Helping Kids Snack Smart

A little girl eats an apple for her healthy snack.
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Any mom will tell you: shopping for snacks is a constant tug-of-war between what their kids want and what they need, nutritionally speaking. Oftentimes, convenience, affordability and what we know they'll actually eat ends up winning the day.

But that can mean a heaping dose of added sugar - that is, sugars and syrups that are added to foods when they are processed or prepared.

Just look at a new survey out of the U.K. that shows kids aged 4-10 get 51% of their sugar from unhealthy snacks. In that country, the national health board recommends limiting all kids' snacks to 100 calories, with a max of two snacks per day.

Here in the U.S., the situation isn't any better. In a study by the American Heart Association, American children aged 4-8 average 21 teaspoons of sugar a day. That's shocking, considering the recommended daily limit is six teaspoons.

The bottom line: added sugar is probably sneaking its way into your child's diet, and it may be time to crack down.

Eating too many sugary snacks can cause tooth decay, obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes - not to mention poor dietary habits that can last a lifetime.

Finding sugar in kids' snacks can be tricky. Some snacks - such as candy and chocolate, soft drinks, ice cream and packaged sweets - are easy to spot.

But seemingly healthy snacks can be just as loaded with sugar. Common offenders include packaged protein or snack bars, breakfast cereals, bottled smoothie drinks and pre-packaged oatmeal. Many of the yogurts marketed toward kids contain as much sugar as a candy bar.

Incorporating healthier snack options will not only help your kids get the nutrients they need to grow up strong, it'll set them up for success for years to come.

Snacking healthy doesn't have to mean eating like a bird or blowing your budget. Here are some delicious and affordable snacks that it's OK for your kids (and you!) to crave.

Popcorn. This whole-grain snack isn't just a crowd pleaser at the movie theater. For at-home popcorn, avoid the microwave bags and go for the stovetop kernels - it's healthier and more cost-effective, too. Once it's popped, you can dress it up with all kinds of tasty toppings, from cinnamon to grated cheese to a light sprinkling of dry ranch dressing mix.

Natural Peanut Butter. For most kids, protein-packed peanut butter is a welcome menu staple. Opt for natural peanut butter, which comes without added sugars and other bad-for-you ingredients. Try it with apple slices, bananas, celery or whole-wheat toast.

Cheese. In France, school children are often served a cheese course at lunchtime. That's because cheese is loaded with protein and calcium, and not a gram of added sugar. Fun-to-eat string cheese or cheese slices served alongside apple slices, carrot sticks or grapes is a healthy and satisfying snack.

100% Fruit Juice. What kid doesn't love fruit juice? But all juices are not created equal. Read labels closely to make sure you're buying 100% fruit juice with no added sugar, rather than a "fruit beverage" loaded corn syrup and only a fraction of actual juice.

Pita and Dips. These days, hummus comes in a variety of flavors that are equally appealing to kids and grown-ups. Serve it with sliced veggies, pita chips or toasted pita bread. Hummus a no-go in your house? Try salsa or black bean dip instead.

Fruit. It's not called "nature's candy" for nothing. Fresh peaches, plums, apples, grapes, bananas and, well, just about any other fruit makes for a great snack that's naturally sweet.

Trail Mix. This snack requires a little detective work, too, as some store-bought trail mixes are loaded with added sugar and sodium. Look for bags with only whole ingredients, like unsalted nuts, dried fruit, yogurt chips or even dark chocolate. Or, buy the ingredients bulk and make a DIY mix.

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