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A dietitian’s guide to summer snacks

Sorting out the healthy and unhealthy options for your child

The summer’s here and it’s time for vacation!

But whether it’s a long cross country trip in the car, boarding a plane or a day at the pool, soon you will hear tummies rumbling. Snack time! Snacks are meant to fill empty tummies just a little bit so they can make it to their next meal. But, what is a “healthy” snack?

Snacks should be less than 200 calories unless otherwise stated by your doctor or dietitian. They’re small, so make them count! When you pull over at the convenience store, look for nutrition-packed foods that have protein, fiber, and vitamins. This helps keep everyone happy on the road until dinner time, and gives your child nutrients they need to grow.

With all of the snack options out there, it can get confusing! So here is a short list of unhealthy and healthy snacks.

Unhealthy snacks:

1.Snack Cakes or Cookies

Despite their name, “snack” cakes and cookies are desserts, not snacks. These provide “empty” calories from sugar, meaning they provide energy but very little nutrition.

2.Candy or Candy Bars

Don’t be fooled by commercials! Eating a candy bar doesn’t help fill your child’s tummy. The high sugar from these items can make some kids feel sick if they’re eaten on an empty stomach.

3.Ramen Noodles

This includes Cup ‘o Noodles as well. One package of ramen noodles contains two servings, enough calories for a meal, and a day’s worth of salt. Yikes!


Takis, Doritos, and Hot Fries! Oh, my! These little fried chips give a lot of salt and unhealthy fat, but very little nutrition. This means your child is left hungry and going to the pantry for another snack a little while later.

5.Fast Food Meals or Gas Station Fare

Snacks are supposed to be small. Fast food sandwiches, hot dogs, and similar choices are “meal-sized”. These extra calories can lead to unhealthy weight gain in many children. If drive-thru options are all that are available, choose a yogurt parfait, apple slices, or other healthy options instead of a full meal.

*We recommend washing down your snack with water or 1 percent or fat-free milk. Sodas, juices, and other sugary drinks are too high in sugar and don’t give very many nutrients.

Healthy snacks:

Pump up snack time with lots of nutrition! Protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber all add up to a happy tummy and healthier child.

1.1 small apple with 1 Tablespoon peanut butter

2.Celery or carrot sticks with 2 Tablespoons of hummus or low-fat salad dressing

3.15-20 small pretzels with 1 low-fat cheese stick

4.3 cups of air-popped or 94% fat free popcorn

5.1 slice of whole-wheat bread with 1 piece of low-fat turkey lunch meat and mustard

There are many other healthy options out there as well. Want more information about healthy snacks? Ask your child’s provider or dietitian!

Happy traveling and healthy snacking!

About the author

Lauren Williams is a clinical dietitian at Cook Children's. Through medical nutrition therapy, a Cook Children's pediatric dietitian can help prevent and manage diseases that affect your child's health, fitness and overall well-being.Cook Children's has registered dietitians and dietetic technicians on staff to help with your child's nutritional needs from birth all the way through the teen years. Click here to request an appointment.

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