Nutritious snacks are an important and necessary part of every young child’s day. Preschoolers need about 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day, preferably from a balanced diet that includes whole grains, lean meat, beans, low-fat milk, fruits and vegetables.
Most preschoolers can’t eat enough to meet all their nutritional needs in three meals, so healthy snacks help fuel their young bodies throughout the day. While there are lots of prepackaged grab-and-go snacks available, be sure to check labels carefully. Many snack foods marketed to young children lack real nutritional value.
Avoid offering high-sugar baked goods, such as doughnuts, brownies, or pre-packaged cupcakes. Also avoid snack foods that will stick to children’s teeth and the roof of their mouth, which can cause gagging and contribute to tooth decay.
Help your preschooler be a healthy snacker by getting them involved in packing their own snacks. Keep healthy ingredients in your refrigerator or pantry, and let kids build their own snacks from among several nutritious options.
- Offer a variety of snacks, including some new choices – not just the ones your child already likes. Don’t give up on foods they have been rejected in the past, as it may take several attempts before a child accepts a new food.
- Create a schedule for meals and snacks, rather than let kids graze throughout the day. Grazing can dull internal hunger cues, which can lead to overeating out of boredom or habit.
- Serve snacks and meals at the table, not in front of the TV or other electronic device where mindless eating can lead to overeating.
- Serve skim or low-fat milk or water with snacks, and limit 100 percent juice to one serving per day. Avoid sugary drinks and soda, which have excess calories and typically no nutritional value.
- Stock your home with healthy foods, and keep those high in calories, fat and added sugar to a minimum. This doesn’t mean your children can never have these foods, but they should be offered only once in a while.
- Share a healthy snack with your children – they’ll follow your lead and you’ll both have something good!
Before you pack your child’s snack, be sure to check with your child’s preschool for allergy warnings. Many schools are peanut-free and prohibit snacks that contain even traces of peanuts, such as some pre-packaged snack bars, or other potential allergens.
Here are a few creative ideas:
- Make apple ring sandwiches by spreading creamy peanut butter on apple rings (Core the apple and slice into rings). Note: Avoid crunchy peanut butter, which can be a choking hazard.
- Make kabobs with any combination of cheese, fruit, vegetables and sliced or cubed cooked meat or tofu. Be sure to remove the toothpicks before serving.
- Top English muffins or pita bread with tomato sauce, grated cheese (soy or dairy) and lean cuts of meats or tofu; bake and cut into quarters.
For an at-home treat:
- Make homemade frozen “juice pops.” Combine yogurt – dairy or soy – with 100 percent fruit juice (look for calcium-fortified). Add pureed or very soft fruit. Freeze until solid.
*Note: Avoid “chunky” peanut butter, raw celery and carrots because they are a choking hazard.
For more snack ideas, check out these websites: