Q. The end of another school year is almost upon us. But there are still a few school parties to go – not to mention daily snacks. Can you give me some tips on how to make the snacks healthier in general and OK for kids with food allergies, too? 

A. It’s very easy to pack a bag of chips, Goldfish crackers, cookies or super sweetened juice boxes as a child’s snack for either home or school – but they are often filled with ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, poor fats,  and additives and preservatives that are likely to lead to poor health.

Far too often, children’s snacks are full of SUGAR.  This will only lead to poor focus and concentration at school, weight problems, mood swings/irritability and other health issues.  There is also an increase with food allergies among children, which makes bringing snacks to school even more challenging.  So what can parents do to make sure their kids are eating nutrient dense snacks?

Here are a few fun and creative ideas along with easy recipes that are wholesome and delicious to get even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy! Most of these are ideal for those with food allergies such as gluten, dairy and nuts.

Healthy school party tips

Get involved and be creative Making a snack or meal fun may entice picky eaters to try foods they might otherwise turn their nose to. My mom used to make us a “surprise” for our after-school snack.  It was often just beautiful fruit, a mini sandwich or homemade pudding, but the way in which she displayed it using cut out shapes and pretty glasses made it irresistible.  Better yet, get your kids involved and have them prepare these with you. Here are some fun ideas:

  • Octopus swimming in hummus: Who wouldn’t want to grab a leg off this guy and take a bite? You can also use guacamole or plain Greek yogurt…or better yet, mix avocado with plain Greek yogurt (for those that can tolerate dairy) and add fresh squeezed lime juice for a tasty dip. You can also use jicama sticks, sugar snap peas and cucumbers for great dipping.
  • Here is a fun sandwich idea along with a tree made of cucumbers and pretzels.  Use sprouted, 100 percent whole grain or gluten free breads. You can also find gluten free pretzels for those who are sensitive to gluten. Add tuna salad, egg salad, chicken or turkey for added protein.
  • Make it a kabob  Small cookie cutters work great for making all kinds of snacks more appealing to young children.  Substitute chunks of avocado for those with dairy allergies.  This idea works great with fruit such as apples, bananas and melons as well – add rolled up turkey for extra protein…and be sure to squeeze in some greens.
  • Use a muffin tin to display veggie snacks, fruit, crackers, dips, etc….You can find heart-shaped or colored tins, or patterned muffin papers to add even more fun.
  • Include protein in their snacks.  This will prevent their blood sugar from spiking and give them more sustained energy, focus and concentration. Try serving: Hard boiled or deviled eggs; turkey roll-ups with veggies and avocado in the center; nut butters with veggies, apple slices or try other butters such as “sunflower butter” for those with nut or peanut allergies; or hummus or other bean dips.
  • Make your own trail mix. (For those without nut allergies, of course). Most of the prepackaged “bars” contain way too much sugar.  You can premix your own special varieties and put them in baggies. Don’t forget to add a bit of flaked coconut and go easy on the dried fruit. Create fun packaging with ribbon, stickers, baggies and other containers.
  • Skip the juice and sodas.  These are simply loaded with sugar – even those that are labeled pure fruit juice.  Instead, try a club soda or sparkling water with just a splash of fruit juice – add lemon, lime or a few berries for an extra sparkle.
  • Set an example: Children will imitate what they see, so if you are noshing on junk, and have unhealthy snacks in your pantry, that is exactly what they will want.  Keep a bowl full of fruit and vegetables on hand at all times along with a healthy dip such as hummus, guacamole or Greek yogurt.