10 Easy and Healthy Snacks for Kids: What to Pack and Avoid for School and On-the-Go
Most children will need snacks to meet their high energy requirements for growth, but not every child will, and we don’t recommend giving snacks to babies under the age of 1 year. Up until 1 year of age milk is still playing an important role in your infant’s diet and will essentially be their ‘snack’. Once your child is 1 year of age, they will ideally be having 3 distinct meals per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and they can have 2-3 snacks in between these meals. Providing a nutritious snack will mean your child has plenty of eating opportunities throughout the day, so even if they don’t eat that well at a particular mealtime (which can happen) you can feel reassured that they are not missing out. Some children will have 3 snacks, some children just 1 and some children are happy to eat just their 3 meals a day – you will get to know what works for your child.
If your child does enjoy snacks then keeping an eye on the portion sizes is important, as it is a fine line between wanting to offer something nutritious, and not wanting to fill them up too much before their next meal. Snacks should really provide only 10% of your child’s total energy intake for the day (for a 3-year-old this would be about 120kcal). If you would like more information on portion sizes for 1–4 year-olds then the Infant and Toddler Forum has a useful guide.
At nursery, children are usually given milk and fruit as a snack mid-morning. At school your child may be asked to bring in a snack which needs to be ‘healthy’ and nut free and this can start to get challenging!
From the age of 1 year, snacks should be nutritious and ideally include a portion of fruit or vegetable (it is a useful way of reaching 5 a day). It is very easy to reach for the snacks marketed towards children (e.g. puffs, bites, melts, baby cereal), biscuits, crisps and chocolate, but most of these snacks offer very little nutritional value, their colours and textures are often similar, and they are what we term ‘ultra-processed’. They often contain higher levels of fat, sugar and salt than unprocessed food, are expensive and contribute to waste packaging. Many sell on the promise of “promoting hand-eye coordination” as finger food for BLW but sliced fresh fruit and veg fingers can do the same job.
Price comparison between:
BEAR Paws Strawberry & Apple Fruit Shapes (20g) = 70p vs Apple = 24p
The types of snacks that are ideal for children would be: a portion of fruit or vegetables (generally what fits into your child’s hand), a small pot of hummus or portion of cheese with breadsticks and vegetables (cucumber/tomatoes/raw peppers), homemade yogurt ice lolly, low sugar yogurt with fruit, half a slice of toast or a crumpet with reduced salt marmite or no added sugar/salt nut butter or cream cheese (do not offer whole nuts until 5 years of age as these are a choking risk). Homemade mini fruit muffin (no added sugar) or a savoury cheese scone (with no added salt).
We don’t recommend dried fruit or dried fruit snacks at snack time. These are high in natural sugars and due to their sticky nature can get stuck in teeth, stay there for some time and ultimately damage teeth.
We understand not everyone has the time or inclination to make ‘homemade’ snacks and it is harder to make healthier choices when you are ‘out and about’. Like most things, being prepared can be really helpful. Have a list of your ‘go to snacks’ and make sure you buy/or batch bake and freeze these each week. Ideally snacks should be like a mini meal and provide some carbohydrate (for energy and fibre), protein (for growth) and a serving of fruit/vegetables (vitamins and fibre). You can also serve or count a drink of milk or some cheese as part of a snack (which provides calcium). Keep snacks varied as this will offer a better range of nutrition and your child will be unlikely to ‘go off’ their favourites.
Is it difficult to pack snacks for school/nursery, or days out that won’t become mushed up and unappealing (which is another draw of the pre-packaged snacks). It can be helpful to invest in some snack pots or containers that you can reuse and mini–ice packs are a good investment to keep everything cool and fresh.
Avoid giving children snacks in pushchairs or car seats – it is tempting when you are on the go but in these situations the risk of a choking episodes is increased. Also, children should be sitting down to eat and not running around, which can be easier said than done but this also increases the risk of choking. Some of the pre-prepared snacks stipulate an age (the above BEAR Paws say suitable from 2 years as they may be a choking risk) so be aware of this.
It is your choice what you buy for the house and whether you choose to have snacks that are freely accessible to your children. We usually advise against having a ‘treat box or cupboard’ as children tend to desire the foods within more. It can of course be difficult if you have older siblings (who may be asking for certain foods) but for children of all ages, snacks high in fat, sugar and salt should be an occasional treat and not offered every day. If you offer a small chocolate bar every day, whilst it may not seem like much at the time – over a week that is 7 bars!
V&Me provide the following healthy snacks to nurseries so children have something healthy to take home with them in the afternoon: banana & blueberry oat bars, spinach & feta muffins, lentil chickpea hummus & veg sticks, spiced banana bread and apple sponge bites. All of these contain no added sugar, no added salt, and no artificial sweeteners, colours or preservatives.
Keep your eyes peeled on our blog as we’ll be sharing our favourite snack recipe at V&Me, which you can make at home with your little one!
Great resources on snacks if you would like more information:
Caroline Walker Trust: Eating well for 1-4 year-olds Practical Guide
First Steps Nutrition Trust Eating Well: snacks for 1-4 year-olds
Infant and Toddler Forum Portion Guide
NHS Better Families Healthier Snacks for Kids