Before you start searching for healthy snack ideas, answer the following question.

What is a healthy snack?  Is it primarily defined by:

  1. The presence of “good” nutrients?
  2. The absence of “bad” nutrients?

If my experiences and observations are anything to go on, most parents would (rightfully) say the answer is A, but act as if the answer is B.  How else can we account for the frequency with which Goldfish Crackers, Cheez-Its, Animal Crackers, baked chips and Booty show up in the snacking lineup?

I think of these items as “Do No Harm” Snacking.  Parents buy these snack foods because they seem to stack up pretty well against potato chips because they have less fat—a pretty low standard if you ask me.  But let’s be honest: these snack foods don’t add any nutritional value to your kids’ diets.

The quality of your kids’ snacking matters a lot.  Research shows that kids now get 27% of their daily calories from snacks, and they’re not the good kind.  Desserts and sweetened beverages top the list of snacks.

Read The Snack Attack and  Snacking and the Nutrition Zone Mentality.

If kids had stellar diets, “Do No Harm” Snacking would be no big deal.

I’m a big proponent of the idea that there’s a place in the diet for everything—the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly.  I don’t think that every bite has to pack a nutritional punch.

But “Do No Harm” snacking actually does some harm because of the way it influences habits.

“Do No Harm” Snacking drives kids’ taste buds away from fruits and vegetables and towards junk.

Take crackers for instance.  Regular cracker-eating teaches kids that snacks are salty, crunchy things. (Good luck getting them to snack on an apple after that!)

But regular cracker-eating also influences how your kids eat throughout the day.  Research shows that the more frequently your kids eat foods that are high in sugar, salt and/or fat—basically everything in the snack food aisle of the grocery store—the less likely they will be to eat and enjoy fresh, natural foods.   Maybe that’s why kids like French fries way more than they like broccoli.

Don’t believe me? Check this out: Goldfish Crackers have more sodium than Cape Cod Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

And just a tad fewer grams of fat.

  • Fat in Godfish Crackers: 5g
  • Fat in Cape Cod Chips: 8g

Of course the comparisons come out a little differently with other crackers and chips, but I’m sure you get my point. If not, read Polly Want a Cracker?

What’s the take away? Use snacks wisely.

Instead of searching for the most nutritious snack, think about using snacks to shape your kids’ eating habits.  Develop a snacking plan.

If your children eat 2 snacks per day, we’re talking 14 snack attacks per week.  Use these times to teach your kids about proportion—eating foods in ratio to their healthful benefits.  Because proportion is one of the 3 principles that translates nutrition into behavior (variety and moderation are the other two), it’s one of the most important things you can teach your kids about eating.

Here’s how to put the principle of proportion to work with regard to snacking:

  • Decide on a number of times during the week (I suggest 2-3) when snacks come from the “Do No Harm” agenda.  You know, the snack food aisle.
  • Decide on a number of times during the week (I suggest 1-2) when snacks come from the junk food aisle.
  • Allocate everything else for fruits and vegetables.

If that seems like a lot of fruits and vegetables, it’s not. You’ve just been well-trained by the food industry. Fight the power. It’s circular logic, but the more fruits and vegetables  you serve, the more fruits and vegetables your kids will eat.  It’s all about their habits.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

For more information on snacking check out the Better School Food Healthy Snack List.


Source: Sources: Health Affairs. 2010. “Food Marketing and Distribution’s Role in the Fight Against Childhood Obesity.” Child Obesity Policy Brief. Accessed May, 2010; Cornwell, T. B. and A. R. McAlister. 2011. “Alternative Thinking About Starting Points in Obesity. Development of Child Taste Preferences.” Appetite 56: 428-39.