There’s a new buzzword phrase among parents these days: structured snacking. While habitual grazing that is out of sync with hunger can cause problems for kids and teens, back to school snacks that are timed correctly can help kids maintain energy levels and a healthy weight.
The biggest challenge for parents and caregivers is often how to provide kids with healthy snacks that they’ll actually eat—especially when life gets busy. And for those seeking bonus value, how to make healthy back to school snacks so tasty that they even have trading value on the playground.
First off, what makes a snack healthy? According to the Mayo Clinic, kids need to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including protein, fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. Does that mean that they should never eat junk food? No, say Mayo Clinic dietitians, but parents should limit added sugar and saturated and trans fats.
Now that it’s the first week of September, you might be looking for new back to school snack strategies that hit all the bases: healthy, easy, and delicious. To help you gear up, we turned to our resident expert on snacks for kids: Maggie R., 9, a new fourth grader and self-professed “picky eater.”
Maggie took a look at some healthy back to school snack ideas from popular food blogs and rated each one on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “awesome.” Each recipe requires a little prep but is relatively easy.
1. Crispy edamame, courtesy of Shrinking Kitchen
Maggie: 5 out of 5
Comment: “Most kids I know like edamame. I would definitely eat this. But not if it’s too spicy.”
2. Egg salad boats, courtesy of Big Red Kitchen
Maggie: 3 out of 5
Comment: “Not that many kids like egg salad, really. But I would like this if it was tuna salad instead.”
3. Pizza muffins, courtesy of Happy Healthy Mama
Maggie: 5 out of 5
Comment: Yes yes yes yes yes yes!
4. Fresh fruit pops, courtesy of Foodie Fun
Maggie: 5 out of 5
Comment: “That looks truly delicious.”
5. Faux sushi, courtesy of Modern Parents Messy Kids
Maggie: 2 out of 5.
Comment: “I’d rather have real sushi!”
Does Maggie have any other advice for making healthy back to school snacks that kids will eat? “If it’s healthy, make it creative and cute. Like with carrots, if you make a ring on a plate around some tomatoes, it will look fun and kids will want to eat it. Or make animal shapes for kids to take to school,” she says.
Whether your little ones agree with Maggie or not, hopefully these five popular ideas will help you get inspired for the school year, and maybe even to sneak a few bites yourself.
Going For Something Simpler?
Here are some more classic delicious and nutritious snacks that offer the perfect combinations of fiber, fat, carbs, and protein to fuel you and your busy kids.
This kid favorite is surprisingly healthy. Popcorn is a whole grain and has four grams of fiber per 3-cup serving. Stay away from the sugar-blasted kettle corn but otherwise go wild with toppings. Add grated cheese, cinnamon, or even yeast for a splash of flavor. You and your kids can enjoy this snack without any guilt.
7. Peanut butter
Peanut butter is a very healthy snack option that goes great with almost anything. Boring old oatmeal is transformed with a dollop of peanut butter. Any nut butter will do but try and avoid heavily processed name brands as they have added sugars. The rich, creaminess of peanut butter complements fruits like apples and bananas, vegetables like celery and carrots and spreads great on pieces of bread and crackers. For the particularly adventurous, try spreading peanut butter on to a burger – Elvis, the King, was known to do this.
Cheese is a wonderful snack. A serving provides a healthy dose of calcium and protein, perfect for growing bones. Cheese comes in endless varieties so you really cannot go wrong – but do avoid American cheese as the heavily processed and refined nature of the product makes it less than healthy. Avoid having cheese at every meal as this becomes unhealthy very quickly. Healthy pairings with cheese are grapes, apples, and sliced meats.
9. Chips & Dip
No, not potato chips – pita or tortilla chips. Potato chips are worse than you think – the primary cause of cavities is not sugary foods, but crunchy starch foods like potatoes. Starch is a type of sugar and when it gets stuck in your teeth it fuels the bacteria that cause cavities. Avoid this by using pita or tortilla chips. Not only are they healthier, they are also less likely to get stuck in your kid’s teeth, or even your own.
As for the dip, try hummus – the zesty tang complements the creamy spread. Bonus – it is super easy to make: garbanzo beans, blended, and spices like paprika, salt, and cumin. Salsa is inherently healthy as is black bean dip. Avoid the dip you find in the snack aisle. Cheese makes an excellent healthy dip, but stay away from nacho cheese. It’s even more refined than American cheese.
Protein is a vital nutrient for building muscle and providing energy. When prepared the right way, chicken is a healthy snack. Try to stay away from fried chicken. Go for the good stuff – baked chicken breast. The best part about this back to school snack? Chicken also tastes great cold. Be sure to travel with a cold-pack in your lunch box to keep the chicken fresh.
Remember – Healthy eating begins with you.
Snacks are often a big part of your child’s diet, and the last thing you want is them snacking on unhealthy food at home and at school. Having your kids be at school is no excuse for them not to continue to eat healthy food. With snacks like those listed above, your kids will gladly eat healthily and set themselves up for a healthy life. Be a good role model for your children. When they see you eating healthy foods, they will want to eat healthy too.