Top Kids’ Snacks for Energy

Kids are like black holes—they suck up food, especially snacks, like a high-performance Dyson vacuum. Plus they’re growing at an amazing rate, so it’s important to supply their bodies and minds with powerhouse snacks.  To make the grade, snacks need to provide nutrition and building blocks for growth and development, not just empty calories.

Optimal snacks give kids more energy and help regulate mood, too. It’s hard for the little ones to manage their emotions when their blood sugar has taken a nosedive after a less-than-stellar snack. Here are 10 snack ideas that will give them energy and keep them happy from sunrise to sunset…

Crackers and Cheese

It’s an oldie but a goodie. So why is it a top snack pick for kids? The cheese provides the protein that most kids’ snacks are sadly lacking, along with much-needed calcium and vitamin D. Cheese strings are a good bet as well and they are portion-controlled so that little tummies won’t be too full for the next meal.

As far as the crackers go, this can be a make or break situation for the snack. A whole-grain, high-fiber pick is a must. Think Triscuits, not Saltines. Sugar should be at 0-grams, so instead of putting on the Ritz, think whole grains and seeds, and not white flour. And if the kids want a warm snack, put the whole concoction in the microwave for 10-seconds for ooey gooey goodness.

Apples and Sunflower Seed Butter

Sweet, crunchy apples are nutritional powerhouses of fiber, especially if you leave the skin on. They’re also aces at calming dodgy tummies and quenching thirst, and so much better for kids than apple juice. To make this snack stand out even more, why not pair apples with allergy-safe sunflower seed butter?

To get creative with serving this snack, add a dollop of sunflower seed butter (or almond butter) to a small bowl and cut the apples into chunks. Provide sturdy toothpicks or skewers so that the kids can pierce an apple and dunk it in the dip without getting their hands messy (very important if they’ll be using touch screens immediately after snack time). It’s like an apple seed butter fondue!

Yogurt and Granola

Yogurt is great for kids because it delivers the one-two wallop of protein and probiotics, the good-for-you bacteria that boosts immune systems (perfect for combatting the germs of back to school). But flavored varieties often have way too much added sugar, so opt for a plain variety and add maple syrup or honey to lightly sweeten it. Some kids like thick Greek yogurt, with even more protein, but others find the texture just too much for their palates. If that’s the case, no worries. A high-quality organic plain yogurt delivers great protein as well.

If yogurt needs an accompaniment turn to lower-sugar granola varieties that are big on fiber, not on fat. Out of granola? Try oats, wheat germ, raisins, or seeds to give that wonderful crunchy texture that pairs so well with smooth yogurt.

Nachos and Salsa

This snack is wonderful because the kids think they’re getting junk food (they’re especially tickled by this when served in the morning!) when really they’re getting a nutritious snack. But there’s nothing junky about basic corn nachos, especially the lower-salt versions or those with added flax seeds. These crunchy wonders give a decent boost of fiber and the sodium is manageable as long as snack-sized portions are used, and boy do they satisfy.

Those nachos also make a great carrier for salsa. Brimming with antioxidants, the tomatoes are the stars of this condiment, elevating it to healthy status. Some varieties even offer fiber- and protein-rich black beans and big chunks of green peppers (especially attractive if the kids have a hard time with vegetables).

Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chips

This treat is a bit decadent but still delivers on protein and satisfying hunger. Choose an all-natural peanut butter to avoid added sugar or oils. If allergies are a concern, pumpkin seed butter, soy nut products or golden pea spread are all wonderful alternatives.

Add a few high-quality dark chocolate chips (after all, chocolate is a great source of antioxidants) and mix around. Serve with a spoon for a portion-controlled, healthier version of a peanut butter cup. It’s also easy to make this snack dairy-free or vegan with the numerous chocolate chip offerings in the marketplace. So good that the parents will be adopting this treat too!

Ham Roll-ups

Bring on the protein with these handy bites. Just add a dollop of mayo, ranch dressing, or mustard to a slice of ham, add some cheese, and roll up like a burrito. Vary the insides for a different take each time.

These are great because they provide a pure hit of protein to kids when they need it the most. There’s no sugar or carbs to slow them down, and they can eat it quickly. Just watch the quality of the ham and aim for those with lower salt levels—little kids don’t need to be overloaded with sodium or preservatives. Switch it up with roasted turkey breast and cranberry spread for a completely different taste profile.

English Muffin Pizzas

These may sound like more trouble than they are worth, but nothing could be further from the case. Start with English muffin halves (bonus–most are free from sesame seeds, an allergen that is becoming extremely common in kids). Lightly toast the English muffin halves and then add a generous squirt of pizza sauce from a squeeze bottle, or spaghetti sauce. Top with a blend of melted cheese and pop into the oven or toaster oven until the cheese is bubbly.

That’s the basic cheese version, but kids can go wild with toppings, ranging from sliced hot dog pepperoni, bacon crumbles, cherry tomato slices, pineapple or mushroom chunks. The more adventurous might even like goat cheese or spinach, too. They’ll have fun making them and before you know it you’ve got a great activity for kids and a healthy snack too.

Banana Burrito

Kids just tend to like foods presented in creative ways. Take the banana burrito, which begins with a firm peeled banana and a whole-wheat tortilla. Spread your choice of nut butter, chocolate spread or a tiny bit of caramel sauce over the tortilla. Add the banana and roll it up like a sleeping bag. Cut on the cross section for circles of goodness the kids are sure to gobble up.

What makes this snack healthy? Well, if you buy the right tortilla you’ll be offering a good hit of whole grains and fiber. The banana is full of goodness including potassium, which is great for active bodies, plus it’s an easy way to get one serving of those all-important fruits and veggies. This also makes a great party snack, especially if non-allergenic foods are used.

Muesli Pita with Cream Cheese and Jam

There are some fantastic breakfast or mini pitas on the market now, ranging from apple cinnamon to multigrain with juicy raisins and healthy seeds. Check for the ones with the highest fiber and protein counts. You’ll be amazed at how much some of these varieties can offer in one little pocket. Toasting them lightly makes them even more delicious, but plain works well too. With that as a solid base, it’s time to personalize the toppings.

Cream cheese or plain goat cheese is a great starter. After that, layer on all-fruit spread or low-sugar jam. Top with strawberry slices, blueberries or raspberries. Another option is to spread the pita with unsweetened applesauce and add some toasted nuts (soy nuts or seeds if allergens are a concern). These pint-sized pitas are brimming with flavor and nutrition!

Mini-Wheats and Milk

It doesn’t get much easier (or more satisfying) than cereal and milk as a quick snack that satisfies. But cereal selection is critical. Special attention is required concerning sugar, fiber and protein. A great compromise is Mini Wheats or Multi-Grain Cheerios, both with manageable sugar levels and good boosts of fiber and protein. They’re still sweet enough to satisfy, too.

Another benefit of this snack is that they are getting milk with it! With protein, calcium and vitamin D, milk certainly adds value to this mini meal. But if dairy is a concern, there are more non-dairy beverage options than ever before. Kiddos have been known to approve of vanilla soy milk or milk made from brown rice; however, there is little to no protein in rice milk and vanilla soy milk can have high sugar levels. Try this one as a bedtime snack for happy and full bellies.

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.