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Now that I am a seasoned preschooler Mom I can offer some valid advice on the subject of snacks.   If you have a child in preschool, chances are they observe a daily snack time.  Depending on your school, they handle it different ways.  Some schools provide the snacks for the kids – and they are restricted by budget.  Or you might have a situation where the parents are in charge of snacks.  If you’re one of the lucky ones, you send in your own childs snack and have full control over what they eat.  Our school uses a weekly parent contributed snack schedule and we sign up for “snack weeks” where we provide snack for the class that week.  Whatever your situation is, (aside from those who can chose their child’s snack) chances are you are allowing others to choose a snack for your child.

Like it or not, everyone doesn’t know what a “healthy” snack is.  So kids are snacking on things like chocolate pudding cups, gummy fruit snacks (so bad for their teeth!!!), cookies, candy and whatever else people can find in the prepackaged snack aisle.  I list these as evidence – these were actual snacks parents were sending in when we started preschool.  I understand (more than I wish to) how BUSY life is.  It’s much easier to grab a package of prepacked snacks at the store and be done with it.  But many times they are loaded with extra sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fat, preservatives, food coloring or just plain have zero nutritional value at all.  Preschoolers need to learn now, while they are still eager to accept healthy ideas, that snacks should have some kind of nutritional value.

Now before you get all “Oh give me a break, it’s just a SNACK, get over it.“, let me just say this.  I am not as uptight as you might think.  I don’t buy junk for my own home (usually) but if they eat a cookie or have ice cream at a party I don’t flip out and bring my own Frozen Rice Cream with Tofu Chunks as an alternative.  Kids get treats.  That’s ok once in a while.  But between the holiday parties and the birthday’s… preschoolers are eating cupcakes and sweets every time you turn around. Already they gave my 2 year old cupcakes the first day of school for a birthday.  (He is going to think you get cupcakes at preschool every day now!) So the rest of the week, should be a reprieve from all that and snacks should fuel their brains to power through the day.  Not give them a high from corn syrup, trans fat, hydrogenated oils and food coloring.

But What Do I Do About It?

There are a few things you can do that I have tried and tested which seem to at least help push the class parents and the school in a better direction with regards to school snacks. (Warning: You may have to do this every year)

  • If the parents provide snacks, you can speak to or write to the school director or teacher and request that they send a letter home explaining what a “healthy snack” entails.  Some parents don’t think about it so it’ll be a nice reminder.
  • Provide a written list of healthy snack ideas that they can share with the letter so parents have a reference.  Providing a list also increases the chance that the school will follow through.  Less work for them and more healthy stuff on the list from you.  Win win.
  • Be an example.  When it’s your turn to bring snack, up the ante.  Go out of your way to bring in something healthy.  I’ve been up at the crack of dawn sectioning grapes into 15 little containers, or popping popcorn in the morning and putting them in bags.  It’s a pain but it’s worth it!

If your school provides snacks then you’ll have more of a challenge ahead of you since the school runs on a budget and can’t usually afford fresh fruit daily.

  • Again, speak to a director of the preschool program and voice your concerns.  Nothing will change unless you try.  Even if you get nowhere, at least you made an attempt.  Find out what their rules are and see if you can help them make room for a healthy option one day a week to start. You can also try writing a letter – here’s a good one to start with from Green Plate Rule.
  • Offer to bring snacks in for the class (if they allow it) on a semi regular basis. That way you can control it at least a few times.
  • See if you can send your child in with their own snack.  I don’t usually like this option but if the snacks are truly horrible then doing this might be your only option.  I tend to not agree with options that single a child out of a group.  I’d rather my son eat cookies than be odd man out. But that’s just me… you may feel differently and that’s ok too!

It might be uncomfortable to do these things.  From experience though, if you don’t do it, no one else will.  It’s not like you’re asking them to only serve organic food to the whole school. You’re just asking them to kick it up a notch in the healthy department.

List of Healthy Snacks to Share With your Teacher or School

  • Whole grain crackers, pretzels
  • Sliced up apples, pears, peaches, etc
  • Grapes, Berries (cut in half for the wee ones – choking can be an issue so take heed)
  • Bananas (Frozen on a stick works like a charm)
  • Carrot Sticks (low fat cream cheese dip?)
  • Celery (w/ peanut butter* or cream cheese)
  • Veggie Sticks w/ Hummus
  • Cucumber Slices (kids love these!)
  • Air Popped Popcorn
  • Small yogurts (low sugar)
  • Greek Yogurts
  • Low fat cheese and crackers
  • Whole Grain Cereal (ex: Kashi Heart-to-Heart – look for high fiber, low sugar)
  • Granola Bars (low fat, low sugar)
  • Unsweetened Apple Sauce
  • Fruit Kabobs (great for class parties)
  • Oatmeal Bars
  • Whole Grain Muffins (minis)
  • Raisins
  • Trail Mix (if there are no allergies)
  • Dried Fruit or Fruit strips (without added sugar)
  • Fig Cookies (I prefer Newman’s Own)
  • Mini Whole Wheat bagels and cream cheese
  • Mini Muffins (preferably whole wheat or oatmeal)

With this age group its best to keep it simple and remember that you can’t please every kid in class.  It’s also important to respect any food allergies as well. I’ve been known to cop out and send in a box of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies when the week gets hectic, so no one will be perfect every time but if everyone tries, it’ll at least improve over Ding Dongs and Twinkies.

Thanks to my Facebook Fan Kristie for inspiring this post!  I love my Facebook fans… if you haven’t joined the fun please come hang out with us on Facebook.

What are your snack ideas for preschoolers? I’m sure all you creative parents out there have some fun (and easily portable) snack recipes to share with me!

*IMPORTANT NOTE: I may not have emphasized it but always be sure to check with teachers about allergies in the class. If there are, you should always read the labels to make sure you’re avoiding those important ingredients.

Posted by: SafeMama Kathy on August 24, 2011


24 Responses to “Pre-School Snacks: How To Handle Unhealthy Snacks At School”

  1. denise O on August 24th, 2011 2:50 pm

    arg, I almost had a heart attack when I saw the menu of meals and snacks my daycare provides when my little one moved out of the infant room. I do have to say, I overreacted a little, i give them credit for providing “fresh” lunches rather than processed glop from a can. Also, I’ve noticed that while the snacks are lacking in enough whole grains, they are free of coloring or excess sugar. On “cookie day” which appears to be nilla wafers, I just request he gets pretzels instead, and provide a daily sippy of water in the frige with a note NO JUICE, for snacktime. It’s the best I can do when I don’t have control over these things…

  2. SafeMama Kathy on August 24th, 2011 3:37 pm

    Thanks Denise! It’s true some schools really do try to do their best and they get full credit for trying. I think the biggest issue (at least it was for me) was the parent contributed class snacks. Some parents choose great snacks for the kids, other’s not so much. I think many times it’s just lack of food knowledge, lack of time, or lack of effort. Every situation is different and you have to react when you need to. But in the grand scheme, it’s not a heart stopping problem. And who doesn’t like a Nilla wafer every now and then? :)

  3. Leslie on August 24th, 2011 3:51 pm

    uncooked carrots are not good for little kids,they are hard on the intestines, and yes they need alot more carbs and fats (natural) then we adults do. I believe foods in its natural state are best not altered so you think they are healthier. Muffins made with apple chunks and pumkin or squash puree ( i always make lots in the fall)

  4. Beth Stephan on August 24th, 2011 4:32 pm

    Those are some great ideas for healthy snacks. I have a kindergartener and a pre-schooler and always try to give them healthy snacks during the day and at school. We eat a lot of fresh fruit and I am always scowering the grocery store for low suger (no High Fructose Corn Syrup). It’s hard but well worth the time. Thanks again for the ideas!

  5. Chris Naugle on August 24th, 2011 7:09 pm

    Yes, beware of those allergies. It seems as though peanut allergies are becoming particularly prevalent … so, be careful with those granola/energy bar types of things which often contain nuts. Love the graham cracker (graham sticks, if you can find ’em) with yogurt combo.

  6. Jennifer on August 24th, 2011 8:08 pm

    I just have to give a big thanks to my son’s preschool teacher. They are not allowed to bring juice for snack time, only water. Also, if they bring a sugary snack, they will take it away and put it in their lunch box for later. Also, they go a step further and at lunch if they do have a sugary snack, the kid has to finish ALL of their lunch. I finally realized this after the second day of my son not getting his vanilla wafers. But it is funny that the kids seem fine with it. Keep up the ideas on good school snacks and lunchs because I find it hard to come up with a new menus each week.

  7. Christina on August 24th, 2011 10:45 pm

    We chose our daycare because they provide lunch and snacks for a decent rate, but now that I know about food better, I’m wary. We’re really happy with the place otherwise!! and my son is 4–he KNOWS what the other kids are eating and giving him something different from his friends wouldn’t fly.

    They definitely do better than they could. I don’t know how freshly prepared the foods are, but it’s not pizza and chicken nuggets every single day. It’s a pretty good compromise.

    I just worry about the future, when he goes to school, and some kids will be buying school lunch every day!

  8. Jill Finkle on August 25th, 2011 10:13 am

    Your article has actually made me feel much better about the snacks my child is given. Even though they serve things like cereal bars and “original” applesauce (that all have HFCS) at least he is not eating cupcakes, candy, or fruit snacks!

  9. CYNDI Mobley on August 25th, 2011 11:04 am

    Hi!! I totally relate to this article and agree with you!! I sent a snack with my daughter because I didn’t like the snacks she was receiving. I felt like the eccentric mom, but so be it. I will be sending them this year too! Thanks for the support.

  10. Stephanie on August 25th, 2011 11:35 am

    This is the only time I’m thankful for the severe food allergies in the house 7 yo – corn gluten dairy egg dyes 5 yo just gluten dairy egg dyes (easy) and my 1 yo just gluten. All my kids have different reactions (me, all grains – or i get migraines). We bring food everywhere we go. Their classmates are used to it and get protective of them which is sweet to see! All they eat is fresh fruit or organic trail mixes, etc. I watch what the other kids eat and shutter now. Yes, little debbie, twinkles and the like. And my goodness schools and church reward with candy for everything!!! Since we started so young and I make safe sweet treats often at home – they have never complained or cared. And understand proper nutrition (besides the 1yo!) and make wonderful choices when they are on their own. So, You just gave me a reason not to curse our food allergies today…thank you 😉

  11. Kara on August 25th, 2011 2:56 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with everyone has said so far. As a teacher and a mom, what some kids are given to eat is unreal! (pun intended) :)

    My biggest concern with parent provided snacks AND school meal programs is the lack of education and awareness. So many parents and schools who are trying and/or limited by budget see labels like ‘whole grain’ and think it is a good choice, but they fail to read the labels for sugar content and sugar sources (or grain source/content/fibre value). I nearly had a meltdown when Lucky Charms was purchased for our breakfast program and the justification was that ‘the label said it has whole grains’! There is a big difference between high fructose corn syrup and raw sugar or sugar that comes from fruit in an item. Both labels may say the item has 4 grams of sugar, but if the said product is filled with refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, then it is not the same kind of choice as the one made with unprocessed ingredients. I know it means more reading and attention to detail when shopping, but it can be done.

    I like your suggested snack list, but I might be inclined to list one or two examples next to items like ‘whole grain cereal’ since the manufacturers purposely make such misleading labels. I think if I was given a suggested brand and chose to buy something else (maybe because it was cheaper/on sale), I would at least be inclined to look at the label to see why brand x was suggested. Another ideas might be to list key ‘look fors’ for something like cereal (ideally 4g of sugar or less, no high fructose corn syrup, etc.).

    No matter what, Kathy, I think you’re right to say something and do something about it (and do it every year). Education and gentle reminders are the best ways to improve snacks at school.

  12. SafeMama Kathy on August 25th, 2011 3:36 pm

    Thank you Kara! That is a very good point! I’ll make a note.

  13. Rebecca Kimber on August 25th, 2011 4:20 pm

    Thanks for this great article! Healthy snacks are so important for growing brains and bodies and I’m always surprised to see the brightly colored snacks that parents often give their kids (anything that is bright blue or hot pink is probably not a super great snack for your toddler, but I’m no nutritionist :)

    One more note that I wanted to add regarding snacking on the run is about plastic baggies. I know that it’s more time consuming and expensive (in the short run) to buy stainless steel and glass containers for snacks on the go, but those plastic baggies contain plastic that can leak into the food (yuck!) and they are not able to break down so they stay in our land fills for a VERY long time. I know this has been discussed on this blog before, but wanted to add a little note :)

    Thanks again for a great article :)

  14. John on August 26th, 2011 5:20 pm

    Yep – good to hear you guys are helping change what our kids eat…

    Further inspiration here methinks!


    John (UK)

  15. Melissa on August 26th, 2011 8:45 pm

    I really like almost all of your recommendations and totally agree we need to really get our schools healthier. The only thing I would caution is the peanut butter or any peanut products. While healthy for some children, in the case of my daughter, exposure could actually kill her. I would touch base with the teacher before bringing in any peanut products. The vapor alone could cause a child to go into anaphylaxis and without an EPI pen on hand could be fatal.

  16. SafeMama Kathy on August 26th, 2011 8:58 pm

    @Melissa: Thanks for your comment – I made a note of that fact on the article. Thank you!

  17. Krista on August 28th, 2011 5:38 am

    I feel fortunate that the new school my son is going to actually requires a healthy lunch and snacks for the kids in a low-waste container (they spell out what a healthy lunch and snack is and do not allow cookies, desserts or chips). In kindergarten they actually ate different grains every day of the week prepared by the teacher (Millet, oatmeal, brown rice, etc. with fruit or herbs to flavor) and they made stone soup in cold weather or fruit salad in warm. I have a picky eater and it is so good for him to see other kids eating different and healthy foods. I know that he has been more willing to try things he sees his peers eating. Thanks for the support from all the other mommies and daddies out there!

  18. SafeMama Kathy on August 28th, 2011 8:21 am

    @Krista: Wow what school is that? I want to live there! That’s seriously awesome.

  19. Free Range Mama on August 29th, 2011 2:55 am

    Do fruitloops count as healthy? LOL. That’s one of the snacks offered at my daughter’s preschool. When my friend complained about the coloring in them she was told that kids won’t eat cheerios but they will eat fruit loops. Well, duh! My opinion on that is, if they don’t eat cheerios then they aren’t hungry…

    It’s a tough one! Thanks for the article.

  20. SafeMama Kathy on August 29th, 2011 6:40 am

    @Free Range Mama: The first ingredient in Fruit Loops is sugar (It’s 41% sugar by weight so one serving contains 3 teaspoons of sugar). It also contains partially hydrogenated oil (which is trans fat). They are nothing more than Sugar, flour, food coloring and artificial flavor. In my opinion it’s just candy. It is one of the LEAST healthy cereals on the market. If the kids “won’t eat cheerios” then giving them Fruit Loops is not a good choice lol. I realize that all cereal has some sugar in it but the volume (41% is A LOT of sugar) is just hideous… coupled with transfat, food coloring and artificial flavor. I’d rather they not eat a snack at all if that’s “all they’ll eat”. I never met a kid who won’t eat Cheerios. That’s ridiculous. If a kid won’t eat something, its not a reason to substitute it with garbage!

  21. Free Range Mama on August 29th, 2011 11:15 am

    I agree. The parents buy the snacks but are told what to buy. I was horrified when I discovered I was the one to buy the fruitloops. My friend was laughing at me because I never ever buy that kind of stuff, and in fact she and I write a natural parenting and living blog. She was the one who brought it up with the preschool teachers though. Most kids will eat fruitloops even if they aren’t hungry because they are junk food but they won’t eat cheerios if they aren’t hungry which is how our bodies are supposed to work.

  22. healthy mom on September 5th, 2011 8:41 pm

    My childrens school has banned cupcakes etc this year for birthdays. Kids can still celebrate and parents can bring in healthy fruits or veggies but no junk even for birthdays. Bravo. I’m thrilled

  23. Maya on September 9th, 2011 12:49 pm

    Hi, this article has been very helpful to me. Thank you so much for addressing this crucial issue, i do however have a question of my own, if I may ask. This afternoon my kindergartener came home with a note from her class teacher stating that parents will on a rotating basis provide the whole class with a snack on assigned dates. My biggest concern on this matter is that, I don’t know who all these other parents are, and am I actually comfortable in allowing my child to eat something given to her by who is infact a stranger, furthermore, I feel helpess that this food might not be what I approve of and feel like it is unfair for the teacher to just implenet a rule like this without first asking the parents. Please tell me…am i over reacting ? should I lighten up and just go along with it as would other parents ,…or object and request that I be allowed to send my own childs snack as i please and deem appropriate? I really need some advice please ! Thanks so much…

  24. Danielle on September 11th, 2011 5:29 pm

    I love all of the healthy suggestions in here (I’m going to steal a few more my self as well!) and also, some of the tips in the comments were great too! Thanks everyone for the great advice! I too wish that schools and parents were more educated on what constitutes a healthy meal or snack.
    ~ danielle ~ from ~