Snacks and sweetened drinks - children
Choosing healthy snacks and drinks for your children can be a challenge. There are many to choose from.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for healthy snacks. They are full of vitamins and low in calories and fat. Some crackers and cheeses also make good snacks.
Some examples of healthy snacks are:
- 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. Putting snacks in small bags also helps you give your child the right size portion.
Avoid junk food snacks like chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream. The best way to keep kids from eating junk food or other unhealthy snacks is to avoid having these foods in your house.
It’s OK to let your child have an unhealthy snack once in a while. Never allowing any unhealthy snacks or sweets may result in your child sneaking these foods. The key is balance.
Other tips 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. Put ice cream at the back of the freezer and chips on a high shelf. Move healthier foods to the front, 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. Pay close attention to the portion size given on the label. It’s easy to eat more than this amount. Finally, avoid snacks that list sugar as the first ingredient.
Encourage your children to drink a lot of water.
Avoid sodas, sport drinks, and flavored waters, especially ones made with sugar or corn syrup. These drinks are full of calories and can lead to weight gain, even in active children. If needed, choose beverages with artificial (man-made) sweeteners.
Children aged 2 - 8 years old 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.
Even 100% juices can add weight. A child drinking a 12-ounce orange juice every day can gain up to 15 pounds per year, if already taking in enough calories.
- If your child prefers flavored drinks or juice instead of water, try diluting these drinks with water. Start by adding only a little water, and then slowly increase the amount.
- Children aged 1 - 6 years old should drink no more than 4 - 6 ounces of 100% fruit juice a day. Children aged 7 - 18 should drink no more than 8 - 12 ounces of fruit juice a day.
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
- The size of the 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.
- Aim for fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain snacks.
- Naturally sweetened foods are better than foods and drinks that contain added sugar. Fresh fruit is a healthier choice than a fruit-flavored drink. 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.
- If you are having a hard time finding healthy snacks that your child will eat, talk to a nutritionist or your family’s health care provider for ideas that will work for your family.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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