Every kid loves a good snack. I have yet to meet a child whose eyes don’t light up at the mention of the word. There are so many choices out there and it’s often difficult to discern which options are truly healthy snacks for kids. Labels such as “natural” or “real fruit” are plastered on packaging while the foods inside are often filled with hydrogenated oils and excess sugar. Reading through ingredient lists while your kids are wrestling in a shopping cart can be tricky, so I’ve created this guide to give you a quick and easy way to make healthy choices for your family.
The snacks you give your kids can depend on where you are or what you’re doing. At home, it can be easy to serve up fresh cut fruit—something rather difficult to do while stuck in traffic. Different snacks serve different purposes and my goal is to help you nourish your child, and provide you with some alternatives for every situation. Many of these could still be considered a “treat,” but are better choices for your family overall. Remember, moderation is key! Treats can and should be enjoyed by kids in the right amounts and at the right times.
Let’s hop in! Heres is a list of ingredients that I aim to avoid in snacks:
- Artificial dyes
- Artificial sweeteners
- Artificial preservatives
- Artificial flavors
- High fructose corn syrup
- Hydrogenated oils
- GMOs – corn, sugar, soy, canola
- Mono and diglycerides
- Caramel color
- Added hormones
- Excessive sugar
Two of the most common ingredients you will encounter are artificial dyes (hello Fruit Gushers) and excess sugar (looking at you, Chewy Bars.) Here is a bit of information on these two ingredients:
- The American Heart Association recommends less than 25 grams (which is the equivalent to 6 teaspoons) of added sugar for kids ages 2-18. (The adult recommendation is less than 30, so keep it savory, Mama!). Added sugars are found in places you don’t expect, like dips and salad dressings. When you add those to the high sugars found in snacks, your kids can hit the limit of 25 grams quite quickly.
- According to the Cleveland Clinic, “eating lots of added sugar early in life is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.” Added sugar intake can add up fast, especially when it comes to snack food.
- Several double blind studies done over the past 40 years have shown that food dyes can impair behavior in kids. Many snack brands have switched to using natural dyes—Trader Joe’s has largely made this switch with their products.
- The FDA said in 2011: “Exposure to food and food components, including artificial food colors and preservatives, may be associated with adverse behaviors, not necessarily related to hyperactivity, in certain susceptible children with ADHD and other problem behaviors, and possibly in susceptible children from the general population.”
- Since 2011, more studies have shown a link between artificial dyes and the effect on children, including 3 meta-analyses studies showing that “dyes can trigger hyperactivity or ADHD symptoms in sensitive children.”
- In Europe, foods that contain certain dyes require a warning label stating that the dye “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” How did European companies respond? Very few companies now include those artificial dyes in their products. Hopefully American companies will be quick to follow this example.
I’ve compiled the list of snack swaps below to keep your kiddos healthy and happy. This list should simplify your shopping trips and help you focus on being with your kids rather than worrying that what they’re munching on is healthy.
Here are some of my favorite “On-The-Go” snack swaps:
Instead of Go-Gurt, try Stonyfield Organic Kids:
- Although the “Simple!” Go-Gurt is advertised as low sugar, it doesn’t contain any live cultures. Stonyfield Organic Yogurt contains less sugar than other similar yogurt and provides your kids’ tummies with the probiotics they need. The fats and protein in yogurt will also help keep your kids full in between meals.
Instead of Capri-Sun, try Hint
- Capri-Sun has high sugar levels that will spike your child’s blood sugar and can contribute to other health issues mentioned above. Hint makes a great alternative that offers up the sweet refreshment they’re craving without the extras they don’t need.
Instead of Chips Ahoy!, try Simple Mills Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Switching out your cookies from Chips Ahoy! to these almond flour cookies from Simple Mills will give your kids a delicious treat without added high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, or artificial flavors.
Instead of Ritz Bits, try Trade Joe’s Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers
- The Mini Cheese Sandwich Crackers from Trader Joe’s are not only delicious, but they’re also made with organic ingredients. Ritz Bits contain hydrogenated and GMO oils, along with glyphosate; none of which your children will be consuming when eating the Trader Joe’s version.
When at home, these swaps are quick and easy:
Instead of Hidden Valley Ranch, try Hope Hummus
- While ranch is very tasty, it doesn’t have much nutritional value to keep your kids full. Swap their ranch out for this Hummus from Hope to give them the proteins and fats needed to keep their muscles and brains developing.
Instead of Welch’s Fruit Snacks, try fresh fruit
- Fruit snacks contain tons of added sugar which will never be found in fresh fruit. Fruit is plenty sweet on its own, and can be cut with fun cookie cutters to make them more appealing to your kids!
Instead of Market Pantry Ice Pops, try Goodpop
- Goodpop ice pops are all made with only natural fruit juice and don’t include any added sugars. They’re also colored with fruit juice rather than artificial dyes like the Market Pantry pops.
While avoiding certain ingredients is important, it’s also a good idea to provide snacks that will keep your child full and not begging for more to eat five minutes later. I like to use this little trick below to create snacks that help my children have the energy to play and learn all day long.
Fruit + Protein + Fats + Veggie
This can look differently depending on where you are. If you’re on a long road trip, it may be a carrot and applesauce pouch with crackers and a cheese stick. At home, it can be a more elaborate spread of banana smiley faces made with cucumber eyes and hummus, nuts, and seeds. I like to get creative with mixing it up and this little chart is a great reference for coming up with new and exciting combos!
Thank you for reading along and learning about how to create healthy snacks for your kids. Hopefully this post has helped alleviate some of the anxiety around feeding your kids well, and shown you some new tips on easy alternatives to your kids’ favorites! Happy snacking!