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Healthy Snacks for Kids and Grown-Ups

Avoid junk foods and introduce nutritious mini-meals with foods that are good for all ages.

two cute girls eating bananas

The word “snack” may conjure up images of cookies, chips and even candy. But snack food doesn’t have to mean food you may think of as generally unhealthy. Well-planned snacks can be a vital part of a meal plan for both growing children and adults.

Think about snacks as nutritious, planned mini-meals. Most growing children need more nutrients than they normally eat during a day’s worth of meals. And unless you’re eating three very well-balanced meals, snacks can give an extra daily nutrition boost to adults, too. Here are some ideas from the Department of Agriculture’s Choose My Plate website.

Plan ahead

Adults and kids alike benefit from planned, daily menus that include one or two snacks as part of the daily meals. If your child is hungry at other times, also be prepared to offer small, healthy snacks. But, it’s important to allow children to recognize when they are hungry or full. Plan for those on-the-go snack moments; fresh fruits, such as bananas or apples, or washed and cut up veggies, like carrots and cucumbers, are easy to grab as you head out the door.

Hit the food groups

Look for snacks that include at least two food groups, such as apple or tomato slices with cheese, a mini-bagel or whole-grain bread with peanut butter, yogurt topped with diced fruit or berries, or graham crackers to dip in yogurt. Low-fat string cheese or cottage cheese are good options, too.

In general, the dietary guidelines that apply to adults apply to kids. So, try to incorporate more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, lean meats and poultry, seafood*, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds into your family’s snacks and meals.

Don’t panic over picky eaters

Kids can be notoriously picky eaters. This is normal, and it’s likely they are still getting the nutrients they need to develop. If you don’t make a big deal about it, this phase will likely end before your child is school age. But if you have concerns, ask your pediatrician.

Keep it simple

Keep a variety of fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruit on hand for simple grab-and-go snacks. Single-serving sizes of fat-free yogurt, low-fat pudding, natural applesauce and low-fat string cheese can give your kids energy during a tough homework session and give you energy throughout the day. Have cut-up fruits and veggies in the fridge for those mid-afternoon munchies. Enjoy these snacks with a healthy dip like hummus.

Have them help

Invite your older kids to help make their own trail mix, then put into snack-size containers. Let them pick their favorite unsalted nuts, dried fruit and fresh popped popcorn. You may add some dark chocolate chips or whole-grain pretzels. Let them create their own flavor of smoothies with low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt with fresh, frozen fruit or 100 percent fruit juice.

Be an example

You may need to introduce a small portion of a new snack many times. Your child is more likely to try new foods if he or she sees you try new foods and hears you comment on the taste. It’s also good for your child to see you packing fruit or vegetables you plan to eat yourself as a snack on the fly.

Drinks count

Water is a good choice. Low-fat and fat-free milk is another good option. Preschoolers’ daily needs include 2 to 2½ cups of fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk. The recommended amount for school-age children and adults is 2½ to 3 cups. Beverages labeled “100 percent fruit juice,” are okay, too, in small amounts of 4 to 6 ounces. Remember, whole, fresh, canned and dried fruits offer more fiber and, in general, are better choices than juice.

For other ideas, visit to help you and your kids select healthy snacks they’ll enjoy.

*Certain people need to be cautious about fish that is higher in mercury. This includes young children as well as women who are pregnant, may become pregnant or are nursing. Learn more at Search for “mercury in fish.”

Note: Some foods, like hot dogs, hard candy, dried fruit, grapes, popcorn, peanut butter or nuts, can make small children choke. Cut fruits and veggies into pieces smaller than a nickel. Cut round foods like cherry tomatoes and grapes in half. Cut hot dogs lengthwise. Always have your preschoolers sit down when they eat, and monitor them when eating.

By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer

U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans 2015. Accessed: March 15, 2017. 10 tips for healthy snacking. Accessed: March 15, 2017. Snack ideas. Accessed: March 15, 2017.

Updated March 14, 2017