University of Massachusetts Amherst

It's MORE Than A Meal


Planning Healthful Meals & Snacks

preparing healthful snacks

Benefits of Snacking

Snacks can be a healthful addition to your program’s daily meal plan, if they are chosen carefully for their nutritional value. Nutrient-dense snacks that are low to moderate in calories and low in fats and added sugars are ideal for older adults. They can satisfy hunger, provide fuel, and help supplement the nutrient needs of older adults, particularly those who eat small portions at mealtimes. In addition, snacks that are high in water content (such as fruits, 100% fruit or vegetable juices, or soups) can help older adults to meet their fluid needs.

Note: You may also have questions about to choose foods and beverages that are reimbursable within CACFP guidelines. This topic will be address in the Crediting Foods section of the manual.

Tips for Choosing Healthful Snacks

1. Use food labels as a tool to control portion sizes and select healthful snacks.

Look for products with the nutrient claims fat-free, low-fat, light, low-sodium, lightly-salted, reduced-calorie, reduced-fat, or reduced-sodium on the front of the package. These claims are descriptive terms that must meet strict government criteria to be placed on food packages. Be aware, though, that fat-free is not calorie-free. A food can be low in fat but high in calories.  Also, fat-free or low-fat versions of snack foods may contain more added sugars or sodium to compensate for the loss of flavor that occurs when fat is removed.

Check the Nutrition Facts panel for the serving size and number of servings in a package to tell whether a snack food is high in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, or sodium in each serving.  Serving sizes are listed in both household and metric units--for example, 14 chips (28 g)--and are standard across product lines to help you compare similar products, such as baked potato chips and fried potato chips.

Check the Nutrition Facts panel for the amount of fat and other nutrients as a percent of the Daily Value of the diet. Check the ingredient list for added sugars. Go easy on snacks that list any added sugars as the first ingredient.

2. Limit snack foods that are high in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, total fat, sodium, or added sugars.

These types of snack foods tend to be low in nutrient density, and can increase the risk for heart disease or high blood pressure. Avoid snack foods with palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, lard, or beef tallow; these are high in saturated fat.

3.  Replace regular snack foods with similar foods that are lower in calories, total fat, saturated fat, trans fats, sodium, or added sugars; or that are higher in fiber.

For example, more healthful alternatives to many kinds of crackers now appear on grocery stores next to the original products. Or canned fruits that are packed in their own juices appear on shelves next to fruits canned in heavy syrups. Often these alternatives taste quite similar to the original products.

4.  Replace regular snack foods with different foods that are more healthful.

Instead of Try
Ice cream Nonfat frozen yogurt
Ice cream bar Frozen juice bar
MilkshakeShake made with fruit and low-fat milk
Potato chipsLow-salt pretzels
DoughnutWhole wheat bagel
Frosted chocolate cakeAngel food cake with fruit
Cheddar cheese and crackersReduced-fat cheese and whole grain crackers

5. Choose snack foods that are nutrient-dense.

Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, or fiber and a low to moderate amount of calories. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, low-fat dairy products, and low-fat meats and meat alternates.

6. Choose snack foods that can be credited within the CACFP program.

Check the Crediting Foods section and select snacks that qualify for reimbursement. This can help your program save money on snacks.

7. Choose appropriate snack foods for older adults who find it hard to chew or swallow foods.

Offer foods with a smooth texture that are soft and easy to chew or drink. Avoid serving dry, chunky foods to these adults.

  • Soft protein foods: milk, cottage cheese, yogurt
  • Cooked cereals
  • Fresh soft fruits and vegetables with peels removed
  • Canned fruits
  • 100% fruit or vegetable juices

8. Combine foods from different food groups in appealing ways.

  • Melt low-fat cheddar cheese on a whole wheat tortilla.
  • Combine low-fat or non-fat yogurt with a small amount of orange juice or lemonade concentrate. Chill and serve as a dip with fruit chunks.
  • Top a low-sugar cereal with fresh fruit, and add low-fat milk.
  • Create a non-fat milk shake with skim milk, fruit, and vanilla in a blender.
  • Create a fruit smoothie by combining plain non-fat yogurt with fruit.
  • Create a cottage cheese dip and serve it with slices of soft raw vegetables. For each cup of non-fat cottage cheese, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of skim milk, and dill weed or chives to taste.

9. Use snacks as an opportunity to promote fluids.

You can serve water, other beverages, or other foods that are high in water. Try these flavorful tips:

  • 100% fruit juice
  • 100% vegetable juice, low-sodium
  • Fruit juice with seltzer water
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Frozen fruit bars (100% fruit juice)
  • Milk, low-fat
  • Milk shake, low-fat
  • Yogurt, low-fat

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Developed for the Massachusetts Department of Education Child and Adult Care Food Program by the University of Massachusetts Extension Nutrition Education Program. Permission is hereby granted by the Massachusetts Department of Education to copy any or all parts of this document for non-commercial educational purposes. The Massachusetts Department of Education, an Affirmative Action employer, is committed to ensuring that all of its programs and facilities are accessible to all members of the public. We do not discriminate on the basis of age, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.