Children's Nutrition: Healthy Snack Alternatives

Healthy snacks for kids don't have to be dull and flavorless. You can create unique presentations that will be as tasty as those sugary treats.

Finding healthy snacks for our kids is an ongoing challenge for most parents these days. Having nutritious munchies readily available that pass the fussy-kid-test requires color, unique presentation, great flavor and lots of creative imagination on the part of the parent. You don't have to be Supermom (or dad) to achieve such a lofty goal. Here are some ideas for great snacks that are both fun and nutritious.

While some may consider rice cakes tasteless, there are ways to dress them up that will entice even the most persnickety of kids. By topping them with tasty favorites, you can redesign the rice cake snack. Try spreading peanut butter on the top of one, and then adding sliced bananas - a healthy snack alternative, reminiscent of the peanut butter and banana sandwich. Or, you might try spreading honey on the rice cake, topping with raisins and then sprinkling with graham crumbs. You can integrate any of their favorites into this type of snack and - with the added toppings - the rice cake will better satisfy their hunger.

Skin and halve a large peach and remove the pit. Place it on a small plate (or in a bowl), with the middle facing outward. Fill the hollowed out pit area with a scoop of frozen yogurt and top with one or more of the following: granola, raisins, graham cracker crumbs, peanuts, crushed pretzels or cherry halves. This can be made more exciting by using brightly colored frozen yogurt, such as a rainbow variety or colorful swirl combinations. Remember that the overall presentation is the first selling point for a snack, be it healthy or otherwise.

Younger children will love the idea of a snack boat. Start with a granola bar in a flavor that they would enjoy, then cover the top with about ΒΌ" of thick peanut butter. For the masts, use thin pretzel sticks - anchored in the layer of peanut butter - with tortilla chip masts that have been cemented with another bit of peanut butter. Raisins can represent the people on the boat, and you can dress it up with pieces of diced fresh fruit, designed to represent the boating gear. Get creative - use your imagination, and you can design a wonderfully healthy treat that will delight the little ones.

A banana can be dressed up by pushing a wooden skewer or long lollipop stick into one end, dipping it in a loose-bodied chocolate yogurt and rolling it in crushed peanuts. When finished, place it in the freezer until firm. The result will be a wonderfully flavorful frozen treat that will remind the kids of a banana split and have them asking for more - and don't worry about the nuts. They're actually quite healthy, since they don't contain a lot of saturated fats.

Other types of frozen fruits work very well at snack time, as well. Consider taking individual grapes and, after placing each one on the end of a toothpick, coat them with a light glaze of honey and roll them in crushed nuts. Assemble on a plate and place in the freezer until very firm. These will be reminiscent of candy and the kids will clamor for them, so be sure to make a large batch. This frozen snack is ideal for hot summer days - they're juicy and refreshing with a frosty quality that's great for beating the heat.

Wash and slice fresh fruits - any type will do, so use the kids' favorites. As a treat, prepare a fruit dip so that they can dress up the fruit pieces a bit. Simply mix a bit of creamy peanut butter and a bit of honey into some plain yogurt, and you've got a great dip that's tasty and nutritious. If peanut butter doesn't happen to be one of your youngsters' favorites, substitute it with their favorite flavor of jam and eliminate the honey, unless the jam is of a particularly tart variety.

Make your own trail mix by combining a variety of foods that will provide a blend of tastes and textures which appeal to most kids and will have them looking forward to snack time. You might, for instance, combine pretzel sticks, raisins, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips and some miniature marshmallows. Or, consider blending Chex rice cereal, dried cranberries, white chocolate chips and golden raisins. This particular snack can be offered on an ongoing basis by simply alternating the ingredients to give the impression of a new snack treat.

You can make your own version of ice cream sandwiches by spreading soft frozen yogurt on a graham cracker, topping it with a second graham and rolling the edges in chopped nuts or graham crumbs. Place them on a plate and freeze until firm. There's room for creative license here, since you can integrate your child's favorite flavor of yogurt into the treat or by rolling the edges of the sandwich in a granular topping that your children would enjoy more than nuts or graham crumbs. Of course, you can also use chocolate graham crackers for the wafers of the sandwich, as well.

As long as you use a low-fat recipe, even muffins make a great snack item for the kids - especially when they're in the form of mini-muffins. These bite-size delights come in a variety of flavors, such as Maple Apple Oatmeal, Lemon Blueberry, Applesauce Oatmeal or Apple Raisin. Delicious recipes for making these flavors can be found online and in a variety of cookbooks. Since this snack is seen as a "sweet" by most kids, the nutritional benefits won't even be noticed. Another perk to the mini-muffin is that it can be enjoyed for breakfast all the way through the day until evening snack. There's never a time when this type of snack food would be inappropriate.

Create a frozen snack treat for your kids by pouring applesauce into a freezer pop mold or paper cup, insert a stick and freeze until firm. There are many flavor varieties of applesauce today, so you can alternate from one week to another, or even every couple of days. Choose the kids' favorite among flavors such as strawberry-apple, cranberry-apple or cinnamon-apple, to name a few. As an added treat, you can roll them in oatmeal or graham cracker crumbs after removing them from their molds. Either way, these provide a wonderfully nutritious and unique snack that most kids will enjoy.

Providing healthy snacks for your children doesn't have to be difficult - and if you're creative enough, your youngsters might even stop looking in the cookie jar, in the hopes of finding a popular sandwich cookie.

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