Kids, Snacks, Toddlers

Kid-Friendly Junk Food Alternatives

Whether it’s a quick breakfast, a midday pick-me-up or an after dinner treat, unhealthy foods always seem to creep into kids’ diets. With a little planning in advance, you can satisfy your kids’ cravings without loading them up on sugar, salt and fat. And remember, you don’t have to sacrifice nutrition for convenience—plenty of quick, on-the-go bites can be good for your kids, too.

We’ve put together our favorite kid-friendly, healthy alternatives to junk food to help you decide which options are best for you and your family.


For some kids, the first meal of the day is the one they want super-charged with sugar. Try these healthy options, accompanied by their favorite fruit for a naturally sweet kick, to fuel them up for the hours ahead.

Craving: artificially flavored yogurt. Swap: whole-milk kefir.

Many “yogurt on-the-go” brands are high in refined sugar and artificial dyes. Stick with creamy kefir made with whole milk, organic ingredients and no added sugar.

Craving: classic waffles. Swap: a whole-grain version.

Conventional pancakes and waffles—made with refined sugar, white flour and artificial ingredients—won’t sustain kids through the morning. Opt for a pre-made whole-grain version instead, and look for fun variations to keep their taste buds interested.

Craving: juice. Swap: flavored water.

Breakfast is commonly accompanied by juice, which is often high in sugar. Try flavored water instead—there’s even a kind that’s just for kids.

Craving: sugary cereal. Swap: healthy cereal.

Steer clear of conventional cereals high in sugar and artificial flavorings and dyes. Opt for healthier versions that are lightly sweetened and made with whole grains.


Snacking between meals isn’t a bad thing—it helps kids maintain energy and focus throughout their busy, active day. The pitfall is when convenience takes precedence over nutrition. Stock your shelves with these healthy alternatives to solve between-meal hunger.

Craving: cheese-flavored snacks. Swap: white cheddar popcorn.

Instead of snacks that are dyed orange and artificially flavored to taste like cheese, try white cheddar popcorn that has a hint of flavor from real cheddar, plus a satisfying crunch. If your kids have allergies, try a version that’s gluten and dairy free.

Craving: granola bars. Swap: grain bars.

With flavors like chocolate chip and s’mores, many brands of conventional granola bars are loaded with sugar. Try granola bars made with whole grains, or make your own with an easy, no-bake recipe that’s high in protein and fiber.

Craving: potato or tortilla chips. Swap: lentil, black bean or homemade chips.

It’s time to leave the potato and tortilla chips at the grocery store. Give kids the crunch they want, but with a much healthier alternative, like chips made with lentils or black beans. You can even make your own tortilla chips in a snap. Spray 100% whole corn tortillas with cooking spray, then bake until crispy and enjoy!

Craving: pretzels. Swap: a healthier version.

Most brands of pretzels don’t offer much in the way of nutrition. A healthier spin on this classic snack contains organic wheat flour and five grams of protein per serving, plus four grams of fiber.

Desserts and Sweets

When the desire for something sweet kicks in, don’t give in to foods laden with sugar and artificial sweeteners. Instead, look for naturally sweet treats that zap the craving without going overboard.

Craving: gummy fruit snacks. Swap: freeze-dried fruit.

The sweetness and chewy consistency of fruit snacks are a draw for many kids, but the stick-to-their-teeth sugar factor isn’t ideal. Go for freeze-dried fruit made with real fruit and no artificial colors or flavors.

Craving: applesauce. Swap: squeezable pouches.

Applesauce sold in traditional plastic cups is often high in sugar, and sometimes artificial flavors and color. Try a squeezable version made with 100% fruits and vegetables in a variety of combinations.

Craving: graham crackers. Swap: a whole-wheat version.

Too much sugar plus trans fats make conventional graham crackers a less-than-ideal choice for snacking. Serve up a whole wheat version sweetened with molasses rather than refined sugar.

Craving: ice cream or popsicles. Swap: frozen Greek yogurt bars.

Frozen Greek yogurt bars satisfy the hankering for a sweet, cold treat—but without the excess sugar of ice cream and popsicles.

All it takes is a few easy modifications to traditional breakfasts, snacks and sweets to make a huge difference in their nutritional value. Load up on a couple of these healthy alternatives for your kids, and you’ll be more than prepared the next time they ask for a quick bite!

Lara Field at Nurture Life

Lara Field

Lara has been working with Nurture Life since its inception, collaborating with the culinary team on the creation of all menus and recipes to ensure they are nutritionally appropriate and correctly proportioned for every age and stage of a child’s development and providing pediatric nutrition expertise to Nurture Life customers. Lara is the owner/founder of FEED—Forming Early Eating Decisions, a nutrition consulting practice specializing in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases. Lara has over a decade of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Lurie Children’s Hospital and University of Chicago Medical Center. Lara received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and M.S. and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Lara truly enjoys the process of eating (and feeding!), from procuring the ingredients at various grocery stores and farmers markets, to organizing her pantry/refrigerator at home to make it easy to select healthy options, to preparing balanced meals with her children. Whether it be a decadent treat to a hearty, home-cooked meal, there is no greater satisfaction for Lara than enjoying food with her family.