Nutritionist-Approved Kids' Snacks
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Healthy and Homemade
What parent hasn’t heard the words — often said multiple times in a day, in an urgent tone of voice — “I’m huunnngry … can I have a snack?” Keeping those little bellies satisfied can start to seem like a full-time job. It’s no wonder parents often resort to processed foods like energy bars, pretzels and juice boxes to tide kids over. The downside: Many of these standbys contain little more than empty calories. For some bright ideas on how to upgrade snack time, we asked top nutritionists — all moms themselves — for their favorite healthy alternatives. Happily, none of these tasty bites create a pile of dishes, and many can be whipped up by the kiddos themselves.
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"In the summertime when kids have been outside playing, they crave something refreshing. That's when I put out a bowl of colorful pineapple salsa. To make it, just combine cubed fresh pineapple with some chopped red bell peppers, jalapeno, onion, lime juice and cilantro and serve with whole-grain chips. It's a great way to get them eating more fruits and vegetables! And both pineapple and bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C, which helps keep kids’ immune systems healthy." — Jen Haugen, RDN, L.D., a Minnesota-based dietitian and author of The Mom’s Guide to a Nourishing Garden
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“A popular item at our high school cafeteria is the yogurt parfait. But it’s also so easy to make homemade and serve as an after-school snack: Just layer some vanilla or plain Greek yogurt with frozen berries and sprinkle with granola. It’s substantial enough to keep kids satisfied between meals, and it’s full of nutrients — calcium and protein from the yogurt, and vitamins and antioxidants from the berries.” — Jen Haugen, RDN, L.D., a Minnesota-based dietitian and author of The Mom’s Guide to a Nourishing Garden
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“One of my favorite midafternoon snacks for kids is an ‘energy bite,’ made from dates and nuts that are mixed in the food processor, rolled into balls and coated in dried coconut. Dates are great because they satisfy the sweet tooth, but they are also packed with fiber and minerals like potassium, iron and magnesium. Energy bites are super-easy to make, and a lot healthier than cookies or store-bought energy bars.” — Anne Danahy, M.S., RDN, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based dietitian and the blogger behind cravingsomethinghealthy.com
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Whole Grain Toast with Ricotta Cheese
“An easy snack that also makes a great breakfast for kids: Mix ricotta cheese with a bit of honey and spread on a slice of whole-grain toast. Then sprinkle on some raspberries and top with a little ground cinnamon. I love ricotta cheese, because it's a high-protein, calcium-rich ‘blank canvas’ that plays well with so many foods — no one seems to think of it until lasagna night! And berries are a fantastic source of fiber, which helps keep kids’ blood sugar stable.” — Anne Danahy, M.S., RDN, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based dietitian and the blogger behind cravingsomethinghealthy.com
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Tuna Salad on Whole Grain Crackers
“Most kids (and adults) don't eat the recommended two to three servings of seafood each week. Seafood is so vital for brain and heart health, so I like to serve this quick snack to fill in the gaps: Simply combine drained, flaked canned tuna with low-fat mayo and shredded carrots. Then use it as a topping for whole-grain crackers. A bonus is that it keeps well for a few days in the fridge, so you can whip up this snack in seconds flat.” — Liz Weiss, M.S., RDN, co-founder of mealmakeovermoms.com and co-author of The Smoothie Bowl Coloring Cookbook
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Smoked Salmon-Avocado Toast
"For snacks, kids often end up consuming foods that have little nutritional value and are high in sugar, saturated fat and sodium. I like to think of snacks as ‘mini meals,' or ways to fill in the nutrient gaps in a child’s day. Instead of half a plain bagel smothered in cream cheese, substitute a slice of whole-wheat toast or a crispbread cracker with mashed avocado and smoked salmon. Now you’ve got the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat from the avocado, plus protein and Omega-3s from the salmon.” — Liz Weiss, M.S., RDN, co-founder of mealmakeovermoms.com and co-author of The Smoothie Bowl Coloring Cookbook
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“Smoothie bowls are great because kids can customize them with their favorite toppings. Combine Greek yogurt with frozen fruit, chia seeds and sliced banana and sweeten with a drizzle of fruit juice. Then set out toppers like coconut chips, whole-grain cereal and dried fruit. It’s a nutritional win: fiber from the fruit and chia seeds along with a healthy dose of protein and calcium from the yogurt.” — Liz Weiss, M.S., RDN, co-founder of mealmakeovermoms.com and co-author of The Smoothie Bowl Coloring Cookbook
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Fruit Juice and Seltzer
“Twenty-five percent of kids’ caloric intake comes from beverages — that’s a lot. What kids get when they guzzle down a sports drink or a ‘juice’ drink are a lot of sugar and empty calories. Give their beverages a makeover: Mix club soda or seltzer with 100 percent fruit juice for a homemade fizzy drink with no added sugar. Add some mint leaves, berries or sliced cucumber to make it interesting, and get your kids involved in making it!” — Liz Weiss, M.S., RDN, co-founder of mealmakeovermoms.com and co-author of The Smoothie Bowl Coloring Cookbook
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“My two boys were always starving when they came home from school, and they always wanted something crunchy. If you opened up a bag of chips, they’d eat the whole thing. Instead of chips, I’d offer a big plate of mixed raw veggies with a dip. Keep in mind, though, not all kids like the same veggies, so offer a large variety and let them make their own choices: carrots, snap peas, cucumbers, peppers, even radishes. Serve with a dip that contains a good amount of fat, like hummus or Caesar dressing. Fat is important, because it helps your body absorb all those great fat-soluble nutrients from the raw vegetables.”— Liz Weiss, M.S., RDN, co-founder of mealmakeovermoms.com and co-author of The Smoothie Bowl Coloring Cookbook
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"Rice cakes are a low-calorie alternative to bagels or crackers — and the mini-sized ones are fun for kids to eat! I like to top them with nut butter for a simple whole-grain, protein-rich snack. You can also go one step further and add some dried fruit or sprinkle on mini chocolate chips to make them even more kid-friendly." — Katie Serbinski, M.S., R.D., Detroit-based founder of the nutrition blog momtomomnutrition.com
Apples with Cheese and Deli Meat
“So often, kids’ diets are carb-heavy — cereal, bread, crackers. So to even out that carb load, I’ll offer snacks that are high in protein. One of my favorites is apple slices wrapped with a thin slice of cheddar or provolone and fastened with a strip of low-sodium deli meat like turkey. Kids love the mix of flavors and textures. And the fiber from the apple, combined with fat and protein from the cheese and meat, gives them sustained energy without any sudden dips in blood sugar.” — Katie Serbinski, M.S., R.D., Detroit-based founder of the nutrition blog momtomomnutrition.com
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“My kid loves seaweed snacks — they’re salty and crunchy and fun to scrunch up and stuff in your mouth. I love them because they are a quick substitute for 'something green' when we're in a hurry or when they're not interested in raw vegetables. Seaweed is a great source of minerals like magnesium, iodine, and calcium, which are often in short supply in kids’ diets.” — Jessica Lane-Quinquis, M.S., RDN, LDN, a dietitian working in Beverly, Mass.
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“It’s amazing to me how many kids are drinking juice boxes — many brands contain as much sugar per ounce as soda, not to mention unnecessary additives and fillers. I usually offer water, but as a treat, I like coconut water. It has a mild sweet flavor, but is lower in sugar and contains 100 percent coconut water, with nothing else added. It’s also great on a hot day, or when kids have been outside playing hard, because coconut water helps replace electrolytes like potassium and sodium, and provides other important minerals like magnesium.” — Jessica Lane-Quinquis, M.S., RDN, LDN, a dietitian working in Beverly, Mass.
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“Edamame in the shell are fun: Kids enjoy the challenge of prying the beans out of their shells with their teeth! And edamame are hard to beat as a healthy, easy snack. Like all beans, they’re high in protein and fiber. The best part from my point of view: They literally take minutes to prepare!” — Jessica Lane-Quinquis, M.S., RDN, LDN, a dietitian working in Beverly, Mass.