Snacks for Kids: How Much, When, and What to Give Them

Snacks are an important part of a growing child’s diet. It is important to set boundaries around snacking in the household, as eating too many caloriesfrom snacks can lead to excessive weight gain. Also, “grazing” on small snack foods all day can decrease appetite at mealtimes. Beloware the general “snacking guidelines” by age.

Snack Suggestions for ages 1-2:

Snacks should be offered twice a day, between meals. At this age, they still need somewhat frequent feedings, as eating every few hours supports their growth and energy needs. Make sure that snack times have defined starting and ending times (about 15 minutes), so that the child isn’t grazing all morning or afternoon.

boy and girl with snack

Smart Snack Choices:

  • fresh fruit
  • dried fruit (once they are able to chew it well)
  • pretzels
  • whole grain or rice crackers
  • rice cakes
  • dry whole grain cereal
  • string cheese
  • only offer water to drink between meals

Portion sizes: ½ piece fruit, ¼ cup dried fruit, 1/3 cup pretzels, crackers or cereal, 1 rice cake, 1 piece of string cheese.

Snack Suggestions for ages 2-4:

Growth rates slow quite a bit during these years, compared to the rate of rapid growth in infancy. Hopefully, up to this point, your child has been offered meals and snacks at regular, scheduled times daily. He or she should have a good sense of when mealtimes are coming and what behaviors are expected at meals. At this age, your child may not need snacks between every meal to support growth. This is the age of picky eating, so be sure your kids have a good appetite for meals by not giving them unnecessary snacks.

Smart Snack Choices:

  • fruit or vegetables
  • granola bars
  • yogurt
  • string cheese
  • rice cakes
  • whole grain crackers
  • only offer water to drink between meals

Portion sizes: 1 piece of fruit, 6 mini carrot sticks, 1 granola bar, 4 oz yogurt, 1 string cheese, 6-10 crackers, 1 rice cake.

Snack Suggestions for ages 4-8:

Growth occurs at a somewhat slower rate during these years. However, kids at this age should be very active. Often, kids will say they are hungry after coming home from school. Do not allow them to come home, get a bag of chips, and sit in front of the TV munching. Instead, offer a small snack, a glass of water, and tell them to go play until it’s time for homework or dinner.

Smart Snack Choices:

  • fruit or vegetables
  • granola bars
  • yogurt
  • string cheese
  • rice cakes
  • whole grain crackers
  • only offer water to drink between meals

Portion sizes: Pick one or two of the choices listed above, based on how hungry your child is and how soon the next meal will be.

Snack Suggestions for ages Pre-puberty and Puberty:

Children start puberty at different ages, and this is another time of rapid growth. Kids in or entering puberty often feel hungry all the time, especially if they are very active. Be sure to have quality snacks available to them. Refrain from stocking the house with junk food, because that is exactly what they will go for first.

Smart Snack Choices:

  • peanut butter spread on whole grain bread or fruit
  • trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
  • cheese and whole grain crackers
  • rice cakes or veggies and hummus
  • smoothie with 1 cup yogurt + ½ cup frozen berries + ½ banana + handful baby spinach leaves
  • granola bars
  • hard-boiled eggs

Portion sizes: ½ sandwich, 1 piece of fruit with 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter, ½ cup trail mix, 1 piece of cheese and 6-10 crackers, 1 rice cake with 2 tablespoons hummus, smoothie per recipe above, 1 granola bar such as a Clif Bar or Larabar, 1 hard boiled egg with ½ piece of whole grain toast.

Children at any age who are overweight or obese should choose fresh fruits and vegetables as their snacks. Children who are underweight should always be offered snacks between meals, and the snacks should include a combination of carbohydrates, fat and protein. If you need more guidance on this issue or on meal planning for your family, make an appointment to see a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

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