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9 healthy snacking tips for kids

There’s no getting around the fact that kids love snacks. If your children tend to gravitate towards the sugary stuff, encourage them to snack smarter with our top healthy snacking tips for kids.

By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Dec 23, 2021

two children eating healthy snacks

If you need to send your kids to school with a quick and easy packed lunch, it can be really tricky to find healthy options to please the little snackers in your life.

With lockdown to contend with, not to mention the myriad of leftover Christmas treats still knocking around the house, knowing what to feed your children at snack time can be difficult. No matter your good intentions, it can be easy for kids to become reliant on the biscuit tin.

Really, it’s unsurprising they’re ravenous – growing kids need the nutrition they get from snacks to maintain their development and energy levels.

But snacks should contribute to your child’s balanced diet, which is where many parents can struggle. A balanced diet includes at least five portions of fruit or vegetables, high fibre starchy foods, dairy or dairy alternatives, proteins (such as beans, fish, meat or eggs), unsaturated fats and plenty of fluids per day.

So if you, like many of us, are in need of some sage snacking advice when it comes to your kids, we’ve put together some healthy parent-led tips so that you can fuel their day without compromising on nutrition (or tearing your hair out).

Here are our 9 smarter snacking tips for kids to successfully get you through the day.

1. Plan ahead

While you may struggle to find time to even pull together one snack portion, let alone supplies for multiple days, Mumsnetters say that you can save yourself endless bother by preparing nutritious snacks in advance.

By having a plate of sliced red pepper and hummus ready in the fridge, you can successfully deflect a hungry child’s attention away from those leftover Christmas chocs.

It’s trickier to stay healthy during weekends, especially if you’re in the vicinity of a chip shop or ice cream van on your daily walks. Before you set off, fill individual containers with breadsticks, sliced vegetables, cubed cheese or chopped fruit.

If you’d rather not carry too much, apples and easy-peel tangerines don’t take up much space in a backpack.

Parents say

“Have healthy snacks ready to eat. Carrot sticks already cut in the fridge, so they’re as easy to grab as a biscuit.”

“Take healthy snacks when you're out of the house. There's no choice if they're hungry – they'll eat the cucumber sticks/carrots/fruit/rice cakes.”

2. Do time-saving and simple sugar swaps

When your kids are hungry and tired after a busy day of school, they may gravitate towards biscuits and chocolate bars – and you may, understandably, be too burnt out to say ‘no.’ But these highly processed foods contain lots of added sugar.

Consuming excess sugar can lead to health issues. Encourage your kids to snack intelligently with minimum hassle by switching sugary snacks for quick, convenient and healthier options such as a bitesize box of raisins or a lunchbox loaf.

Parents say

“When DD was likely to be DESPERATE for a snack, mostly post-school, I’d have something healthy. If you give sugar, they want sugar. Easy to say, but set good boundaries really early and don't use sugar as a reward/bribe/treat.”

3. Stock up your fruit bowl

Make it easy for your kids to eat well by putting healthy options in front of them. Mumsnetters advise keeping your fruit bowl visibly well stocked and the general consensus on our forums is that nothing beats a whole piece of fruit.

However, a dish of fruit salad provides a colourful and delicious energy boost at snack time and is also a sensible alternative to sugary puddings. Tubs of sliced fruit are a great treat on the go too.

Parents say

“A pot of chopped-up fruit. Grapes, strawberries, apples or whatever is their favourite.”

creative packed lunch

4. Go nuts

It can be a challenge to conjure up inventive and healthy lunch ideas, especially in a hurry. And with many schools banning ‘unhealthy’ packed lunch snacks, a chocolate bar simply won’t make the grade if you’re sending your child to school.

Nuts are packed full of goodness – just one handful a day of cashews, peanuts, brazil nuts or pistachios gives your child a hit of protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy fats.

They’re a great alternative to crisps, and peanut or cashew nut butter on toast is a delicious savoury snack.

Guidance from the NHS is that you can give your child nuts and peanuts from around six months, but be aware that whole nuts and peanuts are a choking hazard for under-fives so serve them crushed, ground or as thinly spread smooth nut butter.

Parents say

“Nuts! DS1 doesn’t eat any fruit or veg, but he will eat nut bars because he doesn't know they're healthy. They're full of fibre, protein and other nutrients. His favourite are the M&S nuts and seeds bars.”

5. Try different flavours

Teach them to be adventurous with food – and lead by example, demonstrating that new tastes are exciting, not scary (taking allergies and intolerances into account, of course).

If they like fruit, encourage them to try something more exotic, like dragon fruit. You could also use grocery shopping to your advantage. If they’ve chosen their own healthy snacks, then they’re more likely to eat them.

Or find a basic, plain dish they enjoy and add new tastes, as this Mumsnetter explains: “We love making egg ‘muffins’ – essentially mini omelettes – with various fillings such as broccoli, cheese, mushroom, carrot and peas. They're nice as snacks, hot or cold.”

Parents say

“The best thing we've always found is to show our son us eating our vegetables and enjoying them."

6. Pack in the protein

Foods containing protein are essential for growing kids – they need them to develop both mentally and physically, as well as for energy boosts. Healthy protein packed snacks include yoghurt, lean meats, poultry, fish, seafood, cheese, milk, dairy products or dairy alternatives and eggs.

Hard-boiled eggs make a handy snack and can be prepared quickly or even the night before. Cheese or cottage cheese on crackers is a delicious alternative to a bag of crisps.

Rather than giving into demands for pots of sugary jelly or chocolate mousse, offer a dish of natural yoghurt topped with fresh fruit.

You could also try serving cold cooked prawns or slices of chicken as a snack – they’re the ideal finger food!

Parents say

“Oatcakes with cheese/hummus/peanut butter. When my children were really little, they thought oatcakes were biscuits. Sadly, this didn't last very long.”

“The favourite snack in our house is a slice of cheese!”

7. Give DIY snacks a go

If it’s exciting, they’re more likely to eat it. Save yourself precious minutes and keep them entertained at the same time by putting a small wrap and some fillings in front of them so that they can put their own snack together.

Or encourage them to make a rainbow on their plate with crescents of chopped, raw red and yellow peppers, carrots, cucumber, blueberries and raspberries.

You’ll find oodles of ‘snack art’ ideas online. However, one wise Mumsnetter advocates simplicity, advising: “Carrots. Kids love to eat whole carrots like Peter Rabbit!”

Parents say

“Self-assembly lessens your input – i.e. rather than making sandwiches, give them some cherry tomatoes, some cubes or slices of cheese, some grapes and some crackers.”

owl pancakes

8. Choose frozen snacks

Kids love ice cream any time, not just in summer. Replace their double chocolate cones with healthier options they’ll enjoy whatever the weather.

Low-fat frozen yoghurt is popular with parents on our forums, with one explaining: “They take so long to eat, taste gorgeous and you’re full by the end.”

Some Mumsnetters recommend freezing blueberries and eating them straight from the freezer, with one claiming they seem “more substantial” that way.

Simply wash and dry the fruit and stick in the freezer in a freezer bag. Be aware that grapes are a potential choking hazard and the NHS recommends slicing lengthways before serving to young children. Do the same before freezing and allow to soften slightly before serving to under-fives.

Parents say

“Chop watermelon and freeze slices (can add lolly sticks if you like) to eat straight out of the freezer like an ice lolly. Frozen candy floss grapes are also amazing!”

9. Get your kids involved

Kids will love getting messy with you in the kitchen. Fruit kebabs are simple and fun to make, with supervision, and make a mouthwatering snack. Arrange a selection of fruit on a plate in decent-sized chunks and encourage your child to thread them onto a wooden skewer – or a lollipop stick if they can’t be trusted with a skewer.

Why not try out some different recipes together? Mumsnetters swear by DIY sugar-free banana and date flapjacks and carrot and apple muffins – both use natural sweetness from fruit rather than added sugar.

Parents say

“Homemade flapjack – takes less than ten minutes to mix together the ingredients and stick in the oven.”