Snacks and sweetened drinks - children
Choosing healthy snacks and drinks for your children can be hard. There are many options.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for healthy snacks. They are full of vitamins and low in calories and fat. Some types of crackers and cheeses also make good snacks. Other healthy snack choices include:
- Apples (dried or cut into wedges)
- Fruit leather (dried fruit puree)
- Carrots (regular carrots cut into strips so they are easy to chew, or baby carrots)
- Snap peas (the pods are edible)
- Nuts (if your child is not allergic)
- Dry cereal (if sugar is not listed as one of the first 2 ingredients)
- String cheese
Put snacks in small plastic bags so they are easy to carry in a pocket or backpack. Use small bags to give your child the right size portions.
Avoid junk food snacks like chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream. It is easier to keep kids away from these foods if you do not have them in your house.
It's OK to let your child have an unhealthy snack once in a while. Children may try to sneak unhealthy food if they are never allowed to have these foods. The key is balance.
Other things you can do include:
- Replace your candy dish with a fruit bowl.
- If you have foods like cookies, chips, or ice cream in your house, store them where they are hard to see or reach. Move healthier foods to the front of the pantry and refrigerator, at eye level.
- If your family snacks while watching TV, put a portion of the food in a bowl or on a plate for each person. It's easy to overeat straight from the package.
If you are not sure if a snack is healthy, read the Nutrition Facts label.
- If the calories from fat are more than half of the total calories, the snack is not a healthy choice.
- Look closely at the portion size on the label. It's easy to eat more than this amount.
- Avoid snacks that list sugar as one of the first ingredients.
Encourage children to drink a lot of water.
Avoid sodas, sport drinks, and flavored waters.
- Stay away from drinks made with sugar or corn syrup, whenever you can. These drinks are high in calories and can lead to weight gain.
- If needed, choose beverages with artificial (man-made) sweeteners.
Even 100% juices can add weight. A child drinking a 12-ounce orange juice every day, in addition to other foods, can gain up to 15 pounds per year.
- Try diluting juices and flavored drinks with water. Start by adding only a little water. Then slowly increase the amount.
- Children, ages 1 - 6, should drink no more than 4 - 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day.
- Children, ages 7 - 18, should drink no more than 8 - 12 ounces of fruit juice a day.
Children, ages 2 - 8, should drink about 2 cups of milk a day. Children older than 8 should have about 3 cups a day. It may be helpful to serve milk with meals and water between meals and with snacks.
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
- The size of a snack should be the right size for your child. For example, give half a banana to a 2 year-old and a whole banana to a 10-year-old.
- Pick foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber and water. This means an apple is better than a bag of chips.
- Offer children fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain snacks instead of sweets.
- Naturally sweetened foods are better than foods and drinks that contain added sugar. Foods and drinks that list sugar or corn syrup as one of the first ingredients are not healthy snack choices.
- Avoid fried foods like French fries, onion rings, and other fried snacks.
- Talk to a nutritionist or your family’s health care provider if you need ideas for healthy foods for your family.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pe diatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.