may include several variations of the same ingredient. If you add them together, that ingredient could actually be what makes up the majority of that food. For example, just because a version of sugar isn’t listed first doesn’t mean sugar isn’t the number one or two ingredients in that food product.
Kids ages 2-18 should have less than 25 grams or 6 teaspoons of added sugar daily to reduce their risk of obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.
- Learn the buzzwords.
Sugar, sodium and saturated and trans fats can be listed under several different names. Sugar, for example, may appear as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, honey, molasses.
To keep an eye on sodium when reading ingredient lists, watch for words like salt, brine, baking soda, monosodium glutamate and sodium benzoate.
Unhealthy fats also have a few disguises, including lard, partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oils, tallow and shortening.
Healthy sodium levels are as follows:
1,200 mg/day for ages 1 through 3
1,500 mg/day for ages 4 through 8
1,800 mg/day for ages 9 through 13
2,300 mg/day for ages 14+
For children aged 2 years and older, intake of saturated fat should be limited to less than 10 percent of calories per day by replacing them with unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil.
Please keep in mind that you never want to restrict a child's fat intake if they are under the age of 2. Fat encourages brain and nervous system development as well as aiding in the absorption of essential nutrients for growth.
Your best bet is to choose products with short ingredient lists. While additives and preservatives may be necessary to make certain foods safe for consumption, the shorter the ingredient list the less likely it is to contain unhealthy ingredients.
Also, keep in mind that while we want to have healthy snacks it is still okay to have a special treat every once in a while!
Below is a list of easy Dietitian approved nutritious and affordable snacks so delicious, your child will be buzzing to open that lunchbox! .
Zesty Greek Yogurt Veggie Dip servings 8
Ingredients- 8oz Plain low fat Greek yogurt, 1tsp. garlic powder, 1/2tsp. onion powder, 1/2tsp. dried dill, 1/4tsp. Kosher or sea salt, 1/4tsp. Worcestershire sauce, 1/8tsp. cayenne pepper*
- In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir until incorporated.
- Place in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to eat.
- Choose your favorite veggies, such as carrots, cucumbers, raw broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower then dip and enjoy.
*If spice isn't your thing just substitute the cayenne pepper with paprika.
Easy Peasy Pizza servings 4
Ingredients- 4 Mini Naan bread, Pizza* sauce, 1 cup part skim mozzarella cheese, ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese, italian seasoning, olive oil.
- Preheat oven to 425*F (220*C) and lightly oil a large sheet pan
- Place Naan on an oiled sheet pan.
- Spread the sauce evenly over the naan bread.
- Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.
- Place in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly golden.
- Let cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.
*Whole wheat english muffins or mini bagels are a great substitute for Naan bread. Regular pasta sauce works just as well if you don't have pizza sauce on hand.
Healthy Homemade Trail Mix serving varies
Ingredients- Base-1 cup of your favorite nuts, ½ cup dried fruit of your choice, ½ cup low sugar cereal*
Extra goodies of your choice- ½ cup each: air popped popcorn, wasabi peas, pretzel pieces or dark chocolate chips are some great examples of how you can customize your trail mix to conquer your cravings.
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl
- Store leftover trail mix in an airtight container.
*Cereals with 10gm or less of sugar are good choices.
Chocolate Covered Banana Chips Servings 4
Ingredients- 2 Ripe bananas, 1 cup dark chocolate chips, 2 Tbsp. coconut oil,
- Line a sheet pan with waxed paper.
- Slice the bananas and place the slices on the lined sheet.
- Put the tray in the freezer until the bananas are frozen solid. About an hour.
- Meanwhile, place the chocolate chips and the coconut oil in a small microwave safe bowl.
- Microwave for 30 seconds and then stir. Microwave for another 15 seconds and stir again, until all the chocolate is melted and smooth. Put it back in the microwave for another few seconds if necessary. Don't over heat. Set the chocolate aside to cool.
- Dip the frozen banana slices into the cooled chocolate and coat on all sides then place back on the lined sheet pan.
- Put the chocolate covered slices back in the freezer right away.
- Store the slices in a zip lock freezer baggie once the chocolate has hardened..
Ants on a Log servings 2
Ingredients- 4 Celery ribs , 4T peanut butter, raisins
- Wash the celery sticks and cut each stick in half.
- Add 1Tbsp. of peanut butter into the concave part of each celery stick and spread.
- Push raisins into the peanut butter to represent ants.
Piernas, C., & Popkin, B. M. (2010). Trends in snacking among U.S. children. Health affairs (Project Hope), 29(3), 398–404. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2009.0666
Korioth, T. (2021, May 29). Added sugar in kids' diets: How much is too much? American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.aappublications.org/news/2019/03/25/sugarpp032519.
Ellis, R. by E. (n.d.). Serving Size vs Portion Size Is There a Difference. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/serving-size-vs-portion-size-is-there-a-difference.
Easy Tips To Understand The Ingredient List On Food Labels. Henry Ford LiveWell. (n.d.). https://www.henryford.com/blog/2016/12/easy-tips-to-understand-the-ingredient-list-on-food-labels.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020. Available at DietaryGuidelines.gov.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.