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6 Bad Snacks Get Makeovers

Written by: Anika Christ, RD, CISSN, CPT - Life Time Fitness

When it comes to kids’ nutrition, one of the most frequent requests I receive are for snack ideas.  Snacks can serve many purposes for kids, whether it’s getting a quick energy fix before football practice or to fill that gap between breakfast and lunch. And, more than ever, grocery stores are loading their aisles with kid-marketed snacks. But some parents might be surprised that many of these options provide nothing close to quality nutrition. Read on and find out the best snack choices for your children, as well as the imposters to avoid throwing into your grocery cart. 

Snack parameters

First, let’s identify what constitutes a good snack for a child. You can assume any ‘snacks’ that lack what’s below are not worth you or your child’s time. In no particular order, they should:

  • Be free of artificial colors, preservatives, and sweeteners
  • Contain only natural sugar and little to no added sugar
  • Contain protein and fiber (key nutrients that promote satiety)
  • Be made of whole and natural food ingredients

Junk food

We think of typical junk food as candy, pizza and soda, but there are plenty of other contenders in those grocery aisles that carry a very similar and poor nutrition profile. These seductive products not only call out your child’s name with their brightly colored and character stamped packaging, but they are loaded with sugar, artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives. Many parents might purchase them for convenience because they are often pre-wrapped, travel well and are marked as “healthy” snacks. 

The foods listed below are some of the most popularly purchased snacks in today’s market, yet most nutritional professionals wouldn’t consider them healthy options. 

  • Cereal/granola bars/cereal bars
  • Prepackaged lunches (such as crackers, meats, cheese)
  • Prepackaged “dunking snacks” (such as breadsticks and cheese, cookies and cream)
  • Pudding cups / yogurt tubes
  • Fruit snacks/ fruit rolls/ fruit leather and strips
  • Packaged crackers

Best choices

The food list above might scare you if they are common foods you purchase for your child’s snack choices or add-ins to packed lunches. Not only do they provide poor nutritional value, most of them won’t fulfill the goal of filling your child and providing him/her with energy. 

So, let’s redo the list and find substitutes that are kid-friendly, convenient and healthy for phasing into your child’s snack rotation:

Homemade trail mix

Replaces: Cereal, granola bar or cereal bar

Making your own trail mix can provide a similar texture and taste to many of the cereals and bars out there. However, avoid the pre-packaged trail mixes. They, like cereal and bars, tend to have a ton of sugar added and other less advantageous ingredients.  Instead, buy nuts and seeds in bulk and add some sulfite-free dried fruit.  There’s so much variety available; add pumpkin and sunflower seeds and vary the trail mixes often according to your child’s taste preferences.

Fruit + natural nut butter

Replaces:  Fruit snacks/ fruit rolls/ fruit leather and strips

You can enjoy many combinations for this treat, depending on your child’s taste preference.  A popular version would be an organic apple with a tablespoon or two of natural almond or peanut butter. The natural fiber from the apple plus the plant protein within the butter supports your child’s satiety and energy.

When you go for the natural peanut butter, you eliminate many of the added sugars and sweeteners common in most commercial peanut butters.  Cut the apple in half, spread the butter on both sides and then stick the apple back together. Throw it in a lock-top snack bag, so the nut butter doesn’t get everywhere. 

Veggies and hummus

Replaces:  Prepackaged dunking snacks

Food manufactures are smart to identify that kids love to dunk foods. However, what’s produced is impressive only in presentation. Make your own kid-appealing dunking snack by using hummus; its nutrient profile is why nutrition professionals are big fans.  Loaded with fiber and healthy fats, it is a great add-on to fresh-cut veggies.

If time permits, make your own hummus; otherwise, check the ingredient list of those you find at your grocery store. Be sure to combine it with your child’s favorite vegetables

Meat roll-ups

Replaces: Prepackaged lunches (crackers, meats, cheese)

The meats and cheeses found in the prepackaged options are loaded with sodium and artificial preservatives. That’s without touching on the pairing of poor cracker nutrients.  Rolling natural deli meats can be a healthier and convenient snack to pack.  Stick to a variety of lean, fresh meats, including turkey, chicken or roast beef and be sure to pair it with a fiber-rich fruit or vegetable. Make it more fun by wrapping the meat around the fruit or vegetable; for example, wrap turkey around apple strips or chicken around carrot sticks. 

Cheese and veggies / fruit cutouts

Replaces:  Packaged crackers and chips

Packaged crackers and chips solely provide a source of carbohydrates (and sometimes processed fats) that’s going to leave your child hungry in a short time. Instead, turn a natural cheese and fruit or vegetable into the shape and texture of a chip. Use a crinkle cutter to cut some natural, block cheese and produce (cucumbers, carrots, cantaloupe, etc.) and throw them into a baggie. Both now have the look, feel and appeal of a chip or cracker but are going to provide your child with much more quality nutrition. Pressed for time? The same nutritional value can be found with a natural cheese stick paired with some grapes or berries.   

Greek or natural yogurt

Replaces: Yogurt tube / pudding cup

Yogurt, in its natural state, can be a great food that provides calcium, protein and other vitamins and minerals — plus probiotics. When we add sugar and artificial sweeteners, it becomes a less advantageous food. Purchase the plain yogurt, and then add in some berries to add flavor and fiber. On occasion, you might pack or premix a small amount of Life Time’s Peak Performance Whey Isolate (chocolate flavor) with the yogurt if you feel your child needs an extra boost of protein. That makes a much healthier and natural option than any commercial pudding cup can provide. 


If it’s possible your kids aren’t getting their daily nutritional requirements met in three square meals, it’s all the more important their in-between time is filled with solid snack options. Today’s commercial snacks are doing your child any favors — if it must be packaged and quick, check out your local organic market.

Do you have any other natural and healthy options that have worked with your kids?  Please share below!

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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Reader Comments (1)

It's not just for kids! Adults need to eat healthier too, and these tips about better snacks applies to us, too. Greek yogurt is a great go-to ingredient for a lot of things - add fruit, make a veggie dip with it, substitute it for sour cream, etc. It's one of my favorite multi-purpose foods.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

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