Why is feeding our kids so hard?! Like, it’s endless. And we have to do it every day. Multiple times a day. 😅 For most families, that looks like 3 meals and 2 snacks each day. But sometimes you need 3 snacks a day depending on your schedule. And if you do the math, that adds up to a LOT of snacks that you need to plan, prepare, serve, and clean up.
From a mom perspective, I want those snacks to appease the tiny humans and make prep and clean up easy on you. But from an RD perspective, I want to help you make sure they’re getting somewhat balanced food at snacktime, too. At least some of the time! So let’s take a look at 3 of the most popular kids’ snacks—pretzels, Cheerios, and Goldfish crackers—and answer the golden question: are they healthy?
The Anatomy of a “Healthy” Snack
First, I want to be clear that no food is good or bad. Truly, all foods can fit into a healthy diet. No one food is going to make or break your child’s diet, either. (If you’re getting that message from somewhere, I want you to be really critical of where it’s coming from!)
In the long run, what they eat most of the time matters more than what they eat sometimes. And the most important thing is a diet that’s filled with a variety of foods—meaning different colors, textures, nutrients, and all that good stuff!
But all of that said, it’s definitely true that some foods are more nutrient-dense, satiating, and well-rounded than others. And it’s okay to want to prioritize those foods in your kid’s diet. So let’s talk about what makes a “healthy” or well-rounded snack.
Note: I want you to use this formula as a guide when you can and not stress or feel like a not-good-enough parent when it doesn’t come together perfectly. Okay? Okay!
Carbs + Protein + Fat
A well-rounded snack will include all 3 macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat.
Foods have nutritional pros and cons—things they provide and things they lack. A lot of the traditional snack foods, including pretzels, Cheerios, and Goldfish, have carbs—the body’s preferred quick energy source—and give our kids some of the calories they need in a day. So, those are two big pros! But, these types of foods are usually low in other nutrients like fat and protein. Also, they are typically low in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Without all three macronutrients, these snacks can quickly become what I call “crunchy air.” They provide an energy boost and they are satisfying taste-wise, but they won’t keep your toddler full for long. That doesn’t mean they can’t be part of a balanced snack—just that they aren’t perfectly balanced on their own. So it’s a good idea to pair them with something else to round them out and increase the staying power!
Are Pretzels a Healthy Snack?
- Pretzels provide carbs, which kids need a lot of!
- I like to look for either some protein or fiber in snacks and pretzels usually have a little bit of protein (Snyder’s Mini Pretzels have 3g per serving).
- The type of carbohydrates in pretzels can lead to a blood sugar spike and subsequent crash.
- Pretzels don’t provide the most long-lasting type of energy.
- They don’t have much fiber.
- They’re often high in sodium.
- Depending on the brand, they may have some added sugar.
- Overall, they lack nutrient density.
How To Balance Them Out
- Serve pretzels with a “dip” of Greek yogurt and peanut butter (or a non-peanut alternative), or hummus.
- Pair them with full-fat string cheese or a cheese wheel.
Are Cheerios a Healthy Snack?
- Cheerios are made with whole grains, which can have positive effects on lots of long-term health markers, like cholesterol!
- FYI – the main ingredient is oats. If you ground up oats into flour at home, that’s the base of Cheerios. I like to explain because sometimes processed things seem scary. In this case, it’s primarily oatmeal- just ground up!
- They’re gluten-free, which is great if your child has an allergy.
- Cheerios have 4 grams of fiber per serving, and fiber promotes gut health and bowel regularity.
- 1 serving provides kids with 12.6 mg of iron, which is great because kids ages 4-8 need at least 10 mg each day. (A serving is 1.5 cups, though, which is pretty big! If your child doesn’t eat that much, they’ll get a bit less iron.)
- Cheerios lack protein and fat.
How To Balance Them Out
- Add a handful of Cheerios on top of full-fat yogurt.
- Or, to state the obvious, serve them in some whole milk!
- Combine Cheerios in a snack mix with nuts and fruit. (Note: This one is for kids 4 and up! Whole nuts and seeds are choking hazards for little ones.)
(Still have questions about pretzels and Cheerios? Listen to Episode #65 of the Mama Knows Nutrition Podcast: Pretzels and Cheerios: Are they healthy or not?)
Are Goldfish Crackers Healthy?
- Depending on which variety you choose, they may be made with whole grains.
- Goldfish crackers offer about 3 grams of protein per serving.
- They provide a little fiber (1 gram) per serving.
- Goldfish are pretty high in sodium.
- They don’t have a whole lot going on nutritionally. But, that doesn’t make them “bad,” just not super nutrient-dense.
- Personal opinion – my kids go through a package at lightning speed, meaning I have to go buy more snacks!
How To Balance Them Out
- Serve Goldfish with fresh fruit, like an apple, and some nut butter.
- Offer Hippeas instead of Goldfish for a bit more protein and fiber.
(Still have questions about Goldfish? Listen to Episode #40 of the Mama Knows Nutrition Podcast: Are Goldfish Crackers Actually Healthy? Ask A Dietitian!)
10 Healthy, Kid-Friendly Snacks I Love
There’s absolutely no reason to throw out your pretzels, Cheerios and Goldfish. And there’s no reason to stress about making every snack the perfect snack, either! But if reading this post made you feel like you want to add a few new snack options to the mix, or you just want some fresh school snack ideas for your little ones, I get that!
Here are 10 of my favorite go-to healthy, balanced snacks for kids:
- Turkey & Cheese Roll-Up: Roll half a wrap or a single tortilla with one piece of turkey and cheese for a snack-sized portion.
- Tuna & Crackers: Tuna is often canned or in a convenient pouch, so it’s easy to prepare. Serve it on crackers mixed with mayo or avocado for a balanced, protein-rich snack.
- Smoothie: Combine any fruit with nut butter, spinach, and cow’s milk or yogurt.
- Plain Greek Yogurt with Berries: ½ cup is a good portion size to start with.
- Hard-Boiled Eggs: Any preparation of eggs is great actually, but hard-boiled are easiest to batch-prep ahead of time and eat on the go.
- Hummus & Veggies: Look for a hummus that doesn’t contain tahini if you need allergen friendly. Many brands exclude it but you can also make your own at home! You could also try a black bean dip.
- Banana with Sunflower Butter: Sunflower butter is a common swap for kids with nut allergies and it still has a favorable protein content.
- Larabars: They’re made from dates and nuts so they have some protein from the nuts. Plus they have lots of kid-friendly flavors like chocolate chip!
- Chips & Black Bean Dip: Beans are a great protein source and have a good dose of fiber in them, too.
- Chia Seed Pudding. This easy-to-make pudding combines dry chia seeds with the alternative milk of your choice. Mix in any flavor boosters you like too, like vanilla, mashed fruit, or maple syrup.
Related: Healthy & Balanced Protein Snacks for Kids
So…Are Pretzels, Cheerios & Goldfish Good or Bad For You?
Pretzels, Cheerios, and Goldfish aren’t the most complex or complete snacks, meaning they lack macronutrients (mainly protein and fat) and micronutrients. (Cheerios are the exception since they are fortified with some vitamins and minerals). That means they won’t be as filling or provide everything your toddler needs in one sitting.
My favorite way to serve these snacks is alongside something extra to round them out. Because when they eat all the macronutrients together, your toddler will stay fuller for longer and have more consistent energy. That means no spike and crash, which is often what happens when they eat just carbohydrates.
But remember, no food is just good or bad. And all foods can fit into a healthy diet! Do these snacks have the utmost nutritional value? Not necessarily. But are they okay for your child to have? Absolutely. They still provide things that their bodies need like calories, carbs, certain vitamins, and minerals. And paired with other foods to balance them out, they can be part of a snack that makes both you and your child super happy.
Free Guide: Healthy Packaged Snacks for Kids
Snacks are hard. You need so many of them! Every single day! And all that planning, washing, cutting, cooking…some weeks it feels like WAY too much.
This guide makes grab-and-go toddler snacks easy—and a little more nutritious, too. In it, I share photos of my favorite brands and labels so that you don’t have to measure, count, or think about anything extra. It’s easily viewed from your phone too, so you can quickly pull it up in Target and decide what to get!