Snack Attack: Tips for Making Kids Snacks Easier (and Healthier)
Last week I polled current Ends+Stems members and a large parenting community on Facebook – What are the biggest food related challenges you’re facing right now? Overwhelmingly … parents said: Snacks and Lunches. Help!
“My struggle is my kids frequently requesting snacks/meals throughout the day.”
“But grab and go ideas for the kids would be helpful.”
“Ideas for prep ahead for kids lunches and snacks but not too elaborate.”
“I just need more healthy toddler snack ideas! This kid is always hungry and I need more substantial things to feed his bottomless pit ”
I think about snacks and lunches as serving different purposes at different times and when we create our family schedule, they are penciled in with specific time frames, so I’m going to split these topics up. Let’s start with snacks.
We snack for a few reasons
Boredom, to celebrate, we’re actually thirsty, stress, loneliness, to procrastinate, oh and sometimes even because we’re legitimately hungry between meals are many of the reasons we snack. I am not a scientist, a nutritionist, or a doctor, so I don’t personally have an issue with any of these reasons for snacking.
(If you’re trying to watch your overall food intake or weight or have health concerns please consult a nutritionist for healthy snacking).
One of my top concerns on this list is actually thirst.
They say we often eat when really we just need some water, so one of my “rules” for myself and my kids is to offer a glass of water while we’re talking about getting a snack or before we actually sit down to eat one. It’s usually happily received and we move on. During COVID and remote learning an issue of water glasses has arisen. There are no fewer than 9,237 half filled water glasses and bottles all over the house and not a clean one remaining in the cabinet. Recently, I have made some changes to this set up. Every morning, my kindergartener – Ramona – gets one glass for the day. I have also set up a step stool close enough to the sink so when she needs to refill it, she can reach and reuse the glass. I do remind her throughout the day to drink. Importantly, when she asks for water we invariably have this conversation:
R – Mom can I have some water
Me – Yes, where is your glass
R – I don’t know can I have a new one
Me – No. Please go find it
R – I can’t. Oh, wait I remember. It’s in the other room can you go get it
Me – No. You can do that.
R – Ugh, ok fine.
And she gets it. Sometimes I do think it would be easier to just do it for her, but luckily, I am quite stubborn and believe in staying firm now so that she’ll eventually learn to be independent. (I’ll let you know if that works!)
Once our thirst is quenched, we can talk food.
Much like for my dinner menu planning, I enlist both kids (5 and 2.5 years old) to give me an idea of what snacks they would like during the upcoming week. Watermelon or pineapple? Raspberries or strawberries? Veggie straws or string cheese? When they have some input and see that I listen to them as part of the process it’s easier to get them to eat it! It’s not perfect, it’s a process.
Last week, Ramona told me she used to have yogurt covered raisins at preschool and loved them. She requested some and though I am not a fan, I bought them. Surprise! She dislikes them. (Anyone want to pick up these yogurt raisins? DM me). I don’t mind her willingness to try new things, and of course she won’t always like them, but it was fairly natural to have a conversation about not wasting food and choosing snack options for the following week carefully so we can stay committed to those choices.
Last thing, before I get to the straight tips and ideas.
I separate things into 2 categories: morning snacks and afternoon snacks. I’m firmly in the camp that a cookie or other treat is part of a healthy diet and life, but everything in moderation. Cookies are afternoon snacks not breakfast snacks (but between you and me, that doesn’t apply to moms who are stressed out, working really hard, and sometimes just need a god-damned cookie for breakfast ok? Don’t judge me.) If cookies are on the snack menu, then they come after I get a reasonably healthy lunch into their bellies first.
Tips for making snacks easier and healthier for kids
Have a Schedule
- First Rule of Covid Remote School Snacking: If it’s not snack time then it’s not snack time!
- Second Rule of Covid Remote School Snacking – Write down snack time so everyone knows.
- Third Rule – If it is not snack time, then do not ask for a snack.
Block out categories of snacks for the day so it’s firm. Example:
- 10am – Easy Grab and Go (might be yogurt, granola bar, or string cheese)
- 1 pm – Veggies/Fruit (might be carrots/hummus, cucumbers and ranch dip, grapes, a peach)
- 3:30 pm – Sweet Boost (1 cookie and half an apple and Peanut butter, or crackers and cheese)
Let Them Be Independent
(I love this for slightly older kids who still need guidance, I’m thinking 2nd-6th grade)
Set out all of the snacks for the day in a small basket or open tupperware. Assemble one per kid with their name on it. You can assemble these the night before and even ask the kid to help get it ready. Keep it on the counter or in the fridge. Each kid can eat everything in that basket, at any time, and in any order they like (I see you cookie for breakfast-snack kid). But that’s it. They do not get anything else except meals.
Remove snacks from somewhere that kids can reach on their own and would be tempted to overthrow your system. Or, if that is your system then, why are you even reading this? Honestly, when I was growing up we had a good “snack house” and no rules around snacking. So, if this is your method, just make sure the open snacking is set up with things you’re ok with your kids eating.
Older Kids Who Snack
If you have “open snacking,” which IMHO is completely appropriate for older kids ,you’ll still need some rules.
- Keep things Neat in the Snack Drawer and Fridge
- Use your Eyes. Don’t open a new bag of tortilla chips if there is already one open
- Clip things closed! No stale snacks and #nofoodwaste!
- Don’t rummage through the open fridge door! Get in and get out.
- (not a rule but a guideline to set up healthy habits and relationships with food too) Think About What You’re Eating and Why, How does it make you feel afterwards? Were you just thirsty? Or Bored? Are you eating a variety of colors and types?
- Do your dishes and clean up any mess
- See if Mom or Dad needs a snack too 🙂 Good kids.
Snack Ideas for All Ages in 4 Categories
Things You Can Prep Ahead
(do these the night before or make enough for a week)
- Cut up fruit and veggies on Sunday night and have it ready to go in tupperware. You will never casually slice up a watermelon between zoom calls, so prep it ahead! There’s almost nothing that can’t hang out for 3-5 days in the fridge, sealed in a pyrex dish.
- Roasted Peaches on Bruschetta
- Egg Frittata Muffins (Make them ahead they last all week)
- Rainbow Fruit Skewers
- Smoothies blended up and stored in 1 cup portions. Put in a cup in the fridge when you wake up and by 10 am you should be able to shake it into a drinkable icey
- Small jars or bags of smoothie prep. Just add ice, blend and enjoy
- Yogurt or fruit based homemade popsicles
- Rolled ham and cheese sandwiches sliced in pinwheels (or turkey, or hummus, or rice and beans)
- Rolled and foil wrapped egg, bean and cheese burritos. Heat in the toaster oven.
- Overnight oats
- Mac and cheese – spoon into muffin tins and add more shredded cheese. Bake so they stick together. Reheat in the microwave or toaster oven
- Smear puff pastry with butter then sprinkle with garlic powder, chopped artichoke hearts, and crumbled feta. Roll both ends in to meet in the middle. Slice into rounds (elephant ear/palmier shape!) Bake according to package instructions
- Skewers with cubes of cheese, olives, maybe ham/salami
- Roasted Garbanzo Beans – empty a can, pat dry, season with oil and salt and your fave spice blend, roast at 425 until dried and crispy – about 40 minutes.
- Hardboiled eggs or Deviled Eggs
- No Bake Peanut Butter Balls or some kind of vegan rolled fudge (google it)
- Popcorn! Make a big batch and divide it up – add parmesan, garlic salt, chili powder, drizzle with butter and dust with plain white sugar (trust me it’s so good), or pumpkin spice, or everything spice, nutritional yeast
- Homemade pop tarts
- Kale chips
Things You Have to Cook or Prep Just Before Eating, But Are Still Super Easy
- Avocado Toast
- Peanut Butter on Toast or crackers with honey
- Sliced raw veggies with hummus, ranch dip, red pepper dip, yogurt dip
- Fake-a-dilla – melt cheese and salsa on a tortilla in the toaster oven or microwave
- Nacho – pan of tortilla chips with black beans, salsa, cheese, avocado
- English muffin pizzas!
- Veggie Chips
- Goldfish or Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies
- Cottage Cheese and fruit
- Dried Seaweed Strips
- Rice Cakes – perhaps with peanut/nut butter smear, or cream cheese and cinnamon
- Sliced cheese and crackers
- Pirates Booty
- String Cheese
- Sliced Cheese and Crackers
- Peanut Butter or Almond Butter on Crackers
- Ants on a Log (celery, peanut butter topped with raisins)
- Mixed Nuts
- Trail Mix (make your own in a big jar!)
- Pre Portioned mix of dry cereal
- Store bought fruit roll ups (or make them!)
- Pudding in little jars or cups
- Yogurt, Granola, Fruit parfaits
- Make chocolate ganache and whipped cream – serve in little bowls to dip berries, apples, and other fruit into
- Roast overripe or underripe berries and/or peaches then store in a tupperware with a sprinkle of sugar if needed. Spoon over yogurt, cottage cheese, or maybe ice cream
- Smear puff pastry with butter then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Roll both ends in to meet in the middle. Slice into rounds (elephant ear/palmier shape!) Bake according to package instructions
- Mini Cupcake (make a batch and freeze most of them, iced or not. They’ll last for months pulling a few out each week. A batch of icing can last in the fridge for a month)
- Muffins, scones, baked zucchini bread, apple bread or pumpkin loaf
- A marshmallow or two
- Handful of chocolate chips