Spending too much money on packaged snacks every week? Here’s a round-up of cheap healthy snacks for kids.
Does it feel like you spend half your weekly food budget on snacks?
And if your house is like mine, all the packaged snacks–the expensive stuff you were hoping to slowly dole out–are gone within hours, leaving your kids to exclaim, “We have no food!”
Truth is, kid-friendly snacks don’t have to come in bright packages with loads of marketing behind them. And they don’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of cheap snacks that kids will happily devour at snack time–and you probably have a lot of them in your kitchen already.
My biggest advice about snacks and kids
One of my main pieces of advice around snacks and picky eaters is to center most snacks around “meal foods”. Those are the kinds of healthy foods that kids see at meals: Mostly whole foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and protein-rich foods like beans and nuts.
Don’t get me wrong: Packaged snack foods like chips and snack cakes are fine sometimes. We like them too! But when most snacks look like “meal foods”, kids are more likely to accept those same foods at the dinner table too.
What makes these snacks affordable
The snacks on this list feature some of the most affordable nutrient-dense “meal foods” you can find at the grocery store including potatoes, peanut butter, tuna, cereal, eggs, canned beans, and bananas.
“Nutrient-dense” means the food packs a lot of nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, relative to the amount of calories it contains.
How to use this list
Print out this list and post it on your fridge or have your kids circle the snacks that sound good to them, then put the items on your grocery list. Tap here for a list you can easily print.
Even better, older kids especially can make these easy snacks themselves, so they’re ideal for after school snacks (or evening snacks when you’ve cleaned up from dinner and declare yourself officially off-duty in the kitchen!). Many of these healthy snack ideas are also rich in nutrients that may be lacking in a typical child’s diet, such as fiber, potassium, and iron.
20 Cheap Healthy Snacks For Kids
Baked Potato: This is a perfect snack if your kid needs more filling between-meal fare. Older kids can easily microwave a potato (scrub the potato, pokes several holes in it with a fork, place on a paper towel and cook for about 8 minutes on HIGH). Or bake a few on Sunday to reheat during the week. Slice and top with shredded cheese, canned beans, salsa, steamed broccoli, butter, or sour cream. (And don’t worry if they don’t eat the skin–more than half of the potato’s fiber is actually in the flesh.)
Apples + Peanut Butter: Apples are one of the most inexpensive fresh fruit, especially if you’re flexible on variety and shop sales. They’re also high in fiber, so they’re filling. Slice and serve with a dish of peanut butter for dipping. Add a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips for fun.
Yogurt + Frozen Fruit: Opt for a large tub over small cups or tubes to save money and stir in defrosted frozen fruit. Or make Fro-Yo Bark: Spread vanilla yogurt on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Press sliced fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips into the yogurt. Freeze until firm and then break up into pieces to eat. Store leftovers in a container in the freezer.
Bowl of Whole-Grain Cereal: Need a cheap, ultra-fast afternoon snack? A bowl of cereal with milk costs, on average, 50 cents per serving, and it supplies nutrients kids need like iron and B vitamins. Look for cereals made with whole grains, since most kids don’t get enough. See what else I look for when reading nutrition labels on cereal.
Hard-Boiled Eggs: Even if you buy organic, they’re an affordable source of high-quality protein. One large egg has six grams of protein and lots of vitamins and minerals. (And remember, there are no significant nutritional differences between brown and white eggs.) Here’s how to make hard-boiled eggs in your Instant Pot.
Oatmeal or Oat-Based Snacks: Beyond breakfast, a bowl of oatmeal can be a nutritious snack too. Or use oats as the base for your own homemade energy bites and bar. Some healthy options: Here’s a recipe for Homemade Chocolate Granola Bars that are healthier versions of the boxed kind and a recipe for (banana-free!) Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars. All varieties of oats (including instant) are 100 percent whole grain and high in fiber.
Tuna Melts on Crackers or Rice Cakes: Canned tuna is a high-quality protein source. And according to the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans, kids should be eating fish regularly for nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Top crackers or a rice cake with tuna, sprinkle with cheese, and heat in the microwave or under broiler until melty.
Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips + Guacamole: Make your own chips from corn tortillas, a little bit of olive oil, and seasonings. It’s also a healthier alternative to store-bought chips. Here’s how to make your own crispy corn tortilla chips and here’s my recipe for No-Fuss Guacamole that finally got my kids eating avocados.
Roasted Chickpeas: This is a good choice for kids who love crunchy snacks–but this one has protein, iron, and fiber too. Drain and rinse a can of chickpeas and toss with olive oil and favorite seasonings (such as 1/2 teaspoon each chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt for a taco-spiced version). Roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes or until crispy, stirring halfway through baking.
Fruit Smoothie with Banana, Canned Pineapple + Spinach: Yes, you can use canned fruit in a smoothie! It’s economical and because it’s canned, it’s easy to always have on hand. Use the 100% fruit juice it’s packed in to sweeten the smoothie. Here’s my recipe for a Starter Green Smoothie For Kids.
Shredded Carrot Salad: Buying a large bag of whole carrots is often cheaper than baby carrots. They’re also better for making carrot salad–which is simply shredded carrots tossed with your kid’s favorite dressing. You can also dot it with dried cranberries or raisins for extra sweetness (or sunflower seeds for crunch). Carrots are a rich source of vitamin A, a nutrient important for the immune system.
Peanuts + Raisins: Have you ever heard of GORP (good ol’ raisins and peanuts)? Peanuts are the most affordable nut around and make a great snack. Add chocolate chips, other dried fruit like cranberries or chopped apricots, and whole-grain cereal pieces to make an easy, nutrient-dense trail mix. (Note: Peanuts are a choking hazard for kids under the age of 4.)
Healthy Vanilla Shake: This is a delicious snack rich in potassium and calcium that’s simple to blend up and contains no ice cream (and much less added sugar than a traditional milkshake). Blend 1 cup milk + 1/2 frozen banana + 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey + a drop or two of pure vanilla extract. Don’t do dairy products? Make it with unsweetened almond milk instead.
Cottage Cheese + Fruit: A large tub is cheaper than individual cups. Add fresh, frozen, or canned fruit on top of this high-protein, calcium-rich snack. Or try a savory cottage cheese snack with black pepper or a sprinkle of taco seasoning.
Toast with Seed Butter + Strawberries: Fancy toast is trendy! Just toast a slice of whole grain bread, spread with nut or seed butter, and top with sliced strawberries or bananas. For a sweeter version, dot a slice of peanut butter toast with a spoonful of mini chocolate chips.
Frozen grapes: They’re a perfect one-ingredient frozen treat: Rinse, de-stem, place them in a freezer-safe bag, and lay them flat in your freezer. They taste like little bites of sorbet! Throwing a few into a smoothie is also a great way to add a burst of sweetness. (Note: Whole grapes are a choking hazard for children under the age of 4. Cut grapes into halves or quarters for young kids before freezing, then defrost them a bit so they soften before serving.)
Popcorn: This is one of my kids’ favorite snacks, and a bag of popcorn kernels is affordable (and makes a ton!). Popcorn is also a natural whole grain food, and it’s rich in fiber. In one study, kids and grown-ups who regularly ate popcorn consumed 250 percent more whole grains and about a quarter more fiber than those who didn’t snack on it. Here’s my fool-proof recipe for stovetop popcorn. Sprinkle on salt and parmesan cheese. (Note: Popcorn is a choking hazard for kids under the age of 4.)
Celery + Peanut Butter: Bunches of celery are budget-friendly and full of hydrating fluid. Make the classic fun snack “ants-on-a-log” by washing a stalk well (dirt often hides in the bottom crevices). Fill with a thin layer of nut or seed butter or cream cheese and dot with raisins or dried cranberries. Here’s an easy how-to. (Note: Globs of peanut butter are a choking hazard for kids under 4.)
Quesadilla with Refried Beans + Cheese: Spread a whole grain tortilla with refried beans, sprinkle with cheese, and cook under the broiler or in a toaster oven until melty. Fold and cut into wedges. Serve with salsa for dipping. It’s fast, easy, satisfying, and packed with protein,
Homemade Hummus with Veggies: A can of chickpeas, some olive oil (a healthy fat), and seasonings are all you need to make your own batch of fresh hummus. Serve with raw veggies or wedges of pita bread for dunking. Get my simple hummus recipe.