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7 Healthy Snacks A Dietitian Keeps in Her Pantry That Are Packaged Snacks with High Nutritional Value

By Qianzhi Jiang, PhD, RDN, LDN

As a mother of two, I am always on the lookout for healthy snacks I can feed my kids between meals. A healthy snack should fuel the kids with the right amount of energy that keeps them active until the next meal (but not too much so they are not hungry for lunch or dinner) and nutrients needed for their brains and bodies such as protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Of course we love snacking on fruits and vegetables, however, sometimes it is challenging for us to access those foods when we are on the go or do not have time to wash and cut the produce. Packaged snacks come in handy. They can be great components of healthy, fun snacks for the whole family with high nutritional value, IF, you know what to choose.

With a gazillion options available in the market, I focus on saturated fat, sodium, added sugar, protein, fiber, as well as the ingredient list. An ideal candidate for a healthy snack should contain minimal amounts of saturated fat and sugar while providing some unsaturated fat, sodium lower than 140 milligrams(mg)/serving, with a short list of simple ingredients.

Fortunately, many manufacturers nowadays focus on wholesomeness of packaged foods as more and more consumers are demanding them. Here is a list of packaged foods I keep in my pantry as part of a healthy snack.

  1. Vegetable crisps

Dehydrated vegetable chips or sticks, and baked vegetable snack crisps are easy-to-carry alternatives to vegetables. You want to make sure that whole vegetables are the first ingredient on the list instead of starches. Avoid the products that contain sodium at levels higher than 200 mg/serving. Fiber is another key ingredient when evaluating the quality of the vegetable crisps. Make sure you pick something that has at least 2 grams (g) of fiber per serving. 


  1. Baked cheese crisps

Baked cheese crisps are one of our favorites as they do not require refrigeration. They are easy to pack when we are on the go and can be paired with some low-sodium crackers or breakfast cereals. One serving of cheese crisps can easily provide 13 grams of protein and 30% of daily requirement of calcium. Be careful that they can be high in sodium, so I usually only give my kids ½ serving and always pair them with something else that is low in sodium. When comparing cheese crisps, choose the ones that only have cheese as the single ingredient. 

  1. Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are great sources of protein, healthy fats, and many vitamins and minerals. For example, 1 ounce of pumpkin seeds can provide 8.5 g protein, 1.8 g fiber, 2.3 mg iron, 2.2 mg zinc, 223 mg potassium, 10 g unsaturated fat. Look for the unsalted, unsweetened types, they contain minimal amounts of sodium. Be careful not to give whole nuts to kids younger than four as they can be choking hazards. Choose chopped or sliced nuts instead. Since there is a large variety of nuts and seeds, you will always find something that you enjoy eating or can be mixed with your other snacks. Next time you are in the nuts and seeds aisle, try something new! 

  1. Dried fruits

There are many different formats of dried fruit snacks, dehydrated fruits, freeze-dried fruits, snack bars made with fruits, etc. Our favorite is the dehydrated fruits, which are more affordable than the freeze-dried ones and can contain fewer ingredients than many fruit snack bars. Always buy dried fruits with no or minimal added sugars.They can be great sources of fiber and phytochemicals with antioxidant properties. 

  1. Crackers

Although many people may think crackers are “unhealthy” because they are carbohydrates and can cause you to gain weight, crackers are actually great sources of fiber and micronutrients. Not all crackers are created equal. Look for the ones that are made with whole grains, minimal amounts of sodium and added sugar. Some crackers are also added with bean flour or vegetables, or loaded with nuts and seeds, providing extra health benefits

  1. Roasted chickpeas

Chickpeas are a great source of protein, better than many members of the pulse family. They are also high in fiber and many compounds with active health properties that help manage blood sugar and lipid levels, and prevent diseases including cancer. Roasted chickpeas are often overlooked by the public when it comes to snack choices. Unlike hummus, roasted chickpeas do not need to be refrigerated and can give you the satisfying feeling when biting into something crunchy that many people crave. 

  1. Popcorn

Good news to the popcorn lovers out there! Probably one of the most popular all-American snacks, popcorn is a healthy whole grain snack option. Its high fiber content can keep you full for longer, and prevent many health conditions such as high cholesterol levels. In fact, corn bran is one of the highest sources of antioxidants in existence. Make sure you eat the whole kernels as 98% of the polyphenols ( a family of antioxidants) found in corn, which remain considerably undestroyed after popping, for the disease-fighting benefits. One caveat is that you should avoid the popcorn loaded with butter and salt, or coated with caramel. Note that popcorn is also a choking hazard and should be kept away from kids under four.

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