Need some cheap, healthy snack ideas? We used this Snack Rule to help make all of our snacks more budget-friendly using real food.

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“Mom, I’m hungry.”

How many times a day do you hear this?

From the day I taught my 8-month-old son how to say “please” and “food” in sign language, I’ve heard this question roughly 2,863,952 times. So when my kids were still fairly young, we made the Snack Rule.

We established this rule during a season when we had a couple major things going on:

  • 3 kids under age 6
  • I was a full-time caregiver to my husband after a car crash (13 surgeries and re-learning how to walk several times)
  • Our kids were gluten-free and dairy-free

During this season, my margin for snack prep was minimal – almost non-existent. My husband needed constant care, but we had 3 kids who were always hungry – or at least thought they were. More on than in a minute.

Our kids had gluten and dairy sensitivities. If you’ve ever shopped for GF DF snack food, you know the struggle: they are extremely expensive. We were on a budget, and while we loosened it during this stressful period, I didn’t want my kids digging into bags of gluten-free bunny cookies every time they were hungry.

Do you know how many times a day kids are hungry for bunny cookies?

All of them.

All of the times.

fruit for a snack

Our Snack Rule has 3 Goals:

  1. To help my kids decide if they are actually hungry (or just bored).
  2. To fill them with good food.
  3. And to help them be independent in the kitchen.

Our Snack Rule is this: in between meals, if you are hungry, you may have fruit, veggies, nuts, or raisins.

In between meals, if you are hungry, you may have fruit, veggies, nuts, or raisins.

The end.

There are several interpretations of this Snack Rule that are fun, cheap, and made with real food. I’ll share them below. But for the most part, my kids know they are on their own.

Is Mealtime a Nightmare?

Sometimes our biggest struggle with saving money and eating healthy has nothing to do with us.

Parts of this post is an excerpt from my eBook, The Picky Eater Playlist: 25 Tips & 55 Recipes to Bring Harmony to Your Table.

What are Cheap Healthy Snacks?

Even as a mature-ish adult, I am hungry for a cookie anytime. But I’m not always hungry for a carrot. The Snack Rule helps them take a minute, listen to their body, and recognize whether they are actually hungry or if they are just in the mood to eat because they know we have cookies in the pantry.

Sweets & Junk Food

With sweets and junk food, we try to walk a healthy balance. My first goal is not for my kids to eat healthy. My first goal is to empower my kids to have a healthy relationship with food. This means giving them the wiggle room, as they get older and grow more independent, to eat unhealthy if they want to without shame.

At our house, we can eat one dessert/sweet a day, and they can eat it any time of the day they want. I don’t want to treat sweets like a reward for eating vegetables or eating all of their dinner. Sweets are just a food, but they are not a food we eat all the time. So they choose when they want to eat it.

My first goal is not for my kids to eat healthy.

My first goal is to empower my kids to have a healthy relationship with food.

This means that after Halloween and Christmas and Valentine’s Day, sometimes (and by that I mean all the time) they eat candy before breakfast. Then they eat a good breakfast and move on with their day.

Cheap Healthy Snack Ideas

Here are some cheap healthy snack ideas we use in our house:

  1. Apples and peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter)
  2. Bananas and peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter)
  3. Celery and peanut butter (or other nut or seed butter) and raisins
  4. Smoothie
  5. Green smoothie
  6. Smoothie popsicle (just pour it into a popsicle mold! We like this one)
  7. Frozen fruit in a bowl
  8. Homemade freezer pops made from juice or smoothies
  9. Veggie sticks and ranch dip
  10. Veggie sticks and hummus
  11. Apples and fruit dip (here’s a dairy-free version!)
  12. Bananas (or other seasonal fruit)
  13. Carrots (or other seasonal vegetables)
  14. Cashews
  15. Peanuts
  16. Shelled Pistachios (bonus: the shells keep kids busy!)
  17. Budget-Friendly Trail Mix
  18. Salad (sounds strange, but my 10-year-old would rather have this than carrot sticks)
  19. Muffin tin snacks (a concept I learned from my friend, Stacy, for meals – but it works for snacks too!)
veggie sticks and dip

Picky Eaters

If you have picky eaters (who doesn’t?!), they might not love this rule. We use lots of different methods to deal with picky eaters – all with the goal of empowering our kids to eat well and develop a healthy relationship with food.

I’ll share picky eater tips in another post, but one of the best things we did for our kids was to enroll them in Kids Cook Real Food. It’s an online cooking class that teaches kids good eating habits and real food skills they will use for the rest of their lives.

Snacks for Kids

You can interpret these snacks however you like. Want to make animals shapes out of fruit and peanut butter? Go for it. Prefer your chopped fruit on a skewer? You’re an adult, and you can do what you like – for you or your kids. Following our Snack Rule – fruit, veggies, nuts, and raisins – helps us save money, eat healthy, and stay sane!

If you want more simple, creative ideas and recipes for picky eaters, be the first to know when this book is released, by signing up here!

More Real Food Snacks

Don’t like our Snack Rule or need something different? Hear are some other real food snack ideas:

  1. No-Bake Energy Bars
  2. Cheap & Simple Guacamole with Chips
  3. Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Hummus
  4. Whole Grain 1-Bowl Banana Bread
  5. 2-Ingredient Creamy Salsa with Chips
  6. Egg Muffins
  7. Whole Grain 1-Bowl Pumpkin Bread
  8. Chocolate Hummus
  9. Chocolate Chip Mookies (no-fuss muffins)

What You Can Do Now:

What are your favorite cheap, healthy snacks?

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