Healthy between-meal eating can
keep kids fueled throughout the day.
By Corinne Garcia
These days kids are just as busy as their parents, spending full days in school followed by activities ranging from soccer practice to saxophone lessons and then hitting the homework before pouring themselves into bed. Breakfasts are often rushed, as everyone grabs a bite before heading to the school bus or carpool, and school lunches are brief (children are lucky if they get 30 minutes).
As parents, it’s important to help kids keep their tanks filled, providing nutritional snacks that can boost children’s energy levels between meals and propel them through their days. Grabbing processed snacks may seem like the easiest option, but many of them provide little to nothing in the way of nutrition while swamping young bodies in sugar, corn syrup, salt and trans fats. One study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics examined the contents of lunchboxes carried by more than 600 Massachusetts schoolchildren; the typical snack paired a sugary beverage with a packaged food.
These empty-calorie snacks provide a short boost in blood sugar but aren’t going to keep a child going like more nutritionally dense options. “Cracker-type snacks tend to get digested quickly and fade really quickly,” explains Jill Castle, MS, RDN, co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (Jossey-Bass). “We know from research that protein quenches the appetite better and keeps them fuller longer, and healthy fats do the same.”
Little Bodies, Little Meals
Parents need to think outside of the box—or the packaging—to come up with nutritional snacks on the go. In doing so, Castle tends to look to the food groups that are listed on the USDA’s My Plate chart—fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. She recommends covering a combination of two to three of these groups for each snack time.
“Think of it like a little meal, holding blood sugar up for a period of time, but also offering kids a lot of nutrition,” Castle says. “Kids need over 40 nutrients per day, including vitamins and minerals, so snacks have to count.”
Kelly Walunis, a mother and a manager for Bozeman, Montana’s Community Food Co-op, tends to stay away from processed food snacks to avoid the added sugar, fat and salt. Instead, she looks for a variety of colors and proteins. “I think, ‘Does she have a green vegetable somewhere in her snacks? Is there something orange? What has protein?" Walunis explains. “I don't avoid bread or high-carbohydrate foods, but I don't seek them out either, because I feel that my daughter gets enough through provided snacks, whether it’s from the school or at a friend’s house.”
As far as how many snacks kids should eat each day, Castle says that it depends on a child’s stage of development. Preschoolers need about three snacks, school-aged kids need two or three, and teenagers should have one or two. She says the typical school-aged child should eat every three to four hours, consuming 100 to 200 calories per snack.
“Kids have smaller stomachs than adults, so they need to eat smaller meals more often,” Walunis says. “Healthy snacking promotes future healthy nutrition, which in turn prevents obesity and the diseases that go along with that.” Castle adds, “Their bodies will be fueled, their brains will function well, their appetites will be satisfied and the snacks will be contributing to their daily nutritional needs.”
When it comes to choosing nutritious foods, Stacey Antine, MS, RD, founder of HealthBarn USA and author of Appetite for Life (HarperOne), likes to frame snacks in a different way for children. Instead of referring to a food as being “healthy,” a term that may make a potato chip-loving child run the other way, she likes to talk about where snacks come from—a factory or nature.
“Kids don’t want to be duped, so why not teach them the truth about food, and the difference between natural ingredients and artificial ingredients?” Antine says. “I ask them, ‘Does it come from nature, did it grow in the ground or come from an animal?’”
In her health-based education programs, Antine teaches kids to read labels and empowers them with the knowledge they need to make practical food choices. “Once you talk about food in a way that they can understand, they start to question the foods they are eating,” she says.
Besides fueling children’s growing bodies, healthy snacks can make it easier for them to learn. Trying to keep kids engaged over a full day of school is not always an easy task under the best of circumstances; put them on a sugar high and they are likely to experience a nasty crash.
“Kids can get jacked up on juice or pretzels and spike from sugars, getting this rush where they feel ‘up’ and then come crashing down and are starving,” Antine explains. “Think about people who have to manage children’s learning every day; by sending poor snacks, we make it harder.”
Easy, Nutritious Snack Ideas
In the spirit of helping a child succeed in the classroom and beyond, it seems that healthy snacks can play a large role. So what kind of simple, yet nutritious snacks can busy parents tuck into their child’s backpack on their way out the door?
Castle’s go-to snacks include:
• A banana with peanut butter for dipping
• Whole-grain cereal mixed with peanuts, raisins, dried cherries and chocolate chips
• An all-natural granola bar with a piece of fruit
• Cheese sticks with fresh fruit
• Cheese or peanut butter with whole-grain crackers for mini-sandwiches
• Carrots and hummus
Antine’s suggestions include (see below for additional recipes):
• Homemade healthy muffins, such as banana chocolate chip
• Grapes, cheese chunks and whole-grain crackers
Walunis’ ideas include:
• Hardboiled eggs
• Dried apple or pineapple rings
• Avocado halves
“Every day is a new opportunity to help your children choose a healthier lifestyle, starting with really good food,” says Antine. Learning to reach for high-quality snacks instead of sugary junk is crucial to that process.
Chocolate Chickpea Chippers
The folks at HealthBarn USA say, “We know what you’re thinking—cookies made
with chickpeas? But these cookies are a delicious, healthy alternative to
traditional chocolate chip cookies.”
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp ground flaxseeds
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/4 cup low-sodium canned chickpeas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
2. Combine oats, flour, flaxseeds, baking soda and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
3. In a large bowl, beat together sugar and applesauce until smooth. Add mashed chickpeas, egg and vanilla; combine.
4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients in small batches, mixing thoroughly. Fold in chocolate chips.
5. Using rounded tablespoons, drop cookies onto greased baking sheets. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 1-2 minutes and then transfer cookies to wire racks.
Yields 30 cookies. Source:
HealthBarn USA (healthbarnusa.com).
The Barn Bar
According to HealthBarn USA, “Our delicious Barn Bar is high in heart-healthy fats and fiber, and contains easy-to-read ingredients. It’s especially good as a morning school snack.”
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2/3 cup ground flaxseeds
1/3 cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raisins (or dried cranberries)
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup canola oil
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line 13”x9” metal baking pan with foil extending 2” over short sides of pan. Grease foil.
2. In large bowl, combine oats, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, raisins and sugar. Stir in egg, maple syrup and oil until well mixed. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and with wet hand, press into an even layer.
3. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack.
4. Once cool, use foil to transfer to cutting board. With serrated knife, cut lengthwise into 8 strips, then cut each strip crosswise in half.
Yields 16 bars. Source:
HealthBarn USA (healthbarnusa.com).
White Bean Dip
The HealthBarn USA staff says, “We created this recipe for veggies
or whole-grain crackers that is full of “the good stuff”—protein, fiber, vitamins
and minerals. This creamy dip is easy to make plus it contains beneficial omega 3 fatty acids
which are good for heart and memory.”
2 cups (19 oz can) cannelloni (or white kidney) beans*
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fresh chives, chopped
1½ tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp flaxseed oil
2 tsp water
*Or cook dry bagged beans (follow package instructions)
1. Drain beans and rinse with cold water.
2. Place all ingredients (except oils and water) into a food processor.
3. While processor is on, add oils slowly through food chute; then add water.
4. Blend until smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Yields 12 2-tbsp servings. Source:
HealthBarn USA (healthbarnusa.com)
Chocolate Lady Bugs
The folks at HealthBarn say, “There is nothing better than freshly picked strawberries, so when they’re in season, bring some home. They are not only sweet and delicious, but also loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C. Strawberries make a great snack on their own, or you can add a dose of antioxidants by making Chocolate Ladybugs, a low-fat treat that takes just minutes to create. We use semi-sweet chocolate chips to create the spots on our ‘bugs.’”
5 medium strawberries
20 semisweet chocolate chips
Cut leaves and tops off strawberries, then cut each strawberry lengthwise in half.
With fingers, gently push 2 chocolate chips, pointy side down, into rounded side of each strawberry half to create the ladybug’s spots.
Yields 10 strawberry halves. Source: HealthBarn USA (healthbarnusa.com).
Fudgy Brownie Bites
According to the HealthBarn staff, “These brownie bites are just what you need to indulge your chocolate craving! This recipe containing healthy fats and protein is a tasty way to introduce legumes to your child because it contains black beans! While perfect for a lunch box treat or after-school snack with a tall glass of calcium-rich low-fat milk or milk alternative, these bites are also great for birthday parties or other special occasions. Serve with berries for an extra boost of antioxidants.”
3/4 cup low-sodium canned black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large egg whites
1 large egg
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9”x 9” baking pan.
2. In a food processor, finely purée beans, applesauce, oil and egg whites until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add egg, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla; stir to combine.
3. In a separate small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to bean mixture and whisk until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips.
4. Transfer batter to baking pan and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Allow brownies to cool completely then slice into 16 bites and transfer to serving dish.
Yields 16 bites. Source: HealthBarn USA (healthbarnusa.com).