Toddlers and preschoolers can be notoriously picky eaters, so it’s a challenge to find healthy snacks that’ll meet their taste and their nutritional needs. Here are 20 healthy kids snacks that busy moms can prepare on the go.
Cheesy Veggie Quesadilla
You can quickly whip up this snack with store-bought tortillas, mozzarella or any gooey cheese, and chopped vegetables, and any leftover chicken or pork you have on hand. Just bake it in the oven for about 5 to 10 minutes, then cut into small slices.
It’s a balanced meal that’s rich in calcium, protein, vitamins and minerals. It’s also a great way to get kids to try different vegetables. You can use zucchini, corn, carrots, and prepare a lycopene-rich tomato salsa that they can dip their quesadillas into.
Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwiches
Elvis Presley loved these sandwiches, and your kids will too! It’s rich in protein, and bananas are rich in vitamin B, vitamin C, potassium, biotin, manganese, and dietary fiber. Use whole-wheat bread to increase the fiber content.
Veggie Sticks and Hummus
One way to get kids to eat vegetables is to serve them with dips. They’ll never guess hummus is made from chickpeas, which are rich in folate, iron, and vitamin B6. You can also spread it on salt-free crackers, or turn it into a pita bread sandwich.
Hummus is easy to whip up in a blender, but go ahead and use store-bought if you’re having a busy week.
You can buy ready-made trail mixes or make them yourself. Just mix together different kinds of nuts, whole grain cereal, dried fruit, banana chips and popcorn. Kids enjoy the crunch and texture, and the nuts are rich in iron, zinc, and magnesium. You can fill an entire jar and pour a portion into a snack box when you need a healthy snack on the go.
Yogurt is rich in bone-building calcium and probiotics that aid in healthy digestion. You can buy them in convenient snack packs but check the sugar content. A lot of the flavored yogurts can contain up to 28 grams of refined sugar. For a healthier and equally convenient alternative, buy plain yogurt and add a few slices of fruits.
Fruit and Vegetable Smoothies
You’ll find dozens of recipes for healthy smoothies that you can make in minutes. For more convenience, cut the fruits and vegetables into portions and freeze in ice cube trays. Just pop out a cube when you need it.
Frozen, overripe bananas and yogurt can make a smoothie extra creamy. You can also pour the smoothie into a bottle and store in the freezer an hour or two before you’re ready to go. By the time your child drinks it, it would’ve thawed into a refreshing ice-cold smoothie.
Whole Grain Waffles
You can buy these at health food stores, and warm them up when you’re ready for a healthy kids’ snack on the go. Serve it on its own, or spread it with low-fat cream cheese or jam.
Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Sneak in nutrients by serving healthier versions of your child’s favorite food! Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin C, vitamin C, vitamin B, potassium, and phosphorus. Baking also cuts down on the fat. Try dipping in lycopene-rich ketchup, or serving with fish sticks.
While store-bought nuggets are rich in protein, making them at home lets you control salt content and sneak in vegetables. Season ground chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. In a food processor, pulse carrots and zucchini until they are finely minced. Mix everything together with one beaten egg and then shape into nuggets. Coat in flour or bread crumbs and deep-fry.
You can make the Nuggets ahead and freeze them. Allow them to cool before putting in the freezer, and use within a week.
Homemade Mini Pizzas
You can buy frozen pizzas that ready to heat and serve, but it’s just as easy to buy pizza dough and assemble your pizzas yourselves with ready ingredients! Just slather with marinara sauce (buy in a jar, or make a large batch ahead and freeze) and add whatever toppings you like. Cheese, mushrooms, roasted vegetables, sliced sausages, ham, fresh basil … the possibilities are endless.
Kids will love making their own pizzas, and if you make it at home, you can control the sodium content and encourage them to try different kinds of toppings.
What could be easier than opening a can of tuna and mixing it with mayonnaise and finely chopped apples and celery? The veggies add a bit of sweetness and crunch. Serve on wholewheat bread, and add slices of cheese, tomato, and lettuce, and you have a balanced meal of protein, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins. Tuna is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in brain development.
Granolas can be very healthy sources of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Just be sure to read the labels: some have very high sugar and fat content. Look for healthier versions made of nutrient-rich nuts and seeds like chia, pumpkin, or oatmeal.
Many granola bars are made with an adult portion (and recommended daily allowances) in mind. Toddlers and preschoolers need much less to feel full, so divide a granola bar in half.
You can buy these or make them yourself – or even better, make them with your kids! Many recipes will combine zucchini with carrots or apples, so you get even more nutrients into this healthy and delicious snack. It still packs a lot of sugar and fat, though, so control the portions by using small muffin molds or cutting them into quarters.
Whole Wheat Banana Nut Bread
This is a hearty, filling and energizing snack. The bananas are rich in vitamin A and C, potassium and dietary fiber. Whole wheat is a complex carbohydrate that will give them a steady source of energy (instead of just a quick sugar high… and sugar crash). The nuts are rich in healthy fats, which your child needs to grow.
Serve with peanut butter and jam, or look for bread that already has flavorful fruit bits like cranberry and raisin.
These mini burgers are easy to pack into a lunch box for a healthy kids’ snack on the go. You can make the burgers yourself and sneak in finely pulsed vegetables like carrots and zucchini, or make “mock meat” out of beans or lentils.
Baked Vegetable or Fruit Chips
Found in many health food stores, these are healthier alternatives to giving your kids a big bag of Doritos. They come in different varieties – sweet potato, apple, banana, and more – and are very crunchy and flavorful.
Just watch out for the salt and fat content, and buy small bags for automatic portion control. These are great on their own or served with a sandwich for a quick but hearty lunch.
Fruit Slices and Cottage Cheese
The crunchy fruit and tart cheese give a delightful play of textures while filling your child’s daily requirement of vitamins, minerals, and protein. If your child doesn’t like cottage cheese, experiment with different spreads: peanut butter, chocolate, melted cheddar. Add a few slices of ham, and you have a child-friendly version of a fruit and cheese platter. (Feel free to have a nibble and pour yourself a glass of wine.)
Egg Salad Sandwich
Eggs are rich in protein, Vitamin D, vitamin B12, amino acids, and brain-building nutrients like choline and selenium. Just chop boiled eggs and mix with mayo and season with salt and pepper. Serve with toast, crackers or pita chips.
Baby Burritos or Enchiladas
Transform last night’s leftover chili or roast chicken into a healthy kids’ snack on the go! Just add shredded cheese and lettuce, salsa, and sour cream. Cut a burrito into three and hold it together with a toothpick, so it’s easy for little hands to hold. You can also wrap each portion in aluminum foil, which your child can peel off as he gobbles down this delicious treat.
Microwave Mock Apple Pie ala Mode
Sprinkle apple, peach and pear slices with cinnamon and place in the microwave or oven. Cook until soft. Top with yogurt. This is healthier than apple pie and vanilla ice cream, and much easier to make at home!
Smart Snacking Tips
Watch the portion sizes. Toddlers and preschoolers have small stomachs, so they’re more likely to eat less but more frequently. Just don’t make the mistake of giving them huge portions 6 or 8 times a day – this is going to lead to childhood obesity, especially if you’re giving meals that have a lot of fat and carbohydrates.
Don’t give snacks just to distract your child. Snacks are meant to give nutrition and nourishment, not to keep him busy or stop a tantrum. If your child starts crying or fussing, don’t assume he wants something to eat. Ask yourself: “Is he hungry, or is he bored or tired or overstimulated?” Try offering a toy, book or a hug first.
Avoid situations that could lead to choking. Don’t let your child eat while lying down, crawling, or running around. Always serve food in a high chair or at a table. This is not only safer, but it also teaches your toddler and preschooler about proper mealtime habits and table manners.
Don’t turn meal time into a battle. Does your child refuse all healthy snacks? Stay calm and just offer it again at another time. Toddlers and Preschoolers can be picky eaters, but very often they say “No” because that’s what kids their age do. They’re asserting their independence, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be willing to try the food later, or on another day.
Provide different colors and textures. Don’t serve sandwiches 5 days in a row. Alternate your healthy snacks, so your child gets used to trying different things. If you notice he has a strong preference for something – like pizzas or fries – then serve something with a similar vegetable, shape, or texture. It is familiar but still encourages him to get out of his food rut. A pizza-lover will be likely to try a quesadilla if you say it’s just a pizza folded in two. Or you could offer fish sticks dipped in the pizza sauce.
Set a good example. But always remember that you are your child’s role model. The best way to get him to eat healthy food is if he sees you do it, too. What’s good for your child is good for you, too. So, join him in the snack and make a commitment to preparing balanced meals from breakfast to dinner.
Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Many of the snack ideas we gave use similar ingredients like marinara sauce or finely chopped vegetables. To save time and energy on a very hectic day, prepare large batches on weekends, then freeze in pre-portioned ice bags. Label bags with contents and the day you prepared them.
Get kids involved. Toddlers and preschoolers are eager to help and “do whatever Mommy does.” Let them help as you prepare a snack – they’re more likely to eat what they have made, and you can also use this as an opportunity to teach colors, shapes, and counting. (Ex: “can you give me three green apple slices?”
Set early eating habits now! It’s important to get your toddler or preschooler used to eat healthy snacks because food preferences are often shaped in the early years. If you always give sweet or salty food, he’ll find any other kind of food bland and boring. If you persist in serving healthy snacks on the go, he’ll grow up loving fruits and vegetables because that’s what he’s used to.
These ideas for healthy kids’ snacks on the go can make it easier to prepare delicious and nutritious food even when you’re busy.