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Help Your Kids Make Healthier Snack Choices

boy eating apple

Burlington--Healthy snacks can boost energy levels and help provide the nutrients your kids need to stay alert all day at school and play. Yet kids don't always make the right choices when picking a snack.

When a snack attack strikes, will your kids reach for a bag of potato chips or a piece of fruit?

"One of the best ways to get your kids to eat healthier is to encourage them to actively participate in grocery shopping," says Whitney Emke, a University of Vermont Extension 4-H Afterschool Program Coordinator based in Middlebury. "It's never too early to start teaching them about good nutrition and why some food choices are better than others. Show them how to read the nutritional information on the package and make wise food selections based on that information."

Explain why foods containing fiber such as whole-grain breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables, for example, are a better choice than sugar-laden foods including soft drinks and candy bars. Combining these high-fiber foods with peanut butter, low-fat yogurt or cheese and other protein-rich foods also will help boost nutrition.

Involve kids in the kitchen. Set aside time together to do prep work for snacks, such as washing, chopping and portioning. Assign age-appropriate tasks whenever possible. Younger kids can help wash fruits and vegetables while their older siblings can chop them up.

"Before long drives and shopping trips, pack fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, low-fat string cheese sticks, unsalted nuts, granola bars and bottled water in a small insulated lunch box or cooler," Emke advises. "Having healthier options available for hungry kids reduces the chance of having to stop at fast-food restaurants."

Keep plastic containers of ready-to-eat fruits, vegetables and cheese in the refrigerator along with low-fat dressings and dips. Kids can help themselves to these snacks after school.

Snack time is a good time to introduce new foods. Letting them choose their own nutritious snacks also will get them interested in eating healthy.

Here are two easy snack ideas that kids can make on their own or with the help of a parent or older sibling.

ENGLISH MUFFIN PIZZA

1 whole-wheat English muffin, cut in half

2 Tbsp. tomato or pizza sauce

1/3 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded

In a toaster, toast both halves of the English muffin. Carefully remove and top with tomato or pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. Place on a microwave-safe dish and microwave on low heat for 10-15 seconds. If desired, add additional toppings such as pepperoni, green peppers, onions, mushrooms or olives. Serves 1. Nutrition information per serving (without extra toppings): 222 calories, 602 milligrams (mg) sodium, 33 grams (g) carbohydrates.

For a healthy snack or dessert, creamy fruit popsicles will hit the spot. Make this snack with your kids the night before, letting them help with tasks such as chopping up fruits or running the blender.

For variety, use strawberry or peach yogurt instead of vanilla or use different combinations of fruits such as peaches or mangos with bananas or mix several kinds of berries including raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.

CREAMY FRUIT POPSICLES

2 6-oz. containers of low-fat vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup diced fresh fruit (bananas, peaches, strawberries)

1/2 cup pulp-free orange juice

Popsicle molds OR small paper cups

Popsicle sticks (if using paper cups)

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until puree is slightly chunky. Spoon the mixture into popsicle molds or paper cups. Place in freezer for a minimum of 1 hour. If using paper cups, insert the popsicle sticks after the popsicles have been in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Peel off paper before eating. Makes  4.  Nutrition information per serving (for vanilla yogurt-banana popsicle): 120 calories, 55 mg sodium, 23 g carbohydrates.

Everyone loves nachos, but full-fat versions of this snack can mean too many calories, fats and sodium. For a healthier version, make the following recipe with your kids.

BLACK BEAN NACHOS

2 oz. multigrain tortilla chips (about 16 chips)

1/2 cup canned black beans, drained and  mashed

1/4 cup reduced-fat mild cheddar cheese, shredded

2 Tbsp. salsa

2 Tbsp. fat-free sour cream

Spread the chips on a microwave-safe plate. Top with beans and cheese. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until the cheese melts and the beans are heated through. Microwaving too long will cause the chips to become tough. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool for about a minute. Top with salsa and sour cream.  Serves 1.  Nutrition information per serving: 520 calories, 1,088 mg sodium, 87.5 g carbohydrates.

For other healthy snack ideas or information on nutrition, appropriate food portions and physical activity, visit www.ChooseMyPlate.gov.  Or contact Whitney Emke at (802) 388-4969, ext. 348, or whitney.emke@uvm.edu.

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