Snacks and sweetened drinks - children
Choosing healthy snacks and drinks for your children can be hard. There are many options. What is healthy for your child may depend on any specific health conditions they have.
Fruits and vegetables are good choices for healthy snacks. They are full of vitamins, do not have added sugar or sodium. Some types of crackers and cheeses also make good snacks. Other healthy snack choices include:
- Apples (dried without added sugars or cut into wedges)
- Trail mix with raisins and unsalted nuts
- Chopped fruit dipped in yogurt
- Raw vegetables with hummus
- Carrots (regular carrots cut into strips so they are easy to chew, or baby carrots)
- Snap peas (the pods are edible)
- Nuts (if your child is not allergic)
- Dry cereal (if sugar is not listed as one of the first 2 ingredients)
- String cheese
Put snacks in small containers so they are easy to carry in a pocket or backpack. Use small containers to help avoid overly large portions.
Avoid having "junk food" snacks like chips, candy, cake, cookies, and ice cream every day. It is easier to keep kids away from these foods if you do not have them in your house and they are a special treat instead of an everyday item.
It is OK to let your child have an unhealthy snack once in a while. Children may try to sneak unhealthy food if they are never allowed to have these foods. The key is balance.
Other things you can do include:
- Replace your candy dish with a fruit bowl.
- If you have foods like cookies, chips, or ice cream in your house, store them where they are hard to see or reach. Move healthier foods to the front of the pantry and refrigerator, at eye level.
- If your family snacks while watching TV, put a portion of the food in a bowl or on a plate for each person. It is easy to overeat straight from the package.
If you are not sure if a snack is healthy, read the Nutrition Facts label.
- Look closely at the portion size on the label. It is easy to eat more than this amount.
- Avoid snacks that list sugar as one of the first ingredients.
- Try to choose snacks without added sugar or added sodium.
Encourage children to drink a lot of water.
Avoid sodas, sport drinks, and flavored waters.
- Limited drinks with added sugar. These may be high in calories and can contribute to undesired weight gain.
- If needed, choose beverages with artificial (man-made) sweeteners.
Even 100% juices can lead to undesired weight gain. A child drinking a 12-ounce (360 milliliters) orange juice every day, in addition to other foods, can gain up to 15 excess pounds (7 kilograms) per year in addition to weight gain from normal growth patterns. Try diluting juices and flavored drinks with water. Start by adding only a little water. Then slowly increase the amount.
- Children, ages 1 to 6, should drink no more than 4 to 6 ounces (120 to 180 milliliters) of 100% fruit juice a day.
- Children, ages 7 to 18, should drink no more than 8 to 12 ounces (240 to 360 milliliters) of fruit juice a day.
Children, ages 2 to 8, should drink about 2 cups (480 milliliters) of milk a day. Children older than 8 should have about 3 cups (720 milliliters) a day. It may be helpful to serve milk with meals and water between meals and with snacks.
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
- The size of a snack should be the right size for your child. For example, give one half a banana to a 2 year-old and a whole banana to a 10-year-old.
- Pick foods that are high in fiber and low in added salt and sugar.
- Offer children fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain snacks instead of sweets.
- Foods that are naturally sweet (such as apple slices, bananas, bell peppers, or baby carrots) are better than foods and drinks that contain added sugar.
- Limit fried foods like French fries, onion rings, and other fried snacks.
- Talk to a nutritionist or your family's health care provider if you need ideas for healthy foods for your family.
Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Obesity. In: Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM, eds. Nelson Essentials of Pediatrics. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 29.
Parks EP, Shaikhkhalil A, Sainath NA, Mitchell JA, Brownell JN, Stallings VA. Feeding healthy infants, children, and adolescents. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 56.
Thompson M, Noel MB. Nutrition and family medicine. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 37.
Reviewed By: Emily Wax, RD, CDN, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.