At any age, it is important to keep healthy eating guidelines in mind when considering snacks. Whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy, wholegrains and low fat proteins can all make wonderful snacks for your preadolescent.
One thing to think about is what might be missing from your child's meals in terms of nutrition. Does your child get enough fruits and veggies at meals or could you supplement with carrot sticks and a low fat dip as an after school snack? If you child is fussy about wholegrain foods, try making low-fat cookies with oatmeal or substituting half of the white flour with whole wheat. Protein based snacks such as bean salad or bean dip, cold cuts, a small tuna wrap or some yogurt can also fill in the gaps in your child's nutrition.
Things to avoid include highly processed foods and those with a lot of sugar or high levels of trans or saturated fats. Growing children need more fat in their diets than adults, and some processed low fat snacks have more sugar added to make them more enticing, so they aren't always the best ideas for kids but you want to keep an eye on how much and what types of fat they are consuming. Empty calorie foods such as cookies and candy can make your child feel satisfied without actually providing much nutrition at all. It's not that these types of treats need to be avoided at all times, or that they're intrinsically terrible for your child, but using them as a staple or offering them as a substantial snack when your child is hungry can create unhealthy eating patterns which can last a lifetime.
Make your child's favourites into healthier options by thinking about:
-Switching to wholegrains (flour, crackers, breads, cereals, chips, tortillas)
-Cutting the unhealthy fat (low-fat dairy options, baked instead of fried, healthy oils such as olive or canola, lean chicken or turkey breast instead of beef or processed meats, non-saturated/trans fat margarine, frozen yogurt)
-Adding vegetables and/or fruit wherever you can (chopped and added to soup or over frozen yogurt, veggie sticks on the side of other dishes, blended and/or grated into other dishes)
-Reducing the sodium (cutting out pre-made/processed foods, packaged soups and seasonings, check nutritional labels for hidden sources like canned vegetables)
Many pre-made or "quick and easy" snack foods such as mini-pizzas or frozen meals contain surprisingly high levels of fat, sodium, and sugar so be sure to check the label when shopping. One easy solution is to offer a small serving of leftovers from last night's dinner or to prep enough food for a few days worth of snacks. Keeping cut veggies in a container with water or wrapped in moist paper towels will keep them fresh. Pre-grated cheese can be a lot more expensive and sometimes has additional preservatives added to keep it from clumping or going stale but by grating it yourself and storing a week's worth in a sealed sandwich bag or small container in the fridge, you can make sure you always have some on hand.
All the planning and preparation in the world won't help if your child doesn't like what you're offering. By including your child in the planning and preparation of snacks you can not only find healthy options you are both happy with, you can also help him or her begin to develop healthy eating habits and the skills needed to maintain them. Children may not think to ask for healthy snacks but if you offer them, or simply provide them at times when you know your child is likely to be hungry, there's a good chance they will be eaten.
Some quick and easy ideas:
-Wholewheat crackers with peanut butter or cheese
-Baby carrots and a healthy dip like hummus, bean dip or one made from yogurt or low fat sour-cream
-Lean cold cuts wrapped in a tube and served with mustard (or as part of a 'snack tray' with cheese, crackers, pickles and veggies)
-Fruit (apple slices, grapes, frozen berries, fruit salad, bananas etc... serve with peanut butter or fruit flavoured yogurt for dipping)
-Yogurt (watch out for fat and sugar content - try adding a spoonful of sugar free jam to plain yogurt for a healthier option)
-A chopped salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, celery or your child's favourite veggies topped with oil and vinegar or a yogurt based dressing (start with plain yogurt and mix in low-sodium powdered soup mix or the seasonings your child likes in other dishes such as dill and lemon, cumin and curry, or basil, garlic and oregano).
-Trail mix (watch out for dried fruit that has had sugar added or if you do want to make it a bit more of a treat, try adding a small amount of chocolate chips or candy coated chocolate like smarties)
-Half a wholegrain bagel spread with pizza sauce or salsa and topped with cheese tossed in the microwave (add some veggies to increase the nutritional value)
-Wholewheat pita stuffed with tuna or chicken salad (keep mayo to a minimum or try low fat plain yogurt)
-Celery with peanut butter
-Wholewheat crackers with cream cheese (top with a little sugar free jam for a sweet snack, or sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles or salsa to change it up)
-Wholegrain and/or baked nacho chips and salsa and/or bean dip
For more tips on eating healthy visit: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index-eng.php