Food: The best healthy snacks teens really want to eat

Getting teens to eat healthy can be tough, but reaching for ultra-processed alternatives can be a slippery slope.

New research suggests that sweets, pastries and desserts may be “gateway” foods for teens, leading them to eat higher amounts of other unhealthy foods.

The study – presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions in San Diego – was led by Maria Balhara, a 16-year-old student at Broward College in Davie, Florida, who says, “Ultra-processed foods are designed to be hyper. ” -tasty, or designed to be as addictive as possible. They are also cheap and convenient, making them hard to resist. Most people eat too many of these foods without realizing it.”

Balhara collected data on how often 315 teens consumed 12 types of ultra-processed foods (including chips, chocolate and white bread) over an eight-week period, along with their estimated consumption of the same foods in 2019 (pre-pandemic). She found that candy, pre-packaged pastries and frozen desserts acted as a possible “gateway” to boost consumption of other ultra-processed foods. The logic also works the other way around – for example, reduced consumption of white bread was accompanied by a 9% decrease in consumption of all other ultra-processed foods.

“The good news is that even small changes like reducing how often you eat a few gateway foods can reduce overall consumption of unhealthy foods and have a big impact on your overall health,” says Balhara.

Kate Shilland, sports and public health nutritionist at Performance Canteen (, says: “People tend to think snacking is bad. It’s not, it’s good. Teenagers need to eat regularly to keep blood sugar levels stable and to keep concentration and mood up. They not only study, play sports (or PlayStation) but also grow – that regularly requires energy.”

Helena Gibson-Moore, a food scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation (, agrees, saying: “When teens are hungry between meals, healthy snacks can be part of a healthy, balanced diet and a beneficial be a tool.” way for teens to get essential nutrients such as protein, fiber, and the vitamins and minerals they need for good health.”

For both, what matters is what you eat. Says Shilland, “Protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates are the best to include, as they have been shown to keep you full and satiated for longer.” However, that doesn’t mean you should ban teens from eating a treat now and then, adds Shilland: “It’s also important not to make teens feel guilty if it’s more of a cookie day. We all have them and show disapproval or making them feel guilty about what they eat generally leads to less positive behaviors around food.”

Snacking on fruits and veggies is always a good idea, but if that doesn’t quite set your teen’s world on fire, here are some other options to try…

Nuts and seeds

Gibson-Moore recommends having a small handful of unsalted mixed nuts or seeds because they “provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats.”

Buying nuts at the supermarket can really add up, so why not buy several varieties in bulk online to save some money? You can even make your own mixes of nuts and seeds – perfect for snacking.

Cottage cheese – but not as you know it

Cottage cheese may not sound like the world’s most appealing snack, but what you do with it is what matters. Shilland is on a mission “to make cottage cheese more appealing,” saying, “Mixed with edamame/peas/scallion and avocado and chilli flakes, or topped with cherry tomatoes and dukkha spice is great.”

It’s the perfect snack because it’s “high in protein and fiber,” she says.

Pitta and hummus

Gibson-Moore, a popular snack, suggests improving the healthiness of this snack by using “whole-wheat pita bread with low-fat hummus,” which is a good source of fiber.

If you really want your teen to get more fiber, Gibson-Moore is also a big fan of a piece of malt bread, calling it “a tasty fiber provider.”

Rice crackers

A handy and relatively inexpensive thing to have in your cupboard, Shilland recommends topping yours with peanut butter and avocado for a snack that’s “both nutritious and filling.”


Gibson-Moore calls low-fat and low-sugar yogurt “a good source of calcium, which is necessary for the maintenance of normal bones and teeth.” She continues, “Add seeds and fruit for an extra nutritional boost.”


While you may want to avoid ultra-processed white bread, that doesn’t mean sandwiches are off the table. You could use whole-grain varieties or wraps, and Shilland suggests adding “lean protein and some color, e.g. chicken salad sandwich, wrap with falafel, hummus, and salad.

“You [could] split the sandwich in half – one half in the morning, the other half later in the day.”

Food: The best healthy snacks teens really want to eat

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