Have you ever met a kid who doesn’t like snacks, especially packaged snacks? I’m pretty sure they don’t exist – I mean, even most adults love to snack! Unfortunately, conventional snack foods are typically packed with preservatives, too much sugar, and lack protein and fibre. I firmly believe that whole foods are the way to health for the whole family, so it might surprise you to know that there are some packaged snacks I’m totally ok with feeding my child!
To be honest, snacks are an important part of a kid’s diet – with their smaller stomachs they need to eat more often to keep energy up. Snacks also help to fill out their nutritional needs, especially when they go through phases of only eating a few bites at mealtimes! My first choice for snacks are ALWAYS whole foods – fruits, veggies, meats, dairy and occasionally organic grains. Every bite counts, and snacks should be as nutrient dense as possible.
But if you’ve been following along for even a little while, you’ll know that I believe in a truly balanced approach to nutrition. Sure, some things are off the table if you have an allergy or sensitivity, and certain ingredients are a no go because of the effects on kids (I’m looking at you, food dye). But generally, I think most people can occasionally eat less than ideal foods and be a-ok, if they eat nourishing foods most of the time.
So it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that I allow some packaged snacks in my child’s diet. Packaged foods can add a ton of convenience for a busy family, they make fun treats, and if you choose well, they can be quite nutritious, too!
However, there are a few caveats to the types of snacks we choose:
Occasional use only.
In our house, packaged snacks are NOT an everyday thing. For two reasons – first, I don’t want my child to get used to the idea that food comes in wrappers. It is really important to me that my kid grows up understanding where food comes from, how to prepare it, and how it makes him feel. So packaged food, which conveys none of those factors, can never start taking the place of real food.
It can’t have any of our no-go’s.
This includes food colouring, artificial sweeteners, non-organic grains (the dangers of glyphosate in grain products are really coming to light now), high fructose corn syrup, or MSG. These ingredients can cause all kinds of behavioural effects, hypersensitivity, affect the immune system, and have been proven to increase the risk of many diseases. It’s just not a risk I’m willing to take.
The food has no more than 10g of sugar per serving.
Kids (and grown-ups) these days eat WAY too much sugar. We know all about the myriad of health risks with consuming too much of the sweet stuff, and Health Canada recommends a max of 100g a day. I think even this number is too much, but a good starting point is to keep an eye on those nutrition labels.
Protein, Fibre and Fat.
This powerful trio help keep us full longer, and they’re also essential to kids’ development. They’re part of my “every bite counts” philosophy. If the healthy snack food in question doesn’t have all three together, I make sure to pair it with another food that provides the missing ingredient. I might add a spoonful of almond butter, or a hard boiled egg to the packaged treat.
If it becomes a problem, it’s out.
The fact is, most of these packaged snacks are hyperpalatable. That means they are engineered in terms of taste and texture to override our body’s natural fullness cues. That’s why kids tend to go bonkers for junk food if they’re exposed to them regularly – the foods are designed to make their little bodies want more and more. So if my guy is asking for a particular (packaged) food constantly and it’s causing meltdowns, I take it out of the house for a while.*
*This isn’t to be confused with natural, healthy cravings for real whole foods. If we haven’t broken our kids’ bodies with a ton of junk food, they are typically much better in touch with their body’s needs than we adults are. If a kid is asking for several helpings of a whole food (eg. more butter please, or an extra couple of pieces of chicken or apple), they probably need more of whatever is in that food. For example, I make a chicken liver pate that my son LOVES. This morning, he wanted 3 helpings, ignoring the apple and berries he also had – clearly, his body needed extra iron and fats.
OK, now that we know when and how to use these foods, let’s talk about my favourite 5 packaged snacks for kids!
1. MeatSmith Bars
Think the flavour of high quality beef jerky, with the texture of a Lara Bar. These bars are made of 100% Canadian grass-fed beef by a small, family-run company. With no gluten, soy, nuts, MSG or milk, each bar packs 10 grams of protein. They come in Sea Salt and Black Pepper, Maple Sriracha, and Wild Blueberry and Smokey BBQ flavours (our favourite is the blueberry one, but they’re all great).
2. Annie’s Organic Honey Bunny Grahams
These are definitely more of a treat than a snack. But as far as treats go, they’re a great choice. All organic ingredients, and when you compare to other cookies, they’re quite low sugar – only 6 grams per 31 little bunnies. I don’t think I’ve ever given my child 31 bunnies in one serving – usually 5-10 is enough to satisfy him.
3. Fruit and Veggie Pouches
There are lots of good ones out there these days. While I don’t serve them in place of a whole-foods meal, they’re a great snack, especially when on the go. I try to choose one that has less than 10 grams of sugar per pouch (read carefully – often the nutrition facts listed are for ½ a pouch, not a whole one. Sneaky.). I also pick one that has a mix of fruit and veg, is organic, and bonus points if it also contains a protein source (quinoa, yogurt if your kid is good with dairy, other organic grains). I wish these companies would include fat in these pouches too, but I have yet to find one that does. Brands I like are: Plum Organics, PC Organics, and Love Child Organics.
4. Unsweetened Apple Sauce
Surprised about this one? There are lots of brands out there, and most have a no sugar added option – usually the ingredients are just fruit and citric acid. What I love about these is that apple sauce makes a perfect vehicle for mixing in some nutrition boosters! Dump it into a bowl and add some collagen powder for protein, some melted coconut oil (fat), and my secret sauce, spirulina powder (for added iron and minerals). If you add spirulina, you only need a little and it will change the colour. If you buy berry and applesauce, a little spirulina powder turns it a deep indigo colour, which is kind of fun for little ones!
5. Lara Bars and Kind Bars
These two have been go-to’s in the wellness community for years, and for good reason. They have simple, clean ingredients and come in flavour combinations to appease all preferences. Please remember, though, that although the ingredients are clean, these are both high in natural sugars. So make sure to serve them with something that has some staying power, like a hard boiled egg or some avocado+turkey slice roll-ups. Also of note, the Kind Bars often have bigger pieces of nuts in them, so if your kid is younger, I’d probably stick with the Lara Bars instead.
So there you have it! 5 packaged snacks that I am totally ok with feeding to my kiddo! Whole foods are amazing, and we should all be eating more of them – but, modern society provides us with some convenient, and in this case, healthy, options as well. And like most parents of little people, I sure could use a break some days!
What’s your favourite healthy packaged snack for your kiddos? Tell me in the comments!