A Dietitian's Guide to Gluten-Free Snacks for Kids
By Jenna Braddock, MSH, RD, CSSD, ACSM-CPT, JennaBraddock.com
The ideas and suggestions written below are provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health- and nutrition related activity.
Hey there, Parent! If you’ve found yourself here, I’m guessing you are on the hunt for information about gluten-free snacks for kids. There are many reasons why you could be looking for ideas. Perhaps you’ve recently learned your child would benefit from going gluten-free, or one of your child’s friends is gluten-free, and you don’t know how to support them. In many cases, extracurricular activities may even require options suitable for gluten-free children. Whatever the reason might be, if you’re looking for somewhere to dive into the world of gluten-free snacks for kids, you’re in the right place.
First, let’s quickly review what gluten is and why someone might be avoiding it. Gluten is the name for a certain protein found within wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Gluten is not inherently bad, and it does have properties that are helpful for making many foods — like helping dough to rise, which adds stretchiness to pizza dough and chewiness to baked goods. If someone is sensitive, allergic, or intolerant to gluten, however, it can be problematic. To learn more about gluten, Celiac disease, and gluten intolerance, check out this article on Myth-Busting Gluten.
How to Spot a Gluten-Free Snack
Gluten is easy to spot in foods that are clearly made with wheat, barley, or rye, but it can also sometimes be tricky to identify. Many food companies label their foods as “gluten-free” to help shoppers find them easily. Since the FDA has established standards on what it means to be labeled “gluten-free,” this can be trusted. On food without this claim or where you see phrases like “made with no gluten-containing ingredients,” it’s always wise to double-check the ingredients list on the package to be certain. Some less-obvious gluten-containing ingredients include durum, semolina, graham, malt extract, malt vinegar, and brewer’s yeast. For an extensive list of gluten-containing foods, visit https://celiac.org.
You may also sometimes find a statement on the package that says “produced in a facility that also processes wheat.” This means there may be a risk for cross-contact with gluten when the food is manufactured. For those with severe gluten allergies, it’s prudent to avoid this food, but truly it’s a personal decision based on your unique situation. It’s best to check with your physician to understand your child’s specific needs.
What Makes a Nutritious Gluten-Free Snack for Kids?
Beyond just the absence of gluten, it’s also good to look for snacks with balanced nutrition. Protein can help kids stay fueled and satisfy hungry bellies. When it comes to gluten-free snacks, aim for a variety that gives kids an array of nutrients, textures, and flavors to choose from.
Gluten-Free Packaged Snack Foods
These snacks come in bags or boxes and may require you to read the label and look closely at the ingredient list:
- CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein is a delicious, whole-grain crispy snack bar perfectly crafted for kids. It contains organic oats and is a good source of hunger-helping protein (from dairy and pea protein). The bars come in yummy flavors like Cookies ‘n Creme, Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Mint, Peanut Butter Chocolate, and the newest flavor, Cinnamon Crunch.
- Veggie straws and chips are a kid-friendly crunchy snack that nods to a little vegetable action. Most are potato based with veggie powders added in.
- Rice cakes have been around a long time and continue to be a great gluten-free snack option. They are made with whole grains, which is always a nutritious win for kiddos. Plus, there are many fun flavors to choose from now.
- Fruit and veggie puree squeeze pouches are now available in many flavor options and combinations. These are an easy, portable way to take fruits and veggies on the go.
- Fruit cups are a fun option for snacking, especially on the go where you don’t have access to refrigeration. Look for types packed in 100% juice.
- Fruit leather is an option that might be more interesting to kids than straight-up dried whole fruit. Look for options sweetened with fruit purees and no artificial colors or flavors. You can find them in most grocery stores, likely with the dried fruit.
- Apple chips are dehydrated apples that taste amazing. Since the only ingredient is typically apples, there’s no gluten to be found.
- Gluten-free crackers and pretzels used to be a rare find, but many snack food companies now offer a variety of gluten-free options. Many are made with seeds or brown rice and have the necessary, traditional crunch.
- Trail mix is a classic snack that can satisfy all kinds of snack cravings. There are a ton of flavor options, but always check the label to be sure gluten-containing ingredients are absent.
- Bean puffs are a crunchy kid favorite that also has boast-worthy good nutrition. They are often made with several types of beans, peanuts, or even sweet potatoes, which all provide fiber and protein. You’ll easily find them at natural food stores, but they are becoming more prevalent at all types of grocery stores.
- Gluten-free cereal is an easy option for snacking and can be used in a variety of ways. Cereals made with oats, corn, or rice are most common.
- Gluten-free whole-grain waffles are not just for breakfast; they also make a yummy snack. Top with peanut butter or fresh fruit for a wholesome snack.
- Plantain chips are crunchy fried green plantains and a delicious gluten-free option for chip lovers. Most are made with simply plantains, salt, and oil.
- Seaweed snacks are a hot new snack taking kid snacking by storm. They are roasted seaweed sheets salted or flavored. They often come in single-serving packs that are perfect for on-the-go snacking or lunch boxes.
- Gluten-free granola is always a welcome addition to yogurt, milk, or fruit.
Naturally Gluten-Free Snack Foods
These snacks fall into food groups that are naturally gluten-free:
- Fruits and vegetables are the ultimate gluten-free snack as they provide great nutrition and flavor. None are off-limits, so keep serving them to kiddos!
- Popcorn (and corn in general) is totally gluten-free and always a fun snack choice. It’s super easy to pop in the microwave or find pre-popped varieties in grocery stores.
- Yogurt is a good source of calcium and often vitamin D and protein. With many flavor options available, it’s hard to ever grow tired of this gluten-free snack.
- Cheese, the ultimate fan favorite, is naturally gluten-free. Single packaged cheese, like sticks and circles, always makes an easy snack.
- Dried fruit of all kinds are gluten-free, so enjoy the rainbow of options. Be sure to read the label to ensure they’re not processed in a facility that also makes gluten-containing foods.
- Nut butter is a very versatile snack food offering the addition of satisfying protein and good fat to so many foods. Swipe it on celery, a banana, gluten-free pretzels, and more for the most delicious of snacks.
- Guacamole, thank goodness, is a wonderful gluten-free dip for all kinds of foods.
- Corn tortillas can be the base of tasty snacks like mini quesadillas, peanut butter, and banana roll-ups, and more!
- Hard-boiled eggs are a great way to get satisfying protein — deviled eggs are a satisfying option too.
- Cottage cheese is a perfect snack food. Stir in your favorite fruit or use it as a dip with veggies. Double-check the ingredients to make sure there is no “food starch” in it as this can be made from wheat.
- Edamame in all its forms is a great protein snack. Eating the bean right out of the pod is a fun way for kids to enjoy vegetables, and roasted varieties make a wonderful on-the-go snack too.
Homemade Gluten-Free Snacks
Here are a few gluten-free snacks for kids to make at home:
- Smoothies enable you to easily customize ingredients to meet your kid’s preferences and gluten-free needs. A good rule of thumb is to include at least one vegetable (like spinach, carrots, or frozen cauliflower rice), one fruit (like berries, bananas, or mangoes), and a source of protein like milk, silken tofu, or pea protein powder. Try this Kid-Friendly Green Smoothie recipe for a guaranteed winner.
- Chia pudding is ridiculously easy to make and very nutritious. Kids may enjoy making it with you. Puree fresh or frozen fruit and stir in chia seeds. Add liquid if needed, then let it chill in the fridge for about an hour. Try this Raspberry Chia Pudding Recipe.
- Energy balls can be made with a wide variety of ingredients, making them very customizable to your kid’s likes. Here’s a delicious recipe for Blueberry Coconut Energy Balls to try.
- Yogurt parfaits always bring a smile to my boys’ faces. They make me smile too because they are a balanced snack, perfect for powering through the afternoons. Layer yours with any yogurt, gluten-free granola, and fruit.
- Ants on a log may be a snack you forgot about, but it’s completely gluten-free and is a delicious snack that stands the test of time.
- Apple slices with either cheese or peanut butter make a sweet and savory combo that always hits the spot.
- Gluten-free snack mix is a fun, interactive activity that kids can get involved with. Set out bowls of ingredients like gluten-free cereal, chopped CLIF Kid Zbar Protein bars, dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, mini rice cakes, plantain chips, and roasted edamame and let them build their own gluten-free snack.
Going gluten-free is a lot easier than it used to be. Thanks to great brands and products like CLIF Kid Zbar Protein, gluten-free snacks for kids are now a breeze. I hope this guide gives you a lot of tricks up your snack-game sleeve and the confidence to identify gluten-free foods for your family and friends.