If your children are anything like mine, they live and die for snacks. Seriously. If I want them to eat something, I just need to have the word “snack” somewhere in the description. Refuse to touch your eggs? How about that delicious “morning snack”? Letting that spaghetti you requested grow cold on your plate? Why not try a yummy “dinner snack”? I kid you not, it works. I try and use this unconditional love of snacks to my advantage and turn their beloved snacks into nutritious mini-meals to fuel their developing brains and bodies.
It is well known that proper nutrition plays a critical role in the development of a child’s brain. Some experts even say that proper nutrition in the first year of a child’s life can be the single greatest environmental factor of development. As children grow and get more active, food is also essential to give them the energy and strength to play and participate in more rigorous physical activity. Not sure what to feed your budding ballerinas, athletes, and ninjas? Here are some tips for the best snacks for active kids.
The trifecta of a perfect snack in my household: affordable, kid-edible, and nutritious.
Affordable is not necessarily attached to a monetary value, but I try and buy in bulk when possible and to avoid individually packaged items, as the convenience factor usually results in a higher price tag. Look for seasonal fruits and vegetables, generic brands when available, and stock up when a staple item is on sale.
Parents know that children’s tastes are unpredictable at best and downright confounding at worst. And yes, kids should learn to eat and appreciate fruits, vegetables, and nutritious food. But, it’s also important to get them to actually eat, so I try and break out my own ninja moves and sneak some healthy into fun foods. I have also found that anything bite-sized or stored in a ziploc bag is more appealing to my kids.
Nutritious can be a rather vague term, but the body needs a few key components to prepare for and then recover from physical activity, and these elements should be the building blocks for healthy snacks: proteins, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Protein “primes the pump” for your muscles, preparing them for physical exertion, but it also helps them repair and recover after activity, which is why it’s critical to include protein in pre and post activity snacks. Carbohydrates give your body the energy and fuel to participate in physical activity and are especially essential for children who are constantly using that energy. Healthy fats help with brain development and heart health and can add a lot of flavor. In order to maximize nutrition, snacks should be eaten one to three hours before physical activity and again within about twenty minutes afterwards.
So, here are some personally tested and kid-approved snacks that are ideal for active kids and meet the aforementioned criteria:
“Ants on A Log”
Ingredients: Celery stalks, Peanut Butter (substitute sun butter for allergies), and Raisins (can also use nuts, craisins, or chocolate if you are feeling decadent)
Instructions: Simply spread peanut butter in the crevice of a celery stalk and top with raisins to give the appearance of ants on a log (adults are going to need to use their imaginations).
Benefits: Peanut butter = kid-approved protein, Raisins = nice healthy dose of sugar, Celery = a vegetable covered in peanut butter is still a vegetable!
Ingredients: Tortilla (whole wheat if you are feeling brave), Peanut Butter (same sub as above), Banana, Slivered nuts optional
Instructions: Spread peanut butter on a tortilla, place a banana in the middle, and roll up like a burrito. Leave whole for a “banana burrito”, cut small pieces for “banana sushi”.
Benefits: Once again, peanut butter is a champion protein in our house. If you are concerned about the sugar, try a natural peanut butter. The banana is a healthy carbohydrate, as is the tortilla. Whole wheat is a healthier option, but you might have to work up to that with some kids (mine).
“Snack Kebabs” (Sweet & Savory versions)
Sweet-banana chunks, apple slices, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple (go with canned for convenience), optional-marshmallows
Savory-cubed cheese (cut your own to save money), cherry tomatoes, deli meat/pepperoni/turkey sausage bites, edamame and chickpeas (requires a little more dexterity in assembly)
Instructions: Using either cocktail swords or kebab sticks, arrange items to your satisfaction. Use caution and consider using coffee stirrers with no pointy ends for the younger set. Include plain, low-fat yogurt to dip with the fruit and mustard to dip with the savory items.
Benefits: Both options offer healthy proteins and healthy carbohydrates. They are easy to prepare and can be made ahead for the week. Use seasonal fruit to cut costs. And truthfully, food on a stick is just more fun.
“Ninja/Fairy/Ballerina/Insert Child’s Current Favorite Person Here Snack Mix”
Ingredients: Whatever you have in your pantry that is taking up too much room, about to go stale, or simply something you know your kids will eat. Examples-popcorn, pretzel sticks, raisins, veggie straws, graham cracker pieces, etc.
Instructions: Throw into a Ziploc bag. Voila.
Benefits: Easy to assemble, and the possibilities are endless. Be careful of adding too much “sugary stuff” and focus on whole grains and lighter options.
Other go-to options for my little ninjas: cottage cheese with crushed pineapple, hummus and carrot sticks, yogurt with granola, and string cheese and cinnamon apple slices.
The snack possibilities are endless, and like most things with children, this will be a process of trial and error to find which fuel is right for your little ninja!
 Nutrition information from www.eatright.org