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Healthy Kids Snacks That Aren't

Most kids snack between 1 and 3 times daily. These mini-mealtimes can either be an opportunity to increase your child's intake of fruits and veggies or they could be an unfortunate foray into the world of high fat and sugar. Arming yourself with information on serving sizes, calories, fat, and ingredients, can help you steer their menus so that they avoid packing on the pounds.

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Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina, collected and analyzed government data on the eating habits of over 31,000 children ages 2 to 18, from 1977 until 2006. His findings show that children consume around 586 calories from snacks per day and 2,111 calories per day total. He reported that they consume more French fries as snacks than vegetables.

Flavored Yogurts

It is recommended that adults eat Greek yogurts above all others in order to fulfill their necessary protein, calcium and probiotic needs. The light version of Greek yogurt has less sugar and more protein than regular dairy yogurt. Children don't usually care for the tangy natural flavor of Greek yogurt. Instead, food companies market to children with highly flavored and brightly colored products to catch their interest.


The added food dyes and high fructose corn syrups cancel out the benefits of the milk. Plus, many of the yogurts for kids are created with a lot of preservatives so that they can weather the trip from home to the lunch room without spoiling. To avoid preservatives, serve yogurt at home. To avoid sugary, additive-filled snacks, sweeten plain yogurt with berries and their juices.

Instant Oatmeal

A high fiber cereal paired with skim (or light soy) milk will keep your kids full straight through the morning until lunch time. But if you reach for the pre-sweetened oatmeal that comes packaged in individual bags, you'll be setting your kids up for a sugar high and subsequent crash as if you had served them a breakfast pastry instead. There is far too much sugar included in each serving of instant oatmeal packets (up to 3 teaspoons each) to justify its fiber content.

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Instead, use the unsweetened instant oatmeal and add your own spices or ingredients to make it tastier. You can still cook it in the microwave in 2 minutes or less and you can still offer the same flavors - try sprinkling real cinnamon on top or add a handful of blueberries - but now you'll include important nutrients and minerals, which were previously absent.
Fruit Juice

Reading labels at the grocery store can be time-consuming. However, it pays to read the juice labels. Most claim to have at least 1 serving of fruit per glass and list "natural," "fresh" or "100% juice (from concentrate)" prominently on the front. Unfortunately, you can't trust the words "natural" or "fresh" and juices from concentrate have added sugars, preservatives, and are made up almost entirely of water.

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As an alternative to sugar-laden juices, an actual piece of fruit would be the best choice. But if you kids are more willing to drink fruit than to eat it, then try juicing your own at home. Or, you could buy the 100% natural fruit juice - not from concentrate - and mix it with some water if the taste is too strong.

In any event, most children need far more water than any other type of beverage, so serve mostly water throughout the day and intersperse it with some milk or 1 glass of natural fruit juice as a sweet treat.


Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is universally loved by children and is a great source of protein. When you hit the stores, buy a spread made from peanuts and salt, nothing else. Many types of peanut butters add sugars and hydrogenated fats, which keep them creamy for a longer time on the shelf.

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Most likely, you will be using it in cooking or pairing it with jelly for PB&Js, so your family won't miss the extra fat and corn syrups anyway. Especially stay away from over-processed novelty brands, like those mixed with chocolate or a jelly-like substance. They are mostly corn syrup and preservatives.

Breakfast Bars

Breakfast bars are easy items to grab when your family is on the go. They tend to crop up in school lunches or on long car trips. Eating them in either situation is not ideal, because these pastry snacks are made up of sugar and refined flour. Feed one to your tot and they will get a sugar rush and then crash quickly, complaining of a hungry tummy.

Breakfast bars do not have enough fruit in them to constitute a daily serving either, so they are really more like soft candy bars. For a fast breakfast with easy cleanup, try a Ziploc bag filled with granola and fruit, either dried or fresh.


Whole Grain Chips

When you're on the run and your kids can't wait until their next meal, you might want to swing by a vending machine and grab something to help get them through the day. A small bag of Sun Chips might seem like the best choice, what with its "Heart Healthy" multigrains and proclamation of 30% less fat than your average chip. Multigrains are good, but not in chip form. Sun Chips' low-fat claim needs to be considered in context as well.

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The average vending machine-sized bag, which weighs in at only 1.5 ounces, contains 10 grams of fat with 1.5 saturated. As an alternative, try the similarly sized Baked! Lays 1 ounce bag for 1.5 grams of fat with no saturated and half the calories. Sun Chips may have less fat than the other fried salt bomb chips but if your kids want something crunchy and you are restrained by the vending machine, reach for the Baked! Lays instead.

Use your intuition when preparing meals for your kids. Something that was made to last months in the dry goods department won't be as healthy as something that you can find shopping along the edges of the grocery store in the fresh sections.