As school begins, parents’ frantic search for snacks also starts. Be it snacks for school, after school, home, or sporting events, feeding kids healthily is a never-ending dilemma. So can snacks be a healthy part of a balanced diet? Over the years, snacks have earned a bad reputation from all the chips, candy bars, cookies and other foods the media has been marketing to us as easy snacks. But healthy snacks are neither time consuming nor expensive if you know what to look for. Keep these tips in mind for creating healthy, fun munchies:


Provide High Fiber Options

Fiber dense foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains all provide numerous nutrients and vitamins in addition to preventing and relieving constipation. Although constipation may not seem like a big deal, most school-age children complain of constipation at some point and, according to a study published in the journal Pediatrics in June 2013, the number one diagnosis of children taken to the emergency room with abdominal pain is constipation. Deema Al-Sayed, a nutritionist from Winnipeg, Canada says she serves her two children a colorful plate of freshly cut vegetables for a fiber-rich snack. Her children enjoy colorful peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, and celery. They munch on them plain or sometimes with a healthy dip like hummus or low-fat ranch.


Keep the Fat, Sugar, and Salt Content Low

Companies tend to market their snacks as healthy, which can make choosing beneficial options difficult and deceiving according to nutritionist Hend Elburi from Little Ferry, NJ. Providing healthy snacks for children plays a vital role in teaching them healthy habits, which is why she recommends always reading the nutrition facts before buying anything at the grocery store. Or better yet, opt for foods naturally low in the treacherous trio: fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, and lean meats all make healthy options. Nuts are also an excellent choice, packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and healthy fats. Raw nuts are your best bet, but if you prefer roasted nuts read the nutrition facts to make sure they are low in salt with no added fat or sugar. A serving of nuts is one ounce or about 12 individual almonds.


Look for Protein-Rich Snacks

Protein and fiber take longer for the body to digest, keeping kids and adults fuller for longer periods of time. The USDA and recommend pairing fiber-rich and high-protein foods for filling, healthy, fun snacks. Children will have fun dipping matchstick vegetables, like carrots, cucumbers, and celery in hummus or bean dip, both of which supply good proteins. Elburi gives ′Ants on a Log′ to kids and they love it. To make this fun snack, spread peanut butter on a celery stick then line raisins on top of the peanut butter like ants walking on a log in a line. Kids cannot get enough of this fast, easy, healthy snack. Finally, Mayo Clinic suggests revisiting breakfast. Kids who love scrambled eggs will also love them in the afternoon. Another healthy option you can pack in a cooler for school or the park is low-fat cheese sticks and grapes. Cheese provides protein and calcium, while the grapes supply vitamins, fiber, and healthy sugars creating an easy, tasty snack you can take just about anywhere.


Steer Clear of Artificial Food Coloring

The food industry uses artificial food coloring to make foods more appealing to consumers, especially children. When artificial food coloring was introduced, scientists believed it did not have negative effects on children. However, current research shows artificial food coloring increases hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children, with some children being more sensitive to the effects than others, according to pharmacist Lina Alkasm from Ottawa, Canada. Additionally, numerous countries, including the United Kingdom and France, have deemed artificial food coloring to be unsafe and have banned companies from selling them to the public. If other countries have declared artificial food coloring dangerous, should our kids be eating it?

With a little planning, putting together healthy snacks becomes easier than you think. Boil a chicken or roast some meat during the weekend and put it in the fridge. Now healthy sandwiches are only a minute away. Whip out the whole wheat bread, avocados to spread instead of mayonnaise, tomatoes, and lettuce for a yummy sandwich loaded with nutrients. Elburi recommends buying healthy snacks, like whole wheat crackers, in bulk then packing them into 100-calorie portions. This way parents have healthy snacks ready and save money at the same time. Store-bought trail mix can be very expensive and unhealthy, but healthy ingredients like raw nuts, whole grain pretzel sticks, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate bits combine to make a nutritious snack everyone will love, including your wallet.

Children and adults eat with their eyes; therefore, presentation plays a big part in encouraging children to eat healthy snacks. Rainbow fruit skewers make appealing options for kids. Elburi suggests pinwheels made with pita bread spread with avocados, shredded carrots, and chicken breast then rolled up and cut into individual circles as a fun, healthy, and appealing snack. Kids can help make them by choosing their own nutritious ingredients.

Including children in meal preparation is extremely effective in encouraging them to eat healthier. Take your kids to the grocery store and let them pick the fruits they want for school snacks. Spend Saturday morning at the local farmers’ market visiting the stands and talking to the farmers; your kids will surely come across a fruit or vegetable they want to eat. Let them choose what they want for dinner and include them in the cooking process; they are more likely to try something they chose or helped prepare.

The complaint nutritionists hear most from parents is, “I cannot get my kids to eat healthy.” Parents go out of their way to provide healthy snacks for their children, but kids still reach for the junk food. Al-Sayed solved the problem in her household by not bringing home junk food, period. Now, when her children want to eat, they can choose from the fruits and vegetables stocked in the fridge. The unhealthy food never makes it into the house so it is not even an option. Al-Sayed understands kids will be kids and they like cookies, muffins, chips, etc. from time to time. But, she teaches them moderation and only allows her children to eat them when the family is out and about. Dr. Zeina Hawasli, a physician from Phoenix, AZ reports a similar story. Her two-year-old daughter refused to eat healthy food and would only eat cookies. Dr. Hawasli decided her daughter had enough junk food and would not give her anymore cookies. Instead they went out to run some errands and Dr. Hawasli packed a few apples for the trip. When her daughter realized she had no other option, she delightfully ate the whole apple. Now, Dr. Hawasli only packs healthy snacks for her three children.

Different tactics work for different families. Healthy eating is not one-size-fits-all.

Be flexible and try numerous methods when switching to healthier options. Discuss why these changes are important with everyone in the family and listen to their opinions; they might have a great idea or a suggestion you can work with. When everyone understands why these changes are important, they will be more likely to respect them and adhere to them. If you are making dramatic changes, do them slowly. Let your children get used to one change before you introduce another one, that way they are less likely to resist. Stay positive; soon they will love it. Dr. Hawasli said she made the decision to switch to healthier eating last year. At first her children found it difficult, but now Dr. Hawasli’s 6-year-old daughter refuses to take cookies to school because she says they are not good for her.

Nutritious snacks play a vital role in any healthy diet. With a little planning, putting together healthy snacks can take as little as thirty minutes a week. By involving children in the process, you can identify what nutritious snacks they prefer, encourage them to try new things, and educate them about the relation between food and health. Teach children healthy habits at a young age and they will stick with them for life.