When you’re a kid, snack time can be the best part of the day. As a parent, snacks can make sure your child doesn’t have a hunger-induced meltdown before dinnertime rolls around. And while some snack options are healthy and delicious — for both you and your child — there are plenty of go-to munchies that can derail a healthy diet, pumping your children full of unnecessary sugar and processed ingredients.
Many children today eat about three snacks per day, writes Sally Kuzemchak, a registered dietician and mom of two children. When done correctly, snacking can actually be a healthy part of your child’s diet. “They’re important because kids have a smaller stomach and high energy needs,” Katja Rowell, M.D., a childhood feeding specialist in St. Paul, told Kuzemchak. However, reaching for a boxed snack in the grocery store or grabbing something from the pantry that could qualify as dessert isn’t the best way to supplement your child’s nutrition. But with marketing and the need for convenience, it can be all too easy to feed your kids junk without even realizing it.
Keep in mind that between school parties, after-practice snacks for peewee sports, and a number of other well-meaning events, your children are offered snacks on an almost-constant basis. According to Kuzemchak’s calculations, the average snacking in a single day for a preschooler can add up to 1,000 calories — about two-thirds of what children need daily between the ages of 4 to 8, and 100% of the calories needed for children ages 2 to 3. You can’t always control what’s served to your child when you’re not around, but you can try to make healthier choices for them when they’re under your supervision.
Take a look at some of the worst snacks you can give your children, along with suggestions for healthier, less processed options.
1. Fruit snacks
I’m sure I’m not the only adult who still enjoys tearing open a pack of gummy fruit snacks every now and then. But as much as we’d like to pretend otherwise — for our sakes and for children — fruit snacks are basically lemon- and berry-flavored candy. Fruit Gushers, for example, have 10 grams of sugar and 90 calories. Preschoolers should consume no more than 16 grams of added sugar per day, and children ages 4 to 8 shouldn’t have more than 12 grams per day. In both cases, the Gushers alone account for almost all of that, without counting regular meals, beverages, or other snacks.
Even fruit snacks with boxes that say they’re made with fruit and vegetable juice aren’t great. Mott’s fruit snacks, for example, still contain the same 10 grams of sugar per pouch. And in both cases, corn syrup is the No. 1 (Gushers) or No. 2 (Mott’s) ingredient.
Of course, any seasonal fruit is a better snack alternative. You’ll still be giving your children natural sugars, but it’ll come with carbohydrates and other natural goodness that will satisfy for longer. If your children need some time to wean off the fruit snacks, the Weed ’em and Reap blog suggests Stretch Island Fruit Leather, fruit strips that are made with real fruit and contain only 45 calories. If you’re really adventurous, you can even try making your own fruit snacks.