Behind the Headlines – Snacks for Children

Apr 14, 2019Blog

Behind the Headlines - Snacks for Children

There has been some press coverage this week about snacks marketed at children and the misleading claims they make, which make them sound healthier than they actually are. In particular, claims relating to fruit and veg content or sugar content seem to be the most confusing. So what is a healthy snack and what should you look out for?


The jury is still out on whether eating between meals is necessary at all, but often snacks can be important if children are very active and have a long time between meals. However, a maximum of two snacks a day is appropriate for most children.

Often issues with snacks relate to sugar content. As a reminder, it is the free (or added) sugar content we need to be mindful of. Free sugars are those added to food (like table sugar or honey), but also sugars found in fruit juice. Sugars naturally present in whole fruits should not be a cause for concern. Apart from anything else, free sugars contribute significantly to tooth decay, which is the leading cause of hospitalisation in young children in the UK. Additionally, they are unlikely to sustain children for any length of time meaning they’re more like to be hungry again quickly and be looking for additional snacks.

The guidelines on consumption of added sugars are as follows:

  • 4-6 years – maximum 5 cubes (or 20g) per day
  • 6-10 years – maximum 6 cubes (or 24g) per day
  • 11-18 years – maximum 7 cubes (or 28g) per day


What did the report find?

Many pre-packaged snacks aimed at children make misleading claims about their fruit and veg content. A serving is equivalent to 80g for an adult (there are no set guidelines for children), but many of these products were coming in with a much lower content than that.

Fruit juices were labelled as unsweetened, but still contain naturally occurring free sugars. Fruit juice technically counts as one of your five a day (although I personally don’t think it should as all the fibre has been removed), but a serving is just 150ml, far less than the commercially available pouches or cartons. A 200ml carton contains about 5 cubes of sugar – the entire days allowance for a 4-6 year old.

Fruit snacks may seem like a healthy option, but many of these are made with concentrated dried fruit juice and may be almost 50% sugar. Additionally, they are often sticky meaning that they adhere to teeth and are more likely to cause problems with decay.

Yogurts were also cited as an issue – often they have high levels of added sugars in addition to natural occurring milk sugars.

Although not mentioned in the report, it’s also important to be mindful of salt levels. Children should be having no more than 3g of salt (1.2g of sodium) per day if they’re 4-6 years old and 5g (2g of sodium) if they’re 7-10 and many pre-packaged snacks have really high levels.

So what should I look for?

Firstly, be sceptical of health claims on children’s snacks.   When looking at sugar content, anything with less than 5g of sugar per 100g is considered low sugar. Also look at the ingredients list – if added sugar appears in the first few ingredients then levels might be high – look for anything ending in -ose (e.g. glucose, maltose), but also honey, syrups, molasses – there are many names for sugar!

If a product claims to be one of your five a day, look at what the actual source of the fruit or vegetable is – does it contain dried fruit for example?  Also check the salt or sodium content and think about where else your child might be getting salt from and how it will impact on their daily limit.

What makes a good snack?

There are lots of foods which do make a good snack for children, here are just a few ideas:

Fruit and veg are king – not only do these count towards your child’s five a day, but they are also easy and portable. If your child gets hungry, try adding some protein and/or fat to the snack, for example an apple with some peanut butter (you can spread it on slices to make it easy), adding some hummus to veg sticks or having a small piece of cheese with some cherry tomatoes.

Yogurt is a great snack as it can be high in protein (making it filling) and good for gut health (if you pick live yogurt). Opt for plain live Greek yogurt, top with some berries (frozen ones are good value and convenient) or a chopped banana. You can add a touch of honey if really necessary

Popcorn – this is super easy to make at home and is a good source of fibre. We make it in a heavy based pan without any oil and add our own toppings, which again make it easier to control the sugar and salt content (and if you can sneak it into the cinema in your own tubs, you save a fortune!).