Easy Nutritious Snacks for Kids on the Go
By Jenna Braddock, MSH, CSSD, RD, ACSM-CPT, a mom and consultant sports dietitian who works with Clif Bar & Company
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.
Parenting little kiddos comes with massive amounts of joy and fun, but it also has its fair share of challenges. One of the most common challenges I face is feeling like I have to be a vending machine of snacks when we are on the go. The last thing any parent wants is for a fun family moment or awesome playtime to be broken up by cries of hunger!
Anybody can fill a cooler or lunchbox full of snacks to get them by, but finding portable, nutritious snacks that are also easy can feel like a tall task for parents. As a parent who has been on the go with hungry kiddos many a day, I have determined that there are two types of snacks: snacks that quickly silence children but don’t last long and snacks that take a minute to settle in the stomach but keep them satisfied longer. I call these “fluff snacks” and “smart snacks," respectively.
Fluff snacks are always a big hit with my boys but unfortunately, they don’t keep them energized for long, so the “I’m hungry” cycle persists. Try smart snacks that minimize empty calories and maximize important nutrients like protein, whole grains, fiber, good fats (mono- and polyunsaturated fat), calcium, vitamins, and potassium. The 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlight that many of these nutrients are still lacking in the diets of children.1 By leaning on smart snacks for your kids, you can help them get what they need to thrive.
A smart snack doesn’t have to include all of these nutrients at one time because they can serve different purposes. For instance, a smart snack for fueling kids' play could include whole grains and fiber for energy while a hunger-busting smart snack might contain protein or good fats to quench little appetites for longer. Sometimes smart snacks can help little ones get important nutrients they need to thrive.
Not sure what smart snacks to take on the go? Here is a list of ideas to meet all of your snacking needs:
Snacks for Fueling Play
These snacks contain energizing carbohydrates like whole grains and fruit to give active kids the energy they need to enjoy playtime uninterrupted.
- CLIF Kid Zbar® — Organic and made with energizing whole grains, Zbar is a great on-the-go snack. The soft-baked texture and delicious flavors are always a hit with kids. Did you know that Zbar is actually “Smart Snack compliant”? This means it meets the science-based nutrition standards developed and used by the USDA to encourage healthy snacking in schools.
- Whole-grain crackers — Look for crackers with whole grains listed as the first ingredient and check for fiber in the nutrition facts panel.
- Dried fruit — A box of raisins (or other dried fruit) can make a great portable snack for kids. There are all types of dried fruits available to choose from.
- Squeeze packets of applesauce — Easy and portable, these are a great option for small and big kids alike.
- Popcorn — Did you know that popcorn is a whole grain and source of fiber? The fact that it’s fun to eat is also a plus! You can use store-bought popcorn or easily make it in your microwave and portion it into baggies.
- Freeze-dried fruit — Freeze-dried fruit has a different texture than dried fruit. If your child prefers crunchy over chewy, this is a great nutritious option. My family’s favorites are strawberry and apple slices.
- Overnight oats — Oats aren’t just for breakfast! Make your own overnight oats at home (they really only need an hour or two to sit and soften) or look for store-bought, ready-to-go options.
- Snack mix with popcorn, pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, etc. — The sky's the limit when you make your own snack mix, and it’s fun for the kids to help make it on the weekend. Nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, and whole-grain cereal are perfect base ingredients. Boost it up with any extra add-ins for flavor and fun and you’re good to go!
Snacks for Busting Hunger
If your kiddo has a big appetite that’s hard to satisfy, choose one of these snacks with protein and/or good fat to do the trick!
- CLIF Kid Zbar® Protein — These nutritious snack bars provide a good source of protein from dairy and pea protein to bust hunger and satisfy rumbling tummies. Their crispy texture and delicious flavors are sure to be a favorite with your kids.
- Nuts and trail mixes — Trail mixes contain all kinds of ingredients but ones with nuts or dried beans provide satiating protein and good fat. You can find trail mix in single-serve packs or make your own at home.
- Nut butter and apple slices — All nut butters contain good fats and protein. Look for single-serve cups of peanut butter and pre-sliced apples to easily pack this snack on the go.
- Roasted beans — This might not sound like a kid-friendly snack, but crunchy, roasted beans come in a variety of delicious flavors (like BBQ) kids might just love. The common types of beans you’ll probably find in the store are broad beans, chickpeas, and edamame — and they all contain hunger-helping protein.
- Jerky — Another on-the-go snack that is making a comeback is jerky! It’s a great way to get protein and there are so many types and flavors now available to choose from!
- Bean puffs — Beans, like chickpeas and navy, get a makeover as a crunchy puff snack. There are even puffs made from peanuts! While they’re light and crunchy, they contain protein and fiber, so there’s no fluff here.
- Nuts and cheese packs — In the deli section of the grocery store, you can find prepackaged duos of nuts and cheese (and other combos). These on-the-go snacks provide kiddos with protein and good fat in a powerful, tasty combo.
- Hardboiled egg — Whether you make them at home or buy them already cooked, eggs are an awesome source of protein and are very portable.
- Energy bites — Energy bites are an all-in-one snack that can be easy to tote around. Make some at home (like these Blueberry Coconut Energy Bites) or look for store-bought mixes and package bites.
- Cheese sticks or circles — The fat and protein found in cheese sticks can be very satisfying to kids hungry bellies.
- Guacamole with whole-grain chips — Guacamole can come in single-serve cups, making it perfect to take on the go. The good fat in guac and the fiber in whole-grain chips are sure to satisfy ravenous appetites.
Snacks to Help Provide Essential Nutrients
These snacks can certainly be energizing and satisfying, but they definitely provide important nutrients kids need like calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and fiber.1 Plus, anytime you can get more veggies in your kiddos, it’s a win!
- Yogurt — Both dairy and plant-based yogurts can be a good source of calcium and provide vitamin D. Check the nutrition facts label to make sure they’re present and choose brands providing at least 10% of the Daily Value of calcium and any amount of vitamin D.
- Drinkable yogurt and kefir — Yogurt can be even more portable by choosing a drinkable yogurt or kefir. These are usually in a bottle that’s easy to drink from, and they have similar benefits to traditional yogurt.
- Chia pudding — Chia seeds are a plant-based source of protein, fiber, and good fats. When you add them to a liquid, they create a soft gel and produce a texture like pudding. It’s really easy to make at home and portion in to-go cups (try this Raspberry Chia Pudding) or look for individual cups of store-bought options.
- Hummus and veggie packs — Since hummus is made from beans, it’s actually now considered a vegetable according to the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.1 It also provides some fiber to help support your kiddo’s digestive health.2
- Freeze-dried veggies — Similar to fruit, vegetables can also be freeze-dried into a crunchy, fiber-filled snack. It’s a fun and different way to enjoy your veggies and may actually get your kiddo to like new types!
- Peanut butter frosting dip with apple slices — Combining yogurt and peanut butter creates a creamy, frosting-like texture that combines calcium and protein for a powerful snack. My boys love dipping all kinds of fruits into it.
With this list as your guide, smart snacking is one less challenge you have to face as a parent. Go out on that family adventure or face that afternoon at the fields with confidence knowing your kids are well fueled to take on fun!
- 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 9th ed. US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/resources/2020-2025-dietary-guidelines-online-materials. Published December 2020.
- Korczak R, Kamil A, Fleige L, Donovan SM, Slavin JL. Dietary fiber and digestive health in children. Nutr Rev. 2017;75(4):241-259. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuw068