Healthy Snacks for Picky Eaters

The last few months I have noticed a downhill spiral of eating habits in our house. Breakfasts and snacks became a free for all of low nutrient, high fat, high calorie foods. (Lunches are packed healthy, and dinners have become the only really healthy meal that the kids eat at home) I am guilty of buying too many snacky foods, which quickly has become the kid’s first choice. Now that our summer routine has set in, the snacks have become even more out of control.

Last week, I decided to throw out every snack food that was unhealthy and replace with healthy choices. No more otter pops, no more chocolate chip bars, no more Doritos, no more Skittles… But, I did tell the kids that they can have one day or two days a week where they can choose a treat.

So far, so good. The kids have not been complaining (okay, as much as I thought they would) about their snacks and food options. I am kind of surprised, as I thought for sure I would hear a lot of whining about nothing “good to eat”. The best part is that the kids are chowing on all the healthy stuff, and while they would never admit it, they like it.

Kids, especially younger ones, will eat mostly what’s available at home. That’s why it’s important to control the supply lines — the foods that you serve for meals and have on hand for snacks. Kids can’t eat what’s not there. Double bonus — you will not be tempted by your kid’s snacks.

I have super picky eaters, so here are some basic tips for healthy snacking that work for me. They are great for kids but also for parents:

1. Fruits and vegetables can be the first go-to snack choice. Make them a part of the daily routine, and aim to serve a fruit or vegetables at every meal. Make it easy for kids by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. A fruit kabob is always way more fun than just eating fruit out of a bowl.

2. Other good snacks that my kids love include low-fat yogurt blended with fruit and some low fat milk to make a shake/smoothie,

3. Peanut butter and apples are a big hit at our house, along with whole-grain crackers and cheese, and even mini whole grain bagels and cream cheese.

3. Choose whole-grain cereals so kids get more fiber. Don’t be fooled by kids’ cereal marketing. Read the ingredients. We usually have Kashi or Kind cereal in the house. My kids don’t drink milk, so a bowl of dry cereal is a quick snack for us.

4. Chips and salsa. Yes, I got rid of the Doritos, but there are better choices of chips on the market like baked chips. My kids love salsa, so this is actually my attempt to help them expand their taste buds with something a little more ‘exotic’ like salsa. Also using carrots, celery, cucumber slices or other veggie faves for salsa dipping is strongly recommended.

5. Applesauce is always a winner. My kids love the squeezy applesauce, and even though it’s a bit more expensive, I always stock up when it’s on sale, since I know that is something they always seem to eat.

Kids Want Variety and Color – Arrange Food to Make it Appealing


Cornell University

Do you ever think back to before kids, and reflect on all those things you told yourself you would never do when you had kids. Things like “I will not be a short order cook” or “I will never let my kids have dino shaped chicken nuggets”.  There may not be anything as frustrating as kids and their food (or lack of food).

I’m pretty sure my son has never eaten a vegetable, at least in my presence… unless ketchup counts.  He eats blueberries, strawberries, cheese, yogurt, mac-n-cheese, chicken nuggets (of any shape, not just dinos), and sometimes a hamburger.  Not surprisingly, he is in the 20th percentile for weight (read: he is skin and bones).

After many years of resisting, I now know that it is futile, and I have become a short order cook. I don’t want the poor little guy to starve.

I continue to put veggies on his plate, every single night, and he continues not to eat them. So I am ready for a new strategy.

I recently read an article that focuses on the attractiveness of the plate. Since my plates of food are generally not cool, fancy, or fun, I thought I would give it a try.  And I’m guessing those people at Cornell are pretty smart, too.

So here is what the LA Times article says:

“The arrangement of food that’s most appealing to your child may not be the one that’s most appealing to you.

In what they called a “preliminary” study, the researchers showed 23 children age 5 to 12 (and in attendance at a summer camp in Ithaca, N.Y.) 48 different combinations of food on plates, asking them which were their favorites.  They repeated the exercise online with 46 adults.

The plates varied by number and mixing of colors; number of components; position of the main component; whether they were crowded or empty; whether they were organized or disorganized; and whether the elements on them were arranged into a picture (such as a heart or a smile.)  A variety of foods — including eggs, bacon, fruits and veggies — were represented. 

Results showed that kids appreciated different qualities in a dinner plate than grownups.  Where adults’ most common preferences for number of different food colors and different food items was three, children most liked a plate with six different colors (the largest number the researchers included), as well as a plate with seven different components (again, the largest number included).  Adults liked their main food component in the center of their plate.  Kids liked theirs toward the bottom.  Perhaps less surprising, kids liked when their food was arranged into a picture, while adults preferred a “casual” plate design.

The differences they observed, the researchers said, suggest that strategies to encourage healthy eating among kids need to be tuned more specifically to children’s visual preferences.

“Our findings support the view that children are not simply ‘little adults,'” they wrote.  “Most especially we are struck by the finding that young children appear to prefer plates that feature a wide variety of foods and colors.”

This, they added, “should open a window of possibility for those concerned with childhood nutrition,” who might want to consider presenting kids with colorful, multi-element dinner plates.”

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