6 Things Your Kid's Snack Needs to Have to Count as Healthy

child eating snackYour kids are clamoring "I'm huuungryyyy!" only it's hours before lunch ... or dinner. You need a snack to tide them over that's healthy, won't ruin their appetite, and, oh yeah, is something they'll wanna eat!


Problem is, snacks are a highly misunderstood phenomenon -- and if you do them wrong, they can backfire. So we asked experts to tell us the elements of a truly healthy snack -- for yourself and your kids -- to offer balanced nutrition that'll keep you all sated until your next meal.

  1. The right ratio of carbs, protein, and fat. "Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats need to be in a ratio of 40:30:30," says Christopher Keroack, MD, a nutrition expert at Pioneer Valley Weight and Wellness Centers. "That's easier than you think -- just match the protein serving portion to the carb serving, and the fats are usually built in and take care of themselves." Lean animal proteins like meat, eggs, and dairy are great since they provide amino acids the body needs, paired with complex carbohydrates that aren't refined (in other words avoid sugar and white flour). Some examples: Try turkey cold cuts wrapped around apples, or Greek yogurt with granola or strawberries. Serving size will vary based on the age of your child but as a rule, it should be about the amount of food your kid can hold in the palm of two hands. 
  2. At least two colors. Brightly colored foods contain phytonutrients -- nutrients that strengthen the immune system and may prevent ailments from heart disease to cancer down the road. So try to aim for vivid colors, and a variety of them to boot. "Differently colored food contains different phytonutrients, so you should constantly shift your colors around to give your kids everything they need," says Dr. Keroack. Ideally try to get two colors into every snack -- i.e., blueberries and raspberries, or carrot and celery sticks (with hummus if you need to jazz things up).

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  3. Tons of fiber. If your kids are always famished no matter how much they eat, try feeding them a snack packed with 6 to 8 grams of fiber. "Eight grams of fiber will easily help children stay full for four to five hours," says Nicole Bermback, MD, a pediatrician in New York. Kids will get this out of 1/4 cup of steel-cut oatmeal, which also has 27 grams of carbs and 9 grams of protein, too. For a fun twist, try frying the oatmeal in olive oil for oatmeal cakes, which are a big hit with kids. 
  4. Iron. "Iron helps the body get the oxygen it needs to function properly," says Dr. Bermback. "This is one of the reasons it's a good snack and way to wake up. Iron-rich snacks include oatmeal, which packs 1.8 mg of iron, and also -- surprise! -- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which contains 1.2 mg of iron. "Peanut butter and jelly is one of the most classic and preferred snacks for a reason: It's very easy to make and very healthy," says Bermback. "As long as you pick a chunky peanut butter -- since chunky has less sugar -- and don't use too much jelly, you're good."
  5. Low or no added sugar. Of course kids crave sugary snacks like cookies and candy bars -- but those aren't actually snacks; they're treats that should be eaten only on rare occasions rather than as a bridge between meals. The snack that will satisfy your child's sweet tooth naturally is fresh fruit: "It's nature's own sweetness," points out Nicole Spain, a nutritionist at Learning Care Group, which educates parents on healthy eating. "Fruit also provides natural energy, fiber, and an abundance of vitamins and minerals." If an apple feels too been-there, done-that, occasionally consider making cheesecake fruit wraps instead: Spread a thin layer of cream cheese on a whole grain tortilla, then top with thinly sliced strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, and bananas and roll it up. Or try a tropical fruit smoothie: Combine frozen strawberries, raspberries, and mango with a banana, pineapple, pineapple juice, and coconut milk in a blender. Add a tablespoon of ground flax for extra fiber.
  6. Dairy. Okay, the snack doesn't need to have dairy, but if it does, it has plenty of benefits. "Dairy has lots of calcium, which is needed to build strong bones and teeth," says Dr. Spain. The best source of calcium comes straight from a cow, but since milk doesn't feel much like a snack, try some baked mozzarella sticks: Wrap mozzarella cheese sticks in wonton wraps and bake; serve with marinara sauce for dipping. Or try strawberry pretzel parfaits: Slice a serving of strawberries and combine them with a teaspoon of agave syrup. Smash pretzels into small chunks and sprinkle them with cinnamon. Combine plain low-fat Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of brown sugar. In an individual container layer yogurt, strawberries, and pretzels and repeat.

 What are your favorite healthy snacks to feed your kids?

Image via Jodi Jacobson/iStock

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