No-Stress School Snacks for Kids
Most of the snacks served to children should be fruits and vegetables, since most kids do not eat the recommended five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Fruit can be served whole, sliced, cut in half, cubed or in wedges. Canned, frozen and dried fruits often need little preparation. But please note that large chunks are a choking hazard for children younger than 4 and should be avoided.
Here's one smart idea: Toss a couple of clementines into your kid's lunchbox. They're much easier for young kids to peel and hold, and they're packed with vitamin C.
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If your kid's school gives snack after recess, send in watermelon on a warm day to help re-hydrate him. Slice like pizza so he has the rind to hold onto. Here are other fruits you can pack as snacks for school:
- Apples (it can be helpful to use an apple corer)
- Grapes (cut into thin slices for kids younger than 4)
- Honeydew Melon
- Kiwis (cut in half and have your child eat it with a spoon)
- Mandarin oranges
Unsweetened applesauce, fruit cups, and canned fruit have a long shelf life and are low-cost, easy, and healthy if canned in juice or light syrup. Examples of unsweetened applesauce include Mott's Natural Style and Mott's Healthy Harvest line. Dole and Del Monte offer a variety of single-serve fruit bowls.
To spice up your kid's snack, make these classics a little, well, cooler. Freeze small containers of unsweetened applesauce overnight for a slushy treat – and a serving of fruit. Or do the same with low-fat yogurt.
Vegetables can be served raw with dip or salad dressing. Try low-fat salad dressings, store-bought light dips, bean dips, guacamole, hummus (which comes in dozens of flavors), salsa, or peanut butter.
Some examples of vegetable snacks are:
- Carrot sticks or baby carrots
- Celery sticks
- Peppers (green, red, or yellow)
- Snap peas
- Snow peas
- String beans
- Tomato slices or grape or cherry tomatoes
- Yellow summer squash slices
- Zucchini slices
Sweet & Crunchy
Ladybugs on a Log
If your school's nut-free policy squashes traditional ants on a log, fill 3" to 4" long celery sticks with about 2 Tbs. Laughing Cow light cheese spread and dot with dried cranberries.
Protein is one of the essential nutrients children need most: It helps the body build cells, combat infection, transport oxygen, and convert food into energy, among other things. For a protein snack that’s lunchbox approved, non-messy, and is easy to eat, try Jack Link’s Original Beef Strips. Each serving contains 8 grams of protein and (bonus!) is gluten free.
This snack is so clever that your kid's friends will tell their moms about it: Spread the inside of a whole-wheat hot dog bun with 1 1/2 tablespoons of sunflower butter (it's typically safe for nut-free schools; check the label to be sure). Place a peeled banana inside and slice down the middle.
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Though most kids eat plenty of grain products, too many of those grains are cookies, snack cakes, sugary cereals, and other refined grains that are high in sugars or fat. Save these for occasional treats. Try to serve mostly whole grains, which provide more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than refined grains. In addition, try to keep the added sugars to less than 35% by weight, and the saturated and trans fat low (basically 1g or less per serving).
Here's one healthy snack for school: Smash 1/2 cup fresh blueberries into 1 cup reduced-fat cream cheese, or puree frozen ones in the blender and mix in. Spread 2 Tbs. cheese on mini whole-wheat bagels (Pepperidge Farm and Sara Lee make them).
Trail mixes are easy to make and store well in a sealed container. Items to include: low-fat granola, whole grain cereals, peanuts, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dried fruits like raisins, apricots, apples, pineapple, or cranberries.
For a healthy treat, look for low-fat popcorn in a bag or microwave popcorn. Or you can air pop the popcorn and season it, such as by spraying it with vegetable oil spray and adding parmesan cheese, garlic powder, cinnamon, or other non-salt spices. Consider mixing in a little dried fruit as well. Since popcorn is a choking hazard, don't serve it to children younger than 4.
Fill round whole-grain pitas with hummus and shredded carrot—a yummy combo. Slice into quarters for easy handling.
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Dairy foods are a great source of calcium, which can help to build strong bones. However, dairy products also are the biggest sources of artery-clogging saturated fat in kids' diets. Look for yogurt brands that are low-fat or fat-free, moderate in sugars (no more than about 30g of sugars in a 6-oz. cup), and high in calcium (at least 25% of daily value [DV] for calcium in a 6-oz. cup). Examples include Danimals Drinkable Low-Fat Yogurt, Go-Gurt by Yoplait, or cups of low-fat or non-fat yogurt from Stonyfield Farm, Dannon, Horizon, and similar store brands. Low-fat or non-fat yogurt also can be served with fresh or frozen fruit or low-fat granola as a healthy snack for school.
Whole grain crackers like Triscuits, which come in different flavors or thin crisps (or similar woven wheat crackers), Kalvi Rye crackers, or whole wheat Matzos can be served alone or with toppings, like low-fat cheese, peanut butter, or low-fat, reduced-sodium luncheon meat.
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Does your child have a sweet tooth? For a healthy school snack for kids, make mini banana, blueberry, bran, or carrot muffins from your favorite recipe, or search parents.com/food for some inspiration.