When it comes to children and snacking fresh fruit will always be an ideal choice. But let’s face it sometimes it just won’t cut it. The snack market is forever expanding and as parents we are eagerly searching for the perfect snack that strikes the balance between healthy and child friendly.
Children have high energy needs and snacking provides a valuable opportunity to fuel them and top up on other nutrients but what snacks are best, what should you choose and what should you avoid? Here’s my guide:
Carbohydrates form the bulk of our energy requirements – they are also easy to transport and keep fresh.
Top favourites for dietitians include pretzels, savoury popcorn, oat cakes, corn crackers and rice cakes.
In the bread aisle, malt loaf, mini pancakes, brioche are also good options. They provide around a tsp sugar but not a bad trade- off for a snack which normally goes down well.
Protein is a nutrient known for helping us to feel full. It best serves us when eaten as part of a balanced meal. They body utilises it best when spread out across the day. For children who complain of always being hungry, incorporating protein into their snacks is useful.
If your children are over five nuts are great. Dietitian’s favourites include unsalted peanuts, walnuts, almonds and cashew nuts.
Hummus is a good dipper for veggie sticks. I particularly like the beetroot variety I found recently. Hummus hasn’t got that much protein in it because of the oil to chickpea ratio. Homemade varieties will contain less salt, but on the whole an egg cup full is ideal to jazz up snack time and get more veggies in as a result.
Cheese portions are great – a calcium boost alongside a protein portion. Despite the level of processing the string types are no different nutritionally to something like a babybel. Salt is something to watch with cheese but in these pre- determined portion sizes the salt doesn’t contribute too much to the diet.
The South Africans among us may also want to consider biltong!
However, edamame beans are a personal favourite of mine – quick to defrost and packed full of protein and fibre.
In this category I would of course place fresh fruit. Keeping portions to what they can hold in their cupped hand is a useful guide. Packed full of fibre, fruit supports their fibre requirements but in some cases if it’s overdone you may notice their bowels become a little over active!
Dried fruit – a good alternative for when a neater, portable package is required. Dried fruit leathers made from the whole fruit are best. Have a quick scan of the label to make sure there are no additional sugars or stabilising agents added during the processing.
Dried fruit covered in yoghurt is really just code for sugar and dried fruit snacks made to look and feel like sweets may have a lower vitamin and mineral content because of the processing methods used. The 5 a day message is an ambiguous one. It is not tightly regulated and thus can be a little misleading.
All of these dried fruit snacks should be washed down with plenty of water and ideally served as part of a meal to protect the teeth although the reality of tooth decay incidence in this country is not to do with us over dosing on dried fruit.
Cereal bars – where to start!
Navigating this selection is enough to give every parent a headache. Have a think about what you want the cereal bar to be for. If there’s a long gap between meals or this is becoming a bit of a meal replacer (e.g. If you’re unsure how much of lunch they may eat for whatever reason) cereal bars with nuts and seeds will boost protein intakes and be a little more filling.
If it’s just an energy giver the aim is to get the maximum amount of fibre for the lowest amount of added sugar. The ‘of which sugars’ label should ideally be less than 15g/100g and if it’s 3g fibre/ 100g it counts as a source so that’s pretty good.
Hope this helps a little! Let’s also not kid ourselves that snacks are sometimes in the form of biscuits, sweets or chocolate, especially with Easter approaching. You may find my Easter Bunny Survival Guide a useful read and remember with these sorts of foods, portion size is key.
For main meal inspiration check out what time poor dietitians feed their kids.