Snack Ideas for Kids

Raw vegetable snacks for kids
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Keeping up with your growing child means making sure they have the fuel they need to thrive. Food can also provide a social experience and expose kids to a range of flavors and textures. For many parents, planning nutritious meals the whole family will eat gets most of the focus, but it's important not to forget about snacking.

Why Snacks Are Important

Snacks are a way to fit in foods that might not make it into meals, and also a lower-pressure way to offer additional exposure to foods a child might not have tried or accepted yet. Kids have different nutritional needs and energy requirements at each age, not to mention that they are still developing taste preferences and building their relationship with food and eating.

Unlike packing lunches or planning dinner, snacks tend to be more grab-and-go. But you don't have to sacrifice nutrition for convenience. There are plenty of snack options for kids that are easy, portable, tasty, and packed with nutrition.

Snacking is an important part of ensuring kids meet nutritional needs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends young children get at least two to three servings of fruits and vegetables every day. According to the 2020-2025 USDA Dietary Guidelines, many children (and adults) don't get the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Snacks can be a great way to offer exposure to fruits and vegetables in small ways throughout the day.

Snacking Needs by Age

Your child's snacking requirements will vary according to different factors, such as age and activity level. It's also important to note which types of foods are appropriate at each stage of development and to keep in mind that, just like with adults, it's completely normal for kids to have appetite and preference changes from day to day.

Toddlers (Ages 1 to 3)

Toddlers typically need two to three snacks a day. At this age, choosing soft, semi-solid, and gradually more solid food items from a variety of sources is the safest way to introduce new tastes and textures into your child's diet.

You can provide structured times for snacking, but allow your toddler some choices, such as picking between two snack options. Your child's level of hunger won't be the same day to day and can easily be influenced by activities, growth, and illness, as well as daily fluctuations.

It's normal for an afternoon snack to be left uneaten if something more interesting captures your toddler's attention, they're tuckered out and ready for nap time, or they simply get full before they finish. It's also normal for a child to eat more one day than they did the previous day.

While preferences in snacks and timing can vary from child to child, offering a choice at snack time to create a sense of autonomy is very important.

Experimenting with the amount of food you offer might also help if your child seems overwhelmed with snacks. Offer a smaller portion to start and then allow them to take more as needed. You may also need to adjust timing of snacks to ensure that there is enough time between snacks and meals (but not too much time).

Lastly, don't forget to illustrate snacking yourself! Kids learn by watching the adults around them. Teaching and reinforcing snacking routines starts now, even in these early years, as does supporting kids in listening to their bodies regarding hunger, fullness, and satisfaction.

Preschoolers and Kindergarteners (Ages 4 to 6)

As they get a little older, kids will naturally want more control over what they eat, when they eat, and how much they eat. Kids this age can usually go a little longer between meals and snacks than toddlers, but in general, they'll need to eat every three to four hours. Again, personalize this to work for your child.

Once your child starts school, they'll be making more decisions at meal and snack times. Focus on presenting options and adjusting snack times (and meals, when possible) to accommodate the normal fluctuations of your child's appetite (and preferences) from day to day.

Snacks and midday meals may be built into their school schedule, but that doesn't mean these times will always coincide with when they feel hungry. Packing snacks for your child to munch on the playground or before after-school activities will help ensure they're able to listen to their bodies regarding when they're hungry for a snack.

Offering a variety of foods, not vilifying any foods, and encouraging kids to be a part of the preparation process can all help foster a positive relationship with foods and snacking.

Allowing kids choices, and respecting their hunger and fullness cues, can help foster trust in their own bodies. Helping your kids develop a positive relationship with the foods they eat will empower them to make healthy choices when presented with less nutritious options.

Older Kids (Ages 7 to 12)

School-age children may be able to go longer between meals and snacks (especially if they're eating more at mealtime), but most in this age group need to eat every four to five hours.

Older kids can have very busy day-to-day schedules. By this age, older children may have also started rounding out after-school hours with extracurriculars, sports, and, homework.

It's not just their lives that are getting busier—their bodies and minds are, too. As your kids get closer to puberty, energy and nutritional requirements will be steady—but the growth spurt and high-energy demands of the preteen years are just around the corner.

Use this time to support their trust in their bodies, encouraging trying new foods and helping in the kitchen, and avoiding thinking of foods in terms of health benefits or physical appearance, but rather how they feel.

For school-age kids, having plenty of easy and nutritious snack options available at home and on the go is important to supporting their overall nutrient intake, as well as reinforcing an empowered relationship with the foods they eat and their ability to make choices. Older children may have developed their tastes, but just because they know what they like (and what they don't) doesn't mean you should stop introducing new options or encouraging exploration and fun around new foods.

Snacks are a great opportunity to let kids explore, develop new tastes, and find new favorites. Many kids are also more comfortable helping in the kitchen and may show an interest in shopping, meal planning, and cooking.

Snack Ideas

In general, aiming to include a source of carbohydrate along with protein and fat will create the most satiating snack. But a snack doesn't necessarily have to be long-lasting if a meal is coming shortly, so flexibility is also key.

If your child isn't a fan of certain foods at mealtime, after-school or half-time snacks are an opportunity to boost your child's daily intake of produce or any other food groups they may not be eating at meals.

In addition to balanced meals, snacks featuring fruits and veggies are a versatile and tasty way to increase your child's produce intake. Many also have high water content to help your child stay hydrated.

Vegetable Snacks

If your child is struggling to eat fruits and veggies with meals, one option is to offer a pre-dinner snack that is made up mostly of veggies and fruit. The idea behind this is that a child's hunger level might be elevated during this time, making them more open to trying something new or something they may not choose with a meal.

Some parents offer this as an appetizer, complete with food picks or toothpicks to make it more fun to eat.

Serve vegetables raw or lightly steamed for maximum kid-friendliness and ease of preparation. But remember that children will have different preferences and some may prefer the texture and flavor of cooked vegetables.

Add yogurt, soy sauce, or other flavorful dips or dressings for more appeal (and sometimes, extra nutrition). Raw veggies also go great with guacamole, baba ghanoush, or salsa (and these dips are made of veggies, so you get two for one). If a child isn't excited about dipping vegetables into dips, offering dips made of vegetables so kids can dip crackers or chips is an option too.

You can also make veggies more enticing to little ones by cutting them into fun shapes. Try serving them in a creative new way, such as in a muffin tin or a cute cup. You can also turn snack time into a learning opportunity for kids still learning their colors by arranging bites in rainbow order. Whether served raw or lightly cooked, these vegetables tend to be kid favorites:

  • Avocados
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes
  • Homemade veggie chips (like sweet potato or kale)
  • String beans
  • Sugar snap or frozen peas

Fruits

Sweet, colorful fruit is usually a big hit with kids. Pair it with a protein food or a dip made with yogurt, cheese, or nut butter to boost nutritional value and make the snack more flavorful and filling.

  • Fresh fruit: Try apples, bananas, grapes, berries, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, oranges, tangerines, clementines, grapefruit, melon, kiwi, pineapple, mango, or whatever your child takes interest in. Serve it whole or mixed as a salad, or line up chunks on a skewer for a fruit kabob (use a wooden skewer and snip off the sharp tip before serving to young children).
  • Dried fruit: Try raisins, cranberries ("Craisins"), apricots, prunes, dates, and fruit leathers or roll-ups made from 100% fruit. Check labels carefully, as many "fruit snacks" and leathers contain mostly sugar and few of the nutrients found in whole fruits; you can also dehydrate your own fruits.
  • Freeze-dried fruits: Again, check the sugar content.
  • Canned fruit packed in water or light syrup: Peaches, pineapple, pears, mandarin oranges; or no-sugar-added applesauce
  • Frozen fruit: Blend into smoothies with milk or yogurt; keep grapes and melon cubes in the freezer for a refreshing snack on hot days (for older kids only; these are choking hazards for smaller kids)
  • Frozen juice pops or 100% fruit juice: These contain less fiber than whole fruit, but still offer some nutritional benefits.

Remember, large chunks of hard, raw fruits and vegetables can be a choking hazard for younger kids. Use caution when serving them to children under 5 or consider other options. Steam lightly to soften, cut into appropriately sized pieces, and be sure to let cool before serving.

Grains, Protein, and Fats

The combination of carbohydrates from whole grains, protein, and fat tends to be satiating and texturally satisfying. But snacks should also be enjoyable for children, so allow flexibility as to what is served and remember that a child's overall nutrient intake is the average over the course of a week or month, not one meal or snack.

Here are a few basic ideas to get you started. To keep kids interested, try using these as a base and letting them get a little creative in the kitchen.

  • Multigrain bread or crackers with nut butter and a piece of fruit
  • "Pita pizzas" with cheese and veggies
  • For a DIY snack, put out bowls of nuts, seeds, granola, dried fruit, and anything else you have on hand that might be delicious and let kids make their own trail mix

Beverages

Hydration is another fundamental aspect of good nutrition regardless of age. Some drinks are more ideal as everyday choices than others.

  • Give them low-fat or 2% milk, or if your child is lactose intolerant or doesn't like cow's milk, try a milk alternative like unsweetened almond or oat milk.
  • Encourage them to drink water by slicing up some fruit to add flavor without sugar, dyes, or carbonation.
  • Serve 100% fruit juice

Treats

It may seem counter-intuitive, because we live so steeped in diet culture, but the best thing you can do to help encourage kids to eat a variety of foods and not focus on sweets is to have sweets around and offer them on a regular basis. This way, kids don't learn to put certain foods on a pedestal but rather grow up trusting that they are allowed all types of foods. One option is to offer a sweet food along with a snack a few times a week and to allow children to choose what and how much they eat.

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  1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Portions and serving sizes. Updated August 17, 2015.

  2. USDA. Dietary guidelines for Americans.

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