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Kid Eats Q&A: What are some easy snacks for busy days?

Snacks have been on my mind a lot lately.  That's why I was particularly glad to get this question from Diana about easy, portable snacks.

Diana says her easy snacks for busy days include Goldfish, flavored yogurt, granola bars and cheese.  But she's been reading the blog and she's ready for a change. 

(If you haven’t been following my snack fixation, catch up by reading  What To Do About Snacks, Do Kids Need to Snack? and  Should Toddlers Snack on Demand?)

Diana writes:

My daughter is a great eater so I'm not worried about making sure she gets enough variety but that our mainstays are healthy. So what are some easy and portable snacks? We have some raisins, walnuts, and banana chips that I keep in the car. What else could I keep on hand especially to take on the go?

If you're looking for healthy snack ideas, look around the produce department.

This is the quick and easy answer.

I don’t push fruits and vegetables so much—Read Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal and Every Snack—Every Darn Day—because it’s the nutritious thing to do (even though it is), but because... 

When parents ask me to recommend easy and portable snacks I often wonder if what they’re really saying is, “Suggest an easy snack that my child is guaranteed to eat,” because fruits and vegetables are easy but nobody seems to think about them.

This is the more complicated answer.

For instance, it takes roughly two seconds to slice an apple and throw it into a baggy, but most parents I know don’t think slicing an apple is as easy as grabbing a bag of Goldfish crackers.  I suspect this is because parents know their kids are guaranteed to eat the Goldfish crackers, but with the apple it’s touch and go. 

Similarly, there are...

  • Carrots (whether you buy pre-cut baby carrots or you cut one up yourself)
  • Sugar snap peas (prewashed and already bagged)
  • A few pieces of last night’s broccoli

And the list goes on...

  • Grapes
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries

You get my point.  (Lemon juice stops the browning, plastic containers stop the bruising, and pre-prepping cuts down on the grab-and-go time.)

In my experience parents don't readily go for fruits and vegetables at snack time on the go because there's no guarantee their kids will eat them.

At home, there's always a backup.  And on the go there's too much at stake to risk a meltdown.

Wanting the guarantee makes packaged snacks seem easier. (And they are, if your kids are used to eating them, but they wouldn't be if you changed your kids' habits.)

But wanting this guarantee signals a different problem because what that says is, “I’m not willing for my children to be hungry because they've rejected the snack I've provided.”  It's something to think about.

But, a child who rejects a snack is a child who: 

  • Isn't that hungry.
  • Is engaged in a control struggle.
  • Or both.

Read Curbing Your Kid's Craving for Control.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

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Reader Comments (6)

I think, though, that there is another reason for this sort of question, and which explains why fruit isn't always the easy answer. (and which perhaps gives a little more credit to the parents asking). Sometimes people may be really asking: "What kind of snack can I throw in my purse/car/diaper bag to have on hand in case we need a snack-- if not today, then tomorrow." That, at least, is probably what I'd mean if I were asking about a snack "on the go." Fruit is our go-to snack here too, and I'm lucky to have kids who love fruit. But I just can't keep produce on hand for the "emergency snack" (not that snacking is ever an actual emergency of course!-- but we do sometimes have those days when we end up being out much longer than planned and a on-the-go snack is a good thing). (For us, the answer is a stash of little boxes of raisins, which I keep in my trunk).

July 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Wow, I must have been reading your blog too much Dina... I basically just came to a similar conclusion/realization myself about 2 months ago! I send a packed lunch to daycare with my nearly 3 yr old son, as the food they serve is cruddy. I used to worry about whether he'd eat the snacks I sent, so would add in some more "snacky" food like cheerios, chex, whole wheat crackers, etc along with a fruit & veggie of some kind. And of course, he ate the "snack", nibbled on the fruit and ignored the veggie. So I started (subconsciously almost) increasing the amount of "snack" and decreasing the fruit & veggie. But I recently realized (thanks largely to your blog) that it didn't matter if he ate anything at snacktime or not... in fact, it may even be better if he doesn't. So now I just pack a fruit and a veggie for each snack, and sometimes he hardly touches anything, and other times he'll eat only the fruit, and very occasionally, there might even be some nibble marks on the veggies!! And guess what... he hasn't melted down or died from hunger! (although he often does need his dinner VERY soon after getting home from daycare). And a great side effect is that he's hungry at lunchtime so he'll eat most of what's in his lunchbox, rather than just picking out the "good stuff" and leaving the rest.
Plus it's liberating! Once you realize that they won't die if they don't eat their snack, you no longer have to carry around a bag full of various "snack" foods, on the off chance that he might find one of them acceptable (or compromise and pack the animal crackers that you know he'll eat). You pack one thing (or even nothing if he's just had a snack and you're going to be home before the next meal), and if he's hungry he'll eat it, and if he's not, well then he'll probably eat a good dinner!!! We had a few "whiny" weeks where I had to work hard at the distraction game when he wanted snacks just before dinner or when we were out & he didn't want whatever it was I had. But for the most part he's used to it now (although of course we still have our moments - he is a toddler after all!!).
Thanks Dina... things have changed so much (for the better) since I started reading your blog about a year ago!

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVestifarian

Molly: Thanks for your comment. I have addressed it as an update to the entry.

Vestifarian: Thanks for the case study. Many parents who change their snacking habits find they have to go through a short whining period while their children adjust. But the payoff is worth it: their kids start eating better at meals. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I love that you found it liberating. Anything that makes parents' lives easier is a good thing!


July 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

This is a very interesting and thought provoking idea.

I think at a deeper level, we worry if our kids will eat at all - that is why we seem to fall back on the "guarantee" that kids will most likely eat the packaged foods.

As Molly says, if we can be comfortable with the fact that sometime kids will hardly touch the food we offer them, while at another time they will nearly finish the very same foods, it can be very liberating.

This is consistent with the idea that a parent's job is to offer the food, and the child's job is to eat to the extent he/she wants to.

However, it is a rational thought. And we all know that being a parent is a lot more emotional than rational.

Good news is that children, if healthy, are born to grow at their natural pace. Even bad parenting cannot screw that up!

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTwinToddlersDad

The reason (I tell myself) that I choose crackery snacks over fresh produce is that it is hardier (can sit in a bag that is subjected to temperatures from -40C to +40C, depending on the time of year), and if it is a day when the kids aren't as hungry, it won't go to waste if it gets left for the next day or two or three.

Hold on to your socks -- I pack my kids the same lunch snacks every day. The sandwich or main component varies, but the snacks are the same (granola bar, cheese and cracker snack, a treat snack, some kind of fruit roll up type snack), and then usually there will be an apple or banana or something. Some days, everything is devoured. Some days, nothing but the sandwich is gone. I want there to be enough for my elementary school kids not to be hungry. They are on the bus before 7:30 am and get home a little before 4:30, unless it is a sports night (2 to 4 nights a week depending on what sports are running at the time), in which case we get home at 7:30 or 8:00. Those are long days. I should plan better and bring more healthy snacks from home for after school, but I am also out the door by noon on most of those sports days with a toddler and preschooler in tow, so usually I am out of time or energy or ideas of what I can haul around in the vehicle all day that they will be able to eat for supper or snacks four or five hours later.

What I take from your post is that I need to be more okay with my kids being hungry, and that I have to accept that there is a risk of some of the fruits and veggies going to waste. But realistically, the grab and go processed snacks are still going to have a place in our life.

And maybe this reflects badly on my kitchen skills, but in two seconds, I haven't even gotten the apple out of the fridge and washed with the sticker peeled off, let along sliced and bagged and sprinkled with lemon juice. Heck, given the state of my kitchen, sometimes two seconds isn't even long enough to locate a knife!

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret


Thanks so much for your wonderful, and well-thought out response to my post. Here are a few of my thoughts. First, I do think that all of us parents have to become a little more comfortable with our children's hunger. If not, we're teaching them to fear their own hunger. For most kids in America (not all though) this is a state of temporary hunger and it's good to know it's survivable.

Second, if you want to give your kids the same lunch from day to day, you should do that.However, if you have trouble introducing them to new foods this is one area you should take a look at. Switching up what you serve from a list of already accepted foods can lay the foundation for new food acceptance.

Third, there is a place in everyone's diets for packaged snacks. We eat them in our house. The question is proportion: how often do you eat them? Especially in relation to fresh, fruits and vegetables?

Fourth: If you want to increase fruit and vegetable consumption it's not that hard. The temperature variation you cite is over the course of the year. Day to day variation is, presumably, a lot less. Plus, fruits and vegetables don't need to be refrigerated. You could, either store a small bag of fruit (like apples) and vegetables (like carrots) in the car, replenishing every few days as needed. Or, you could have a bag that's loaded and ready to go that you carry in and out of the car. And, if you wanted to do more labor-intensive work like slice the apples, you could do this once every few days before or after you make dinner and store the fruit in plastic bags or containers. Where there's a will, there's a way.

Having said that, there's no reason to change what you're doing if what you're doing works for you.



March 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterDina Rose

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