What is a Healthy Snack?
As a parent, we want our kids to have the best health possible. Good nutrition plays a critical role in helping kids reach their full potential, both physically and mentally. When it comes to snacks, there is a place for packaged snacks, but these snacks are usually high in added sugar and unhealthy fats, which aren’t fueling our kids in the best way.
A healthy snack consists of 4 different foods. This formula has existed forever with good reason:
As a dietitian, I recommend having 2 of these groups included in a healthy snack. The reason is because including two different food groups provide a balance of nutrients that fill in the nutrition gaps for kids and also help them feel fuller longer. There are hundreds of food combinations that include 2 food groups and are delicious and filling!
What Is a Good Snack Schedule?
All kids have different hunger levels based on their age, size, and activity level, so how often they need a snack will vary between kids.
Snack Schedule for Kids Ages 2-4:
- Morning Snack: Offer a snack around 10-11 a.m. This snack should be a nutritious and filling option to help keep them fueled and focused in the morning.
- Afternoon Snack: Offer a snack in the mid-afternoon, around 2-3 p.m. This snack should provide a boost of energy and help them avoid the “afternoon slump.”
- Pre-dinner Snack: Offer a light snack before dinner, around 5 p.m. This snack should help tide them over until dinner and prevent overeating at the main meal.
- Bedtime Snack: You can offer a light snack after dinner, around 7-8 p.m.
Snack Schedule for Kids and Teens:
- After-School Snack: Offer a snack in the mid-afternoon or after school. This snack should help them avoid the “afternoon slump” and provide energy for after-school activities.
- Pre-dinner Snack: If kids are hungry before dinner, you can offer a light snack an hour before dinner. This snack should help tide them over until dinner and prevent overeating at the main meal.
- Bedtime Snack: You can offer a light snack after dinner, around 8-9 p.m. This snack can be a sweet treat or something light and nutritious.
What Healthy Snacks Fill You Up?
Sometimes a snack can satisfy your appetite, but then you are hungry again an hour later. The key to finding a satiating snack is not just to look at the volume of the snack, but also what the snacks are made of.
A snack that fills you up for several hours will have a combination of fiber (for volume), fat (for satisfaction), carbs (for energy), and protein (for building). When these are a part of your snack choice, you better believe they will keep your kids full!
These are some ideas for healthy snacks that keep you full:
- Turkey + carrot stick + hummus + whole wheat tortilla rolled up
- Hummus + carrot sticks and cucumber slices
- Apple + cheese stick
- Avocado slices + toast + lime juice
- Hard boiled egg with stone ground mustard + bell pepper slices
- Edamame with sea salt
- Pistachios + grapes
- Trail Mix with nuts + dried fruit + popcorn
- Yogurt + berries
- Rice cake + nut butter + mini chocolate chips
- Roasted chickpeas + apple slices
- Toast + nut butter + banana
- Dried apricots + walnuts
- Cottage cheese + blueberries + honey drizzle
- Ham + cheese + whole wheat tortilla rolled up
- Protein bar + snap peas
- Whole grain crackers + cheese + pear slices
- Orange slices + toasted almonds
- Celery sticks + peanut butter + craisins
What is a Good Snack Portion Size?
A snack doesn’t need to leave you stuffed! No meal needs to do that. If you can assess your hunger before and after a snack, and truly be mindful of it, you can determine how hungry you are on a scale. If 1 on the scale is STARVING, and a 10 is STUFFED. The goal with snacks is to leave you at a 6! You aren’t starving anymore, but you aren’t stuffed either. To eat to a 6 takes practice, attention, and mindfulness, but it’s so worth it.
Snack portion sizes for kids vary depending on their age, activity level, and overall diet. However, as a general guideline, here are some recommended portion sizes for healthy snacks:
- For toddlers (1-3 years old): 1/4 to 1/2 cup of fruits, vegetables, or dairy; 1 to 2 ounces of protein (cheese, yogurt, or meat); 1 to 2 teaspoons of nut butter; 1 small piece of fruit or a few dried fruit pieces; 1 small cracker or rice cake.
- For kids (4-8 years old): 1/2 to 3/4 cup of fruits, vegetables, or dairy; 2 to 4 ounces of protein; 1 to 2 tablespoons of nut butter; 1 medium piece of fruit or a few dried fruit pieces; 2 to 3 small crackers or rice cakes.
- For older kids (9-12 years old): 3/4 to 1 cup of fruits, vegetables, or dairy; 4 to 6 ounces of protein; 1 to 2 tablespoons of nut butter; 1 large piece of fruit or a handful of dried fruit pieces; 4 to 6 small crackers or rice cakes.
Remember that these are just guidelines, and each child’s individual needs may vary. It’s important to encourage healthy snacking habits and listen to their hunger and fullness cues to ensure they’re eating the right amount of food for their individual needs.
What Do I Feed My Child Who is Always Hungry?
If your child is always hungry, they might not be getting enough calories at meals, or the right balance of nutrients. At each meal and snack, they should be eating protein, grains, fruit and vegetables. Here are some snack ideas that can help keep your child feeling full:
- Whole grain crackers with cheese or peanut butter: these provide complex carbohydrates and protein to keep your child feeling full.
- Half Sandwich: start with whole-wheat bread, pick a source of protein, and include a fruit or veggie, if possible.
- Veggies with dip: carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, are high in fiber, and dips like homemade ranch or hummus provide healthy fats and protein.
- Chicken or tuna salad: mix shredded chicken or tuna with Greek yogurt, salt and pepper, lemon juice, and chopped pickles and serve on whole grain crackers.
- Turkey or chicken roll-ups: roll slices of deli meat with cheese or veggies in a whole grain tortilla for a filling and nutritious snack.
- Hard-boiled eggs: eggs are a complete protein and provide healthy fats, making them a filling snack option. Serve them with pita triangles and a tzatziki dip.
What Snacks Boost Energy?
A healthy snack should be able to give you quick and sustained energy. A balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats in your snacks give a good mix of quick and sustained energy.
- Bananas: bananas are a good source of carbohydrates and potassium, which can help boost energy levels. Pair them with nut butter for protein and healthy fat.
- Energy Balls: energy balls are a convenient snack that can provide a combination of carbohydrates (quick energy boost) protein and healthy fats (sustained energy).
- Fruit Smoothies: blending fruit with Greek yogurt or milk, and chia seeds gives you stable energy because of the balanced ratio of protein, fats, and fiber with carbohydrate from the fruit.
- Whole grain crackers with nut butter: crackers provide complex carbohydrates and nut butter provides healthy fats and protein, which can provide sustained energy.
- Pretzels with Homemade Guac: pretzels provide carbohydrates and the avocados in the guac provide healthy fats and protein.
What are The Best Bedtime Snacks?
A good bedtime snack should be a balanced combination of carbohydrates and protein that will help promote relaxation and sleep. Some of the best bedtime snacks include:
- Yogurt with fruit: Yogurt is a good source of calcium, which is important for muscle relaxation and sleep. Adding fruit to yogurt provides carbohydrates to help release the hormone insulin, which in turn triggers the release of tryptophan, an amino acid that helps produce serotonin and melatonin, the hormones that promote sleep.
- Whole grain crackers and cheese: Whole grain crackers provide carbohydrates to help release insulin, while the protein in cheese helps tryptophan get into the brain.
- Whole grain toast with nut butter: Whole grain toast provides carbohydrates, while almond butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats.
- Banana slices with a handful of pumpkin seeds: Bananas are a good source of magnesium which has been shown to help with sleep, and pumpkin seeds contain tryptophan which helps improve sleep by helping make melatonin and serotonin.
Try to make your portion sizes small, because overeating before bed can disrupt sleep. Aim for a snack that is around 200 calories or less.
What Are The Best Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids?
These are some of my favorite easy recipes for healthy snack:
Healthy Apple Muffins
Made with whole wheat flour, coconut oil, applesauce and maple syrup these Healthy Apple Muffins will be your new favorite apple recipe.
3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Banana Bars Recipe
This healthy banana dessert is gluten free, dairy free, no added sugars, and perfect for quick & easy breakfasts, school lunches, or a healthy snack.
Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie
The most thick, creamy and absolutely dreamy smoothie you will ever make, this Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie is also packed with nutrition!
Chocolate Chip Zucchini Protein Bars
A healthy kid-friendly snack that is high in protein and doesn’t use any weird protein powders! Instead these are packed with fruits, veggies and all sorts of nutritious ingredients!
Dips with Fruit or Veggies
Here’s a simple, solidly tasty Veggie Dip made from Greek yogurt and flavored with handy dried herbs and spices. Serve it to kids who love to dip!
Peanut Butter Chocolate Trail Mix Granola Bar Recipe
These granola bars are chewy with an amazing salty and sweet balance.
Peanut Butter Fudge Protein Energy Balls
Kids need a quick boost of whole food protein? Two of these fudgy energy balls provide 8 grams of plant protein with NO powders in sight.
All of your favorite Mexican flavors all rolled up in a bite-sized, finger food meal perfect for kids!
Frozen Yogurt Bark
Creamy Greek yogurt is sprinkled with fresh strawberries, blueberries and crunchy pistachios checking all the boxes for a yummy treat!
What are the Healthiest Packaged Snacks?
- Hippeas Chickpea Puffs 18 ct, variety pack
- Stacy’s Pita Chip Thins 3 flavors, 24 pack
- Skinny Pop Popcorn 40 count
- Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars 6 flavors, 36 bars
- Lara Bar Minis 20 count
- Pistachio Packs 24 pack
- On-The-Go Trail Mix Packs 18 count
- Archer Mini Beef Sticks 28 sticks
- Jack’s Beef Jerky Packs 20 pack
- Kind Mini Bars 32 pack
- Bare Baked Crunchy Dried Fruit 6 count
- Pure Organic Layered Fruit Bars 56 bars
- On average, children consumed 8.2 (95%CI 7.4, 9.1) snacks per day, of which 5.2 (95%CI 4.6, 5.9) were discretionary foods/beverages.
- Research indicates that 27 percent of children’s daily calories may come from snack foods.
I'm a registered dietitian, mom of 4, avid lover of food and strong promoter of healthy habits. Here you will find lots of delicious recipes full of fruits and veggies, tips for getting your kids to eat better and become intuitive eaters and lots of resources for feeding your family.Learn More about Natalie