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This article has been reviewed by Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, Beth Cotter, MPH, RDN, and Johane Filemon, MS, RDN, CLT.
Snack bars are great, especially for kids and toddlers.
There is a reason why families turn to snack and protein bars for snack time – they are convenient, they don’t require storage in the refrigerator, and they fit perfectly in lunchboxes, sports bags and your purse! We get it, and we enjoy them too!
But with so many different kinds on the market, it’s hard to know which bars are the best for kids.
What Are the Best Snack Bars for Kids?
So which bars should you get for your kids? Granola bars? Fig bars? Protein bars? The truth is there is no “best” bar. There are different bars for different families.
Our team considers 3 nutrients when deciding how to fit a kids’ snack bar into the day. Consider: sugar, protein and fiber (find this information in the nutritional label).
How to Pick the Best Bar for Your Child
We look for bars with 5 g of added sugar or less per serving. Why? The American Heart Association recommends 25 g of added sugars per day or less for ages 2-18. It’s hard to think about how foods fit into this number. It’s also hard to know if foods, like bars, have a lot of sugar or a little sugar.
Here’s one small mental shortcut we like to use to make a quick decision. We divide 25g by 5 ( 3 meals and 2 snacks). We get 5g of sugar per meal or snack. If a food has less than 5g, we think of it as something that’s not so sweet. If a bar has more than 5 g of added sugar, then we think of it more as a cookie. We can keep that in mind as we plan the rest of the day. We don’t think there’s anything wrong with cookies. If a child just eats cookies all day though, they might not feel their best. So if you serve cookies at one snack, you could choose to serve less sweet things at other times. Of course, sugar can be eaten however it makes sense for your family, but this is one shortcut that has helped a lot of families make sense of things like bars.
Related: Get more tips on managing your child’s sugar intake.
For kids under 10, their protein needs will vary by weight. Generally, however, younger kids need about 14-20 g and older kids need roughly 20-35 g. What each child actually needs depends on their weight, but if we’re serving protein foods with meals and snacks we don’t really need to worry about it!
The reason we start here for snacks is that if we divide 20 g by five meals and snacks, we get 4 g of protein per meal and snack (3 g for toddlers and smaller kids). This gives us a shortcut to tell if something has a lot or a little protein in it. Each family can choose what works best for their child.
We’ve decided to call a bar a ‘protein food’ if it has 4 g of protein in it per serving or more. If you have a toddler, you may decide 3 g is a better number for you.
Related: End whining with these simple snack tips for kids.
Finally, fiber. If you have a child who doesn’t eat many fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, etc., a bar may be helpful. Kids 8 and under need 19 or 25 g of fiber per day, so that would be 4-5 g per meal or snack. It’s hard to find bars with a lot of fiber, which is why adding on a fruit and vegetable can help make it a balanced snack.
Related: Learn four easy, kid-friendly and filling dips for kids.
What Bars Should Parents Avoid?
We recommend avoiding “diet bars” or “meal replacement bars” for kids and toddlers. Kids benefit from full nutrition in the foods that they eat. But more so, giving diet bars to kids sends a message that they need to be on a diet – we don’t want this!
At the end of the day, what is best bar will be different for each family as every need is different. Some bars are just for energy, some are great protein foods, and some are just for fun!
What snack bar does your family enjoy?
Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN
Beth Cotter, MPH, RDN
Johane Filemon, MS, RDN, CLT