How to Make Snacking Healthier (Plus 20 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids)

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites. We participate in other affiliate programs as well. For more details, please see our disclosure policy.

Want to improve your family’s diet? Check out these healthy snack ideas to offer your kids better choices and feel good about what you feed them.

How to Make Snacking Healthier | Life as Mom

I am not the most regimented person in the world. While I serve my family three meals a day, the timing of those meals can vary. Breakfast happens between 7 and 9 most mornings. Lunch can range from 11 to 1 or even 2. Dinner happens anywhere between 5 and 7:30. It really just depends on the day and what we have going.

That means that a snack is often in order to keep us all cheerful and on our game until the next real meal comes along. Some folks are against snacking; other suggest grazing all day. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think that three meals plus a snack or two works best for my kids, provided the snacks and meals are mostly healthy.

Of course, the definition of “healthy” can vary widely in this world. I define it as being real food that I made myself or which is minimally processed and low in sugar, natural or otherwise.

Our family has made great strides in eating more “real food” and less junk over the last few years since we got out of debt. Still, I’m currently in the process of improving our family’s diet even more.

After reading through Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss, I got a look at what the giant food companies have done to food so that it no longer resembles what Gramma used to make. They produce what customers want based on science and psychology, but it’s not often what’s good for us. In other reading I learned that sugar, natural or otherwise, isn’t good for our metabolism or blood sugar.

Sweet foods actually make us want to eat more. I find that fascinating. Learning more about nutrition and processed foods has given me the motivation to feed my family better, to improve our family’s diet, even when the kids may balk at me.

Here are some ways that I am working to improve our family’s diet and make snacks healthy:

Healthy Snack Ideas

How to Make Snacking Healthier | Life as Mom

Just add water.

Often times we confuse thirst for hunger. We feed ourselves and our kids when really we should each just drink a glass of water.

Make water readily available and fun if you can. Lemon or lime slices can add a bit of flavor if your kids aren’t used to drinking water instead of other beverages. It’s cheaper and healthier in the long run.

We’ve attracted questions from fellow restaurant diners on more than one occasion when they see us opt for water instead of sodas when dining out. At first it was a money issue, now it’s also for health reasons.

Veg out.

While there are all kinds of diet philosophies out there, with competing ideas and theories, one conclusion I’ve come to from reading up on vegan, paleo, whole foods, etc, is that Americans typically don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.

Potato chips and french fries don’t count.

One area where we parents can really change this is making fresh produce available at snack times. In the winter months, carrots and apples are generally cheap and abundant. (Buy organic apples if you can since they are part of the Dirty Dozen.)

Cut apple slices and carrot sticks for your kids and watch them disappear! My kids work through a pound of carrots in a sitting and as many apples as I can cut, making those great snacks that are good, cheap, and very kid-appealing. This summer I’ve been focusing on other veggies with a lower sugar content, like snap peas, cucumbers, and bell peppers.

If you prepare a plate of veggies, they will come!

How to Make Snacking Healthier | Life as Mom

Delicious Ranch Dressing

Making fresh fruit and vegetables available to your kids is a first line of defense.

Find out what they like. FishBoy11 eats more salad than pizza some Friday nights, especially when I make his favorite Caesar Salad, which when made at home, is pretty good for you, all things considered.

Prep vegetables for the week so that you can make it easier on yourself. If you’ve got it all chopped and ready to go, you’ll be more likely to add vegetables to the meals you’re preparing during the week.

Making a salad bar in advance will make you more likely to serve salads. I make my husband four salads each week to take to work. It doesn’t take long when I make them assembly-line style, and they stay fresh all week long. (Hint: cut your own salad greens for best results. Those baby mixes go bad fast!)

No matter the season, you can find great ways to use fresh, seasonal produce.

If you find that frozen fruits and vegetables are more doable for your family, stock up next time you see a sale.

How to Make Snacking Healthier | Life as Mom

Fruit and Nut Energy Bites

Reduce processed sugars and sweeteners in general.

Sugar doesn’t have a lot going for it. It contributes to heart disease, obesity, tooth decay, mood swings, and hyperactivity, among other things. It increases our cravings for foods that generally hold little nutritional value. Processed foods are rife with excess salt and sugar. You’d be surprised where you are getting hidden and not-so-hidden sugar.

I went sugar-free a few winters ago, and it was an eye-opening experience. I had been consuming 3 teaspoons of sugar in my coffee every morning for years. Since the recommended limit of sugar for women is 5 to 6 teaspoons per day, you can guess that I was far exceeding that amount every day. Average Americans consume between 22 (for adults) and 34 (for teens) of sugar a day!

Clearly we need to cut down on our sugars.

  • Consider NOT buying packaged snack boxes, treats, crackers, cakes, and cookies. They seem fun to kids, but they are chock full of processed sweeteners.
  • Reduce the sugar that you use at home. One of the adaptations I’ve worked into recipes over the years is to cut down the amount that a certain recipe calls for. Overtime, we’ve become more used to foods that are less sweet. This summer I’ve been using agave nectar which has a lower glycemic level than other sweeteners. It tastes sweeter than other sweeteners so I can use less.
  • Use natural sweeteners, like honey, maple,  and agave, but sparingly. These are a little more expensive than regular sugar, but they add some health benefits. It’s still a sugar, in the general sense of the word, so don’t overdo.
  • Cut it out completely. I’ve kicked my daily soda pop habit as well as my tablespoon of sugar in my coffee. I drink coffee and tea unsweetened now. I NEVER thought I would do that, but I have. You can, too.

How to Make Snacking Healthier | Life as Mom

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

Do it Yourself

A nice transition to healthier snacking is to make your own. It’s not terribly time-consuming, and once you find some favorite recipes, you can make a bunch and freeze them to enjoy throughout the week or month.

While I would love to buy everything organic, whole-grain, perfect-in-its-natural-state, the reality is that time and budget don’t always allow me to do so. I am not going to feed my kids a perfect diet. I’m only striving for better than last year, or even yesterday.

Making homemade helps me close the gap between the ideal diet and the overly-processed one. I still use sugar and white flour from time to time, but my baked goods are a lot better than Twinkies. Improve where you can.

If you’re looking for some ideas for exactly WHAT to feed your kids, check out these ideas:

Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids

  1. HummusHealthier Spinach Dip, or Easy Ranch Dressing with veggie dippers
  2. Cut fruit like apples, oranges, melon, grapefruit, and pears
  3. Fruit kids can peel themselves or eat whole like bananas, clementines, kiwi, grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines, and berries
  4. Fruit- or greens-based smoothie – Build a smoothie station to make it easy.
  5. Applesauce – try homemade; it’s easier than you think!
  6. Cheese sticks – Buy your own for lower pricing and look for RBST-free cheese for a healthier choice.
  7. Whole grain toast or crackers with sunbutter or nut butter or DIY Flavored Cream Cheese
  8. Homemade granola or cereal bars – Cocoa Cashew Apricot BitesCoconut Millet Snack Bars and Kitchen Stewardship’s Granola Bars are all tasty.
  9. Fruit salad, like Monkey Salad
  10. Homemade juices (in small portions)
  11. Homemade popsicles
  12. Yogurt drizzled with honey or maple syrup or topped with fruit or a granola parfait
  13. Homemade Popcorn – We use an air popper to avoid commercial microwave popcorn. You can also try these methods for stove top and paperbag popcorn.
  14. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruit – We like Maple-spiced seeds and nuts and Nut-Free Monkey Munch Trail Mix
  15. Easy baked goods like Spiced Pear Cake and Cinnamon Apple Oat Cakes
  16. Waffles or pancakes  – Freeze breakfast leftovers like Cinnamon Zucchini Waffles or Multi-Grain Blueberry Pancakes. They thaw quickly for great afternoon snacking. This is the best waffle maker for a crowd!
  17. Homemade pretzels – Bake up Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels or Garlic Herb Pretzels. Be sure to offer some of these pretzel toppings and dips.
  18. Homebaked muffins – Try these Carrot Muffins or keep some of this muffin mix on hand so you can make whatever flavors you like.
  19. Homemade crackers – These beat the box. No preservatives or artificial dyes. Try Cheddar Coins or Aimee’s Fruit and Nut Crisps.
  20. Wholesome Energy Bars

How to Make Snacking Healthier (Plus 20 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids) - Tips and tricks for reducing sugar, increasing fresh produce, and making more things homemade.This post is part of a larger series on how to improve your family’s diet. Next up: how to increase the veg at your house.

How do YOU make snacks healthy at your house?

How to Make Snacking Healthier | Life as Mom

Are you looking for more good cheap eats?

This post was originally published on January 19, 2014. Updated August 14, 2016.

About Jessica Fisher

I believe anyone can prepare delicious meals—no matter their budget.

Subscribe to Good Cheap Eats
Read Newer Post
Read Older Post


  1. As a Dietitian, I approve this message!!! Great post.

  2. Claire says

    We are a big non GMO family. You have provided many good ideas for snacks. Thank you. We switched our sugar from the processed white to evaporated can sugar (juice, as it is also called). I found using less still sweetens baked goods & coffee. I’ve even forgotten the sugar completely & they still eat it. Lol. Thank you for sharing this journey with us! I’m looking forward to your posts & recipes on the subject. Have a fabulous week!

    • Yep, when I can afford it, I buy that, too. I did cave at Christmas and bought some white sugar. I’m going to use it in jelly and not feel bad. At least the jelly will be homemade. 🙂

      • Claire says

        You shop at Walmart sometimes right? I found a big 8 pond bag of it for about $5. It’s not organic but it’s evaporated cane sugar. It was a happy find. It’s next to the regular sugars at my store.

        • I know I’ve found a Latin brand like what you describe. Can’t remember the name or if it’s 8#, but I will look soon. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Melisa says

    Hi Jessica. I have a great tip for you. To keep cut apples from going brown, coat them in pineapple juice. It works so much better than lemon juice. I have kept apples for 3 days using this treatment. Fresh and canned pineapple juice both work great. Thanks for a great post!

    • Janet says

      My daughter likes to take sliced apples in her school lunch. The pineapple sounds great and I would never have thought of this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for sharing! I’ve heard that not all apple varieties turn brown. I’ve had some that did not. But, this is great for those that do.

  4. Vanessa B says

    This is something I’m trying to improve for my family. My husband is the most resistant due to his lil snack cake addiction.
    We are big dip eaters and hummus is a family favorite. What did you add to your hummus to turn it orange?

    • I added a roasted red pepper from a jar. It made it a little sweeter. I still need to tweak the recipe a little, though.

  5. Janet says

    I like to keep homemade baked goods on hand for snacks and sneak in a fruit or vegetable. This morning I made apple cinnamon muffins with granny smith apples; banana bread; pumpkin bread and oatmeal raisin scones.

    Another favorite is a sliced apple served with a tablespoon of peanut butter or maple syrup on the side for dipping.

  6. Jennifer D says

    I’ve been following your blogs for a while now and this is the first time I have posted. I just wanted to say thank you for this new series of healthier eating posts. I have just started down the path to healthier eating for myself and my family. I cook at home and thought we were eating “healthy” but my eyes have been opened recently. It can be overwhelming but your ideas are sure making it easier. I am really looking forward to what kinds of ideas you have for healthy “junk food” for the kids (I have 5, ages 20 – 1) I can’t wait to try the homemade crackers recipes. Thanks again! I don’t know how you do it all, but I sure appreciate that you are willing to share with all of us.

    • Isn’t it funny? I used to think I was doing my kids a favor by buying them Yoplait. Turns out it’s full of sugar. No wonder they want me to buy that kind of yogurt!

      Thanks for delurking. It’s always fun to hear what hits home with readers. 🙂

  7. Leah says

    Great post, Jessica! We eat fairly healthy to begin with but this time of year my brain is fried and I needed the post full of great ideas to get it jump-started. Thanks!

    • Isn’t that the truth? If someone else does the thinking, it’s so much easier. 😉 Hang in there!

  8. While my big boys loved fruit, my youngest does not. Hubs & I have started drinking smoothies, so it’s my goal to experiment and find a flavor that ds#3 will happily drink so I can get some nutrition in him! He will eat salads, and a few veggies, but I also sneak them in wherever I can – one of my faves is to put butternut squash puree in mac’n’cheese. Ds knows it’s in there, but he likes it anyway. 🙂

    • Nia Hanna says

      I’ve found that my little ones tend to enjoy smoothies more with banana in them. We’ve also started experimenting with extracts in our smoothies. Our favorite one is banana (1 per person), frozen strawberries (16 oz), frozen mango chunks (1cup), coconut extract (1teaspoon), vanilla extract (1 teaspoon) and orange extract (1 teaspoon). These ingredients fill our blender and makes enough for everyone to get seconds. We also add Stevia extract (pure organic) for sweetness if needed, usually the bananas sweeten it up enough.

      • Nia Hanna says

        Oh, I forgot to add that we use milk and water as our liquid to blend the fruits to smoothie consistency.

      • Extracts are a great idea! Thanks for the tip.

  9. Thanks so much for this post, Jessica. It’s just what I needed to hear right now!! I no longer have an infant, but my baby is three and still takes so much of my energy. Pair that with a kindergartner, a 3rd grader, 5th grader, 7th grader and a high schooler for the first time and I spend most of my free time worrying I’m not doing everyone justice! After reading your post I’m telling myself just to hold on for a little longer!! Two things I’d like to know more about (and maybe you have covered it an another post and could direct me there?) — 1. What math curriculum do you use? I’ve used Math U See for years but still is like pulling teeth to get some of the kids to move forward quickly enough. and 2. How much time do you spend blogging? I noticed that you go to your “other” job at 2 p.m. but then you chat with your husband at 3 p.m. Do you spend more time on blogging in the evenings?

    Anyway, thanks again for the encouragement!

    • We have been using Teaching textbooks for several years and like it. I did several posts about it on

      In this season I do the bulk of my blogging and other writing projects Thursday through Sunday, in very big chunks of the day. It’s at least 20 hours a week, though it could be full time if I had the time. Still working on streamlining and prioritizing that. I’m trying to just do maintenance M-W, Th afternoon/evenings I go to a coffee shop. Then the weekend I grab big sections of time.

  10. Oops. Thought I was commenting on your “Life in the Day” post. Maybe I need more coffee this morning. 🙂

  11. Wendy says

    The hidden sugars link didn’t work, so I may be being redundant, but I thought I’d pipe in. Planters low-sodium peanuts and Planters shelled, salted sunflower seeds both have sugar added!! I get irritated by that. Why ruin perfect foods? We are trying soaking and dehydrating raw sunflower seeds now instead, which is very tasty!

    • The link works for me. Weird.

      Anyway, I know. There’s even sugar in olives, tuna, and bacon.

  12. Kay says

    You mentioned a hot air popcorn popper. Do you have a preferred brand?

  13. Thanks for the great ideas for snacks. I think I’ll do a freezer cooking day just for school lunches and snacks to keep all my boys fed.

  14. I just wanted you to know that I am in the middle of working on a similar snacking post on my own blog and I am using the colored content box (although mine is purple) at the end also. I didn’t want you to see my post and think I copied you, since mine will be ready to publish tomorrow or Friday. I guess “great minds just think alike!”

  15. Janet says

    We have had to rethink our family diet almost entirely with my daughter’s diagnoses of gluten intolerance. Many foods that we had for snacks in the past are no longer suitable. The ridiculous price of gluten-free flours has limited our ability to include baked goods on the list of snack foods. Packaged gluten-free snacks are completely outside the budget. We have added more nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and proteins. I have taken to cooking large, inexpensive cuts of beef, chicken, and pork in the crockpot and then shredding or cubing the meat. I then package 3-oz servings in small containers and store in the fridge. Next challenge sack lunches for school…

Share Your Thoughts