The Best Healthy Snacks for Kids, According to Experts
When it comes to feeding kids, parents often start with the best of intentions. But if your child refuses most foods, your pre-baby plan of serving a rainbow of vegetables at every meal, may quickly go out the window along with daily showers. Serving fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and meat and dairy (for non-vegan families) is ideal, but it’s not always realistic. Thankfully, there are healthy snacks for kids available.
Pre-packaged snacks typically come with a higher cost than homemade options and produce more waste because of packaging. Still, time constraints and access (ie. road trips to grandma’s house) sometimes require parents to reach for pre-made snacks that are portable, travel-friendly and won’t go bad if they are left in the bottom of a backpack for three days.
Finding snacks that are safe and healthy and that kids will enjoy isn’t always easy. Congress released a report in February 2021 that found higher levels of metal in many popular brands of baby food than originally reported by the companies, which at small levels has a relatively mild impact, but is still concerning. New dietary guidelines outlined by the US government advised for the first time ever that absolutely no added sugars should be given to children under the age of two, which can be difficult when many seemingly healthy snacks actually include high levels of added sugar. Add in common allergens and a trip down the snack aisle can feel overwhelming for parents.
Thankfully, there are still great options for parents who are crunched for time. Companies like Fresh Bellies are providing snack options made with healthy ingredients that will satisfy all palates. “With more families replacing traditional meals with quicker bites, healthy snacks provide an important source of energy and nutrition for children. Yet most options for kid snacks are high in sodium or sugar, have empty calories and are loaded with preservatives,” says Saskia Sorrosa, founder and CEO of Fresh Bellies. The company recently launched a new line of puff snacks called Groovies, which focuses on savory flavors. “We wanted parents to have a healthier option with no added sugars, low sodium, simple ingredients and high in nutritional value. All these factors can help satisfy hunger cues and provide the right source of energy so kids are not crashing or overeating throughout the day.”
Parents, you have a lot to worry about. Finding healthy snacks for your kids shouldn’t be one of them. Check out our top picks below and grab some extras for yourself.
The Best Healthy Snacks for Kids
1. RX Kids Protein Snack Bar
Finding a bar for kids that is delicious, low in sugar, has health benefits and won’t leave kids hungry is difficult, but the RX Kids Protein Snack Bar checks all the boxes. The gluten-free bars are made with a whole-grain oat base, dates, coconut oil and fruit with no added sugars. If you’re a fan of the adult-sized RX bars, you already know that the company keeps their ingredient list short and makes bars that help keep customers feeling full without the icky tummy that can happen when bars are packed with added sugars. The RX bars are chewier than other options, so these are better suited for older kids.Buy: RX Kids Protein Snack Bar $29.99
2. Made Good Organic Granola Minis
With most daycares and schools going nut-free, finding a pre-made snack that kids can pack in their lunch boxes can be difficult. That’s why we like the Made Good Organic Granola Minis, which offer flavors that are certified nut-free and safe for school. The allergy-friendly granola balls, or ‘rolly balls’ as they’re called in my house, are organic, made with a serving of vegetables, are low in sugar, and made from ingredients parents will actually recognize. That’s always a good thing.Buy: Made Good Organic Granola Minis $23.00
3. Groovies Sampler Pack by Fresh Bellies
Kids often gravitate towards fruit because of their sweetness, but exposing little ones to a wide variety of flavors is an important part of developing their palate at a young age. Foods that are savory don’t seem like an obvious choice for toddlers and kids, but any parent that has watched their kid devour an entire roasted onion (raises hand) knows that variety is the spice of life … and snacks. Fresh Bellies have been gaining fans in parents and kids by making healthy snacks that put veggies front and center, helping little eaters enjoy all kinds of flavors and saving parents the hassle of spending their child’s formative years trying to hide veggies in different dishes. The company is about to release their new line of Groovies and gave SPY a sample to try. The baked puffs are made with non-GMO and Kosher-certified ingredients and focus more on savory, with mushroom, beet and broccoli flavors as well as carrots for those who like a bit of sweetness.
4. Real Food From The Ground Up Vegan Cauliflower Pretzels
BEST CRUNCHY SNACK
Snacks that work for the whole family make for a less stressful grocery shopping experience. Kids and adults both love crunchy food, which is why Real Food From The Ground Up Vegan Cauliflower Pretzels make a great option for the entire fam jam. Safe for older toddlers who aren’t prone to choking and young children, the pretzels have a cauliflower base, helping up the daily vegetable intake. As with most pretzels, there is still a higher salt content than other types of snacks, but Real Food has less sodium than most competitors and makes for a great dipper duo with other healthy snacks like hummus, guacamole, nut butter and cottage cheese (don’t knock it til you try it).Buy: Real Food From The Ground Up Vegan Cauliflower Pretzels $24.99
5. GoGo squeeZ Applesauce
If you’re an adult currently buying snacks for kids, the landscape looks much different from when we were in elementary school. Peanut butter is outlawed, added sugar is a no-go and apparently, chips are not the healthy snack our parents thought they were. One thing that has not changed is applesauce. Kids still love applesauce. Thankfully, it has been upgraded to pouches like the GoGo squeeZ Applesauce, which means no more sticky spoons in lunch pails or heavy jars. GoGo makes their applesauce without any added ingredients, using only apple, apple purée concentrate and lemon juice concentrate. Free from all major allergens, Kosher-certified and non-GMO, we also like that GoGo has designed their BPA-free packaging with a ‘helicopter’ topper that older kids can open on their own. Say it with us parents … independence!Buy: GoGo squeeZ Applesauce $5.99
6. KIND Kids Granola Chewy Bar
LOW IN SUGAR
If the RX bars are a little too chewy for your little ones, or if you want added variety in your snack cupboard, KIND has also created a kid-friendly version of their bars that satisfy picky eaters and health-conscious parents. Available in several flavors, the gluten-free, dairy-free bars have a shortlist of ingredients that include whole grains, honey and brown rice. The bars have only 5 grams of sugar (no added sugar), no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. The bars don’t have a nut-free seal of approval and may not be allowed at school, but they make a great snack for weekends and post-school hangs.Buy: KIND Kids Granola Chewy Bar $34.51
7. Happy Baby Organic Stage 2 Baby Food
BEST FOR VEGGIES ON THE GO
Food pouches are designed for babies ages six months and up for some little ones, the ‘up’ is widely open to interpretation. For parents who are struggling to get vegetables into their toddlers and young kids, pouches can be a saving grace. They’re portable, they let kids be in charge of feeding themselves and they remove the visual element of vegetables that may turn kids off. When looking at pouches, there are some key things to note. Like all kids’ food, the fewer the ingredients, the better. Only natural sugar should be included and ideally less than 8 grams per serving. We like Happy Baby Organic pouches, which typically pair one fruit with other vegetables to give the pouches a bit of sweetness and help sneak in important leafy greens.Buy: Happy Baby Organic Stage 2 Baby Food $22.79
8. That’s It. Mini Fruit Bars
BEST FRUIT LEATHER
The ingredient list doesn’t get much shorter than That’s It. Mini Fruit Bars and their small fruit leather snacks. Ideally, giving kids fresh fruit is the way to go, but that’s not always feasible. For those times, these mini fruit snacks, which contain only two types of fruit in each bar, are a great plant-based, vegan, gluten-free snack. Made without any of the major allergens, the bars aren’t specifically designed for kids, but their small size makes them conducive to snack time at recess.Buy: That’s It. Mini Fruit Bars $19.99
9. Happy Baby Organic Greek Yogis
BEST CANDY SUBSTITUTE
At some point, your kids are going to see you or someone else eating candy and they’re going to want their own. For older kids, candy in moderation is not the end of the world. For toddlers, it’s meltdown city. Finding a snack that tastes and looks like candy but won’t wreak havoc on naptime is difficult, but Happy Baby Organic Greek Yogis are a great option. The freeze-dried yogurt dots are made with organic ingredients, yogurt cultures and they melt in your mouth, making them safe for crawling and sitting babies and toddlers. Plus, they are delicious. I once consumed a whole bag while my daughter slept through a three-hour delay at the airport. Parents need to eat too! Yogis are higher in sugar than other snacks on our list and shouldn’t make up the bulk of a child’s snack, but they are a great ‘treat’ for that tiny spot in your kid’s bento lunchbox that is always awkward to fill.Buy: Happy Baby Organic Greek Yogis $3.39
10. Horizon Organic String Cheese
String cheese probably brings you back to your own childhood, when you constantly made octopi statues out of the stuff. Give your kids the same memories with Horizon Organic, which offers organic cheese from cows that are given no antibiotics, persistent pesticides or added hormones. These healthy snacks for kids also offer up 7 grams of protein per serving, which makes this fromage one smart snack idea.Buy: Horizon Organic String Cheese
11. Spread The Love Basic Cashew Butter
BEST NUT BUTTER
If the kids are tired of dipping apple slices into peanut butter, or if pear slices and almond butter no longer do it for them, try swapping in creamy cashew butter instead. Spread it on whole-grain crackers or use it as a dip for veggie or fruit sticks, adding a solid hit of healthy fat and protein to your little one’s next snack plate.Buy: Spread The Love Basic Cashew Butter $14.99
12. Blue Diamond Almonds Oven Roasted Dark Chocolate Flavored Snack Nuts
BEST CHOCOLATE OPTION
Sure, you could bust out regular almonds for your kids during your next outing. Or, you could be the hero parent that found a way to give them a chocolatey version of their nutty staple. These individual packs are great for grab-and-go occasions, and unlike regular chocolate-covered nuts, these healthy snacks for kids are dusted with cocoa powder to further control added sugar.Buy: Blue Diamond Almonds Oven Roasted Dark Chocolate Flavored Snack Nuts $15.31
13. Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers
Salty goldfish crackers are a great healthy snack for kids: they’re small, you feel like you’re getting a lot of them in a portion, and they’ve got that delicious cheesy taste that kids love. They also happen to be on LoConte’s list of approved snack items, especially if you opt for the whole grain version.Buy: Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Baked with Whole Grain Cheddar Crackers $9.58
14. Sabra Snackers, Classic Hummus with Pretzels
BEST FOR KIDS AND ADULTS
Even something as basic (and healthy) as hummus is more fun when it’s served in individual containers. Add in a serving of pretzels, and these snackers are a versatile grab-and-go option for kids and adults alike. Pair one with a piece of fresh fruit or some veggies and you have, as LoConte would say, a very “valid” healthy snack for kids.Buy: Sabra Snackers, Classic Hummus with Pretzels
15. Cheerios Original Breakfast Cereal Cups
A classic but a goodie, whole grain Cheerios are a fun healthy snack for kids of any age. Whether you’re pairing these portable bowls with some milk and berries, or serving them straight-up with some cheese and a banana, they’re a great choice when it comes to fueling little bodies with the extra energy they need until their next meal.Buy: Cheerios Original Breakfast Cereal Cups $12.72
Notes From an Expert on Healthy Snacks for Kids
It’s a general rule of parenting that as soon as you start doing something — anything — your growing kids will want a snack. Constantly making those snacks while keeping things fresh and healthy, though? Well, that can be the real trick, especially if you’re also concerned about helping them to develop a healthy relationship with food and the way they eat. To help you out, we spoke to some experts and found the best healthy snacks for kids to eat right now.
“Children need certain nutrients to grow and develop physically, mentally and emotionally. At the same time, you’re also developing their relationship with food from a very young age,” says Registered Dietician and Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist Mara LoConte, who specializes in pediatric sensory and feeding issues, weight management and eating disorders.
“Parents feel so much pressure to have children that are varied eaters, but then in the media carbohydrates are demonized,” she continues. “At the end of the day, if we’re not allowing our kids to have this variety of food, we’re putting in place this belief system that there are foods out there that taste good, that are actually bad for us. And what that develops is a relationship with food where there’s guilt and judgment around food.”
How To Create Balance in the Kitchen
According to LoConte, healthy snacking for kids is all about balance. Kids need fruits and veggies (she says if they prefer one over the other it really isn’t a big deal), carbs, fats, and protein. In her household, her kids typically pair their healthy snacks: one from the fridge (fruits, vegetables, cheese sticks, yogurt, yogurt covered raisins) and one from the pantry (pretzels, goldfish, dry cereal).
“If you’re getting cheese from the fridge and crackers in the cabinet, right there you’re getting protein, fats and carbohydrates, three macronutrients that your body needs. And if you add a fruit or vegetable to that you’ve got a very valid snack,” she says. “What that starts to develop for them, even before they can really understand nutrition, is pairing together complementary foods.”
To LoConte, balanced snacking also means allowing kids to have treats like ice cream, cookies and other sweets, but to limit it to one “sweet” snack a day. “The key is to not categorize these foods as ‘bad’ or as ‘unhealthy’ foods,” she explains. “Sometimes I’ll hear parents say, ‘You shouldn’t have had that, it is terrible for you.’ And the kid’s sitting there and they just ate a bowl of ice cream that was so delicious. That is a very confusing message when our brain notices something is so intensely enjoyable to eat.”
Treat Children the Same
When it comes to creating a healthy relationship with food and balanced eating habits, LoConte says parents should treat all of their children the same, no matter the sex or size of their kids. Doing otherwise can also lead to some very confusing messaging.
“With the exception of different taste preferences, you don’t want to let one child have a cookie and a chocolate milk for a snack and the other child is having an apple because you’re concerned about their weight,” she says. “Because while in the moment that feels like the right thing, you’re setting up long-term feelings of deprivation when it comes to yummy foods.”
How To Find the Best Grab-and-Go Options
Some parents have time to make homemade snacks, but others don’t. LoConte says there’s nothing wrong with picking up grab-and-go foods, however, if you’re concerned about nutritional value then look for packages that have the least amount of added sugar. She also says snacks that promise 2 to 4 grams of fiber per serving are a good bet, and when in doubt always go with whole “grain” and not whole “wheat.” While they sound the same, the latter is processed and devoid of the same nutritional value.
One thing LoConte doesn’t recommend though is calorie-counting, especially when it comes to nutritional labels that are often created by savvy marketing teams.
“You may find those little 100-calorie snack packs where you take two bites and it’s done. And you’re like, ‘Oh, that was really unsatisfying.’ That’s because they’re trying to target a particular group of people,” she says. “If your child has a serving size and they’re still hungry, then I wouldn’t prevent them from eating more. It might just mean that either that serving is a little too small or they need another element to their snack.”
Building a Better Snack
Pairing different snack components is a great way to give kids the energy they need to be kids. But it’s also a fun way to keep them interested in food. On their own, mini muffins from the store wouldn’t be LoConte’s first choice for a healthy snack for kids, for example, because two or three muffins and the pack is done. But give kids a baggie of pretzels, a piece of string cheese and an apple, and you’ve got a much more exciting snack that hits all of their nutritional needs.
“It has a lot of pieces and it feels like you’re getting a lot but you’re not going over a snack-portion amount,” she says. “That’s a reasonable snack amount for a child.”
If you find that after a healthy snack like that your kid is still hungry though, then it might be time to consider giving them a meal instead. “If they’re looking for multiple snacks, like when a child comes home from school starving, and they want multiple snacks in the cabinet, that would be a time to say, ‘You know what, it seems to me like you’re hungry enough for a meal,’” She explains. “So then have a look at meal-type foods like a grilled cheese or a sandwich or something that’s going to give your kid’s body what it needs.”
More Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids
Don’t stress out if your kid only eats fruit and turns his or her nose up at veggies, says LoConte. Fruit has gotten a bad rap because it contains sugar, but the thing is that fruit has natural sugar and fiber, which the body processes differently than the refined and added stuff.
“If your child never eats vegetables but will eat fruit, that’s totally okay,” she says. “I’ll tell parents, if kids don’t want to eat vegetables for dinner, they can actually have a fruit with dinner or with a meal. It gives you the same benefits.”
Some great kid-friendly fruit and veggie snack options include:
- Veggie sticks (carrots, celery, bell peppers, jicama)
- Cucumber slices
- Baby tomatoes (cut in half or quarters for younger kids)
- Baby carrots
- Peas or corn niblets in a bowl
- Broccoli or cauliflower “trees”
- Cubed or balled melon (watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, balls cut in half for younger kids)
- Apple or pear slices
- Grapes (quartered for younger children)
- Oranges or clementines
- Bananas, sliced or whole
- Berries in a bowl (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
- Lychee fruit (peeled, cut and pits removed)
Terrific foods to increase healthy fats and protein:
- Cheese strings, sticks or cubes
- Chickpeas or other cooked, canned and rinsed beans
- Hardboiled eggs
- Rolled up turkey slices
- Nut butters (peanut, almond, cashew etc)
- Milk (including chocolate milk)
- Yogurt (LoConte says don’t worry about the sugar content as the benefits of yogurt are worth it)
Round it out with some of LaConte’s favorite cupboard snacks:
- Pita chips
- Mini pitas
- Mini bagels
- Goldfish crackers (whole grain)
- Popcorn (for older children)
- Dry cereal
- Granola bars
Feel like you’ve got a grasp on a few new snack ideas? Time to get shopping.