Toddler Snacks: Healthier Choices for Your Kids

toddler apple

Photo by MegaMamaTX

American kids snack. A lot. In fact, more than twenty-five percent of kids' calories comes from snacks, says new research published in Health Affairs. The spike in snacking added 168 calories per day to kids' diets between 1977 and 2006, which translates to 17.5 extra pounds a year. No wonder childhood obesity is on the rise.

But few parents knowingly feed their kid unhealthy foods, which means that some of the "healthy" things we're giving our kids aren't so good for them after all. Here are some surprisingly unhealthy foods—and their healthier alternatives, provided by registered dietitian Susan Burke March, MS, RD, LD/E, CDE.

1. Yogurt

Bad: "Kid's" yogurt (and yogurt "fun foods") are packed with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial flavorings, and colors.

Better: Wholesome real yogurt (add real fruit). You'll ditch all the additives.


2. Oatmeal

Bad: Instant oatmeal—read the ingredient label. One teaspoon of sugar equals four grams. Some of the maple or other flavors have more than 12 grams per serving.

Better: Microwave whole oats in a glass dish (following the directions using low-fat milk or water). Stir in a quarter-cup of raisins for a naturally sweet breakfast.


3. Fruit Juice

Bad: Many juices, even those that are advertised as "natural" or "100% of the daily value," contain artificial sweeteners. Some contain only fruit juice concentrates, and are little more than sweetened water, enhanced with extra vitamins.
Better: An orange, an apple or a cup of applesauce. If you do serve juice, choose 100% natural fruit juice (not concentrate)—and limit kids to one 8-ounce serving a day.


4. Breakfast Bars

Bad: The first ingredient is usually enriched or refined flour and sugar is always at the top of the list too. It's a fattening meal of empty calories so your kid will be hungry again in an hour.

Better: A cup of yogurt with a cup of crunchy low-sugar cereal stirred in.


5. Peanut Butter

Bad: Some brands contain sugar, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat. Avoid peanut butter and jelly swirls (they're loaded with high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and other not-so-great additives).

Better: Choose brands with one or at most two ingredients: peanuts and maybe salt.


6. Fat-Free Foods

Bad: Just because something is fat-free that doesn't make it calorie-free or sugar-free or healthy. For example, a low-fat caramel dipping sauce served with apples can contain 70 calories. Since sugar can turn into fat in the body, fat-free foods that are high in sugar aren't really fat free.

Better: Read the labels and look at the calories and sugar per serving. Although it might feel counterintuitive, the fat-free option might be more fattening.


For more on how to make unhealthy snacks healthy, visit Wallet Pop.


What do you usually give your kids for snacks? Did anything on this list surprise you?


Related posts:

Grandparents Increase Kids' Obesity Risk

Should Toddlers Drink Soda?

The Science Behind Obama's Breastfeeding Message

food, health, picky eaters


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Ems629 Ems629

Our 28 month old DD goes for fruit and whole grain cheddar goldfish first. Yogurt second. I am guilty of getting the Stonyfield Farms 3 in1 Toddler yogurts (veggie and fruit in them) even though I know they have sugar in them, every once in a while. After all the entertaining we did over the holidays, she now requests "cheese plates" or "prudit-tays"(crudite)so I'll fix sliced grape tomatoes, cukes, cheddar cheese, sliced pickles, a whole grain cracker, craisins...stuff like that on a plate for her. Makes her feel so "big girl". Except she asked my DH for a cottail (cocktail), too! lol Which ended up being a bit of cranberry juice mixed with seltzer water.

Cafe... Cafe Cynthia

I knew about the yogurt, so that wasn't surprising, but the alternatives she gives to all these things are really great. Thanks!

RanaA... RanaAurora

Good post. :)

People try, I think, to do right... yogurt, peanut butter, oatmeal... but you HAVE to learn to read ingrdients and nutrition labels.

The Gerber "baby" yogurt for example is chemical-filled enough to last 18 months without refridgeration - that's NOT yogurt.  It also has 3 times the sugar in HALF the serving as the Greek yogurt I eat myself and none of the good bacteria.

toria... toriandgrace

17.5 lbs a year? My daughter gained a grand total of three in the last year. She eats goldfish, peanut butter crackers, kids yogurt (it's the only yogurt she can eat on her own because it's thicker than regular yogurt), carrots and peppers, cereal bars, and lots of cereal (the high fiber kinds). She also has one cup of apple juice a day. Oh and string cheese. I'm pretty comfortable with it all, to be honest.

Bearsjen Bearsjen

toriandgrace I just wanted to say be careful because the weight she gains now may not stay that rate. the metabolism changes constantly. and also its not just about weight, its also about setting an example for healthy eating for a childs whole a diabetic I research constantly looking for alternatives to things like the gerber snack items for my baby.. Low fat , low sugar and whole grain are the 3 important things to look for. as for fats? some fats are good, and all fat is needed for brain developement. a great yogurt, since its mentioned by us all, is the carbdown variety(and many stores carry a generic). my 10 month old is fascinated with taste and textures so luckily he loves fresh fruitsand veggies, soft boiled or steamed so he can handle them himself. This is an important post because so many moms do try, as was mentioned, but the labels are tricky and the words that are a foot long are confusing.ty cafe suzanne!

happy snacking!

Bearsjen Bearsjen

and ems629, thats precious how she has her own way of trying to be "grown up" lol a perfect example of how they look to us to form opinions and ideas about eating! ;)

toria... toriandgrace

Thanks Bearsjen for the advice. I probably should have mentioned, she's four and those are just things I think of that she might eat for a snack. The majority of her food is eats during a day are meat, veggies, fruit and bread/ noodles. Typically she has high fiber cereal (like Fiber One or Grapenuts) for breakfast with one cup of juice. Lunch she normally has lunch meat sandwiches or PB&J with carrots or peppers or salad and banana, apple or grapes and goldfish cracker or wheat thins. Then dinners always have a meat, a grain, and at least one fruit and veggie. I just don't see the big deal with kids yogurts and goldfish crackers and ritz crackers with JIF as long as it's in moderation. But that's the way I was raised and I'm still underweight.

final... finallymommy

ok, I'm sure I'll get bashed for this but wow really? Am I the only person thinking, "goodness if I really followed this advice to the letter not only would my daughter be a skeleton because she wouldn't be getting the fat and calories that she does need at her age but she would have the most bland diet known to man". Furthermore plain yogurt is gross even I don't eat it. We're super skinny in my family. My brother is 6'4" and on his best day doesn't weight more than 165-170. My daughter is just under the 25th percentile for weight. I'm not feeding her strictly non-fat, sugar free, low calorie food.

RanaA... RanaAurora

Finallymom, no I'm sure you're not the only person who misunderstands healthy eating.

It's a myth that eating healthy means you don't get to eat much.  To the contrary, eating healthy means you get to eat MORE because things are lower calories but jam-packed with nutrients.

It would probably behoove you to learn more about healthy eating to fix your misconceptions.

Bubbl... Bubbles318

My daughter's almost a year old and her favorite snacks are Gerber's toddler snacks like the veggie puffs, yogurt melts, freeze-dried fruit, or little meltaway puffs. She could eat that stuff till the cows come home! Lol.

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