Children are sometimes picky, and providing snacks for them can be challenging. Therefore, it’s essential to find snacks and meals they like to nourish them and fuel their active days. Healthy snacks prevent preschoolers from running out of energy or getting hungry in-between meals. They also give picky eaters a chance to supplement their dietary needs.
Why are snacks important for preschoolers?
Snacks provide children with the energy and nutrients they need to support their growth and development. Children tend to have very active days of physical play and learning, and snack time is essential to keep them full and energized between meals. The additional nutrient-packed snacks also aid in healthy brain and bone development.
Choosing healthy snacks such as fruits, veggies, or lean proteins and avoiding highly processed foods, promotes healthy eating habits from a young age and sets children up for a healthy lifestyle. While mealtime will provide children with the majority of their daily nutritional intake, snack time can be an opportunity to increase exposure to nutrient-rich foods.
Snack time can also be a way to introduce children to new foods. Since snack portions are often smaller than meals, incorporating a new flavor or texture at snack time can keep things interesting and expose children to new foods that can be integrated into lunch and dinner.
What are good snacks for preschoolers?
Even though snack portions are smaller and easier to prepare than meals, they are still an important part of your daycare menu. The best snacks for preschoolers feature a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and dairy. If possible, avoid highly processed foods that are high in salt and added sugar.
Tip: To avoid boredom, find creative ways to serve fruits. You can serve fresh or dried fruit, fruit salads, or smoothies.
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
Tip: To encourage preschoolers to eat vegetables, you can serve them alongside flavorful dips, guacamole, peanut butter, salsa, or hummus. You can also make vegetable pockets or salads.
Low-fat dairy products
- Cottage cheese
- Milk, including non-dairy milk alternatives
Tip: Dairy products are a good source of calcium and protein, however they also tend to be high in saturated fat, so be sure to choose low-fat options for your children.
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grain tortillas or pita
- Graham or whole grain crackers
- Whole grain dry cereal
- Brown rice
- Whole grain pasta
- Cereal and granola bars
Tip: Many grain products, especially sugary cereals, are highly processed and contain saturated fats and sugar. Instead, serve whole grain foods whenever possible as they provide more fiber, minerals, and vitamins.
- Peanut butter or other nut butters
- Beans such as edamame beans or chickpeas
- Lean meat or poultry
Tip: Select lean cuts of meat. Even though red meat and shellfish are rich in protein and an important source of iron, they can also be high in fat and cholesterol, so children should eat them in moderate amounts.
- Water. This should be the primary beverage during snack time because it satisfies thirst and has zero sugar and calories.
- Carbonated drinks like club soda, seltzer, or sparkling water. These are healthy options because they don’t contain calories, sugar, or caffeine. You can mix them with 100% juice on special occasions.
- 100% fruit juice. Ensure it has zero added sugars.
- Low-fat and fat-free milk. Go for unflavored milk to limit calories and extra sugars.
- Rice and soy drinks. These are good non-dairy milk options.
Healthy preschool snack ideas
Involving preschoolers in preparing their snacks can improve their relationship with healthy eating. Here are some fun snack activities for preschoolers.
1. Apple slices and peanut butter
Peanut butter is high in protein and pairs well with many snacks. To prepare these snacks, slice an apple and serve with peanut butter. Allow children to dip the apple slices in the peanut butter. You can also swap apples with pretzel sticks, crackers, or celery.
2. Fruit pizza
Creating fruit pizzas is an excellent snack time group activity. Get a variety of fruit toppings, such as strawberries, banana slices, orange slices, and raspberries, and allow children to choose how they spread their toppings. You can have all children name their favorite fruit to customize the activity.
3. Cucumber sandwiches
Cucumber slices are a great alternative to bread. Slice cucumbers and allow your preschooler to fill them with sliced carrots, cheese, cream cheese, or thin deli meat. This is an excellent opportunity for children to experiment with different textures and flavors.
4. Vegetables and dip
Pair easy-to-dip vegetables such as carrots, celery, broccoli, and sliced bell pepper with a variety of dips such as hummus or guacamole.
5. Trail mix
Set out various ingredients for your preschoolers and let them make their own trail mix in a small bowl or bag. Encourage them to mix a little bit of everything together to sample all the different flavors and textures. You can provide ingredients such as:
- Chocolate chips
- Dried cranberries, apricots, apples, or any other dried fruit
- Walnuts, cashews, and almonds
- Whole grain cereal
6. Crackers and cheese
Offer slices or cubes of cheese and have your preschoolers pair with whole grain crackers. You can also introduce cheese dip as a different texture.
Children can gain great hands-on experience by “helping'' make their own smoothies. Allow children to choose their ingredients, add them to a blender, and watch as they get mixed together. Fruits like bananas, strawberries, pineapple, and blueberries make a sweet combo.
8. Yogurt parfait
Children love colorful snacks, so making this yogurt parfait will be a real treat. Pour plain yogurt into a glass for your preschooler and allow them to add in the layers. They can add things like granola, shredded coconut, nuts, or fruit. After they add their flavors, add an extra layer of yogurt on top.
Although it’s important to feed your children healthy snacks during their mealtimes, it’s also important to keep allergies and general food safety in mind. Many children have food allergies that could span from mild to life-threatening, so it’s imperative that your preschool facility manages children’s allergies closely, including having a detailed log of every child who has an allergy and following best practices on how to serve food when a child has an allergy. Some of these best practices include:
- Wearing gloves when serving food
- Double-checking the ingredient labels on the food container to ensure you’re serving the correct snack
- Serving labeled alternatives to major food allergens such as dairy and nuts
- Creating a nut-free facility to reduce the chance of a child having a reaction
Before serving any snacks or meals, handling any food you prepare is equally important to avoid cross-contamination. For example, if you cook and prepare snacks in your facility, wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under warm water for at least 20 seconds and wash and sanitize work surfaces before and after use. Additionally, ensure your hands are washed (or you’re wearing gloves as you’re cooking) and that all food products are kept separate from each other to reduce the chance of contamination. Be sure to label any food items stored in air-tight containers with their correct name and the date you either opened or prepared them so you’ll know everything in your facility’s kitchen at first glance.
Another way to ensure food safety is by organizing your meal plans in advance and distributing them among your staff and families. One way to do this is to use a tool like brightwheel’s daily activity report. This holistic tool allows you to plan, track, and post snack and meal plans so everyone is on the same page, while also allowing you to easily export records to manage Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) reimbursement. You’ll be able to stay on top of your paperwork, and ensure your children eat healthy snacks that align with their dietary restrictions.
Healthy snacking for preschoolers
Healthy snacks keep preschoolers happy, energized, and ready to learn. As an educator, the goal is to ensure children snack on healthy options like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and only indulge in sugary snacks occasionally. Healthy snacks will establish healthy eating habits and give children the necessary nutrients to grow and sustain the high energy levels they need.