June 24, 2019

On the Go? 20 Unprocessed Finger Foods For Kids Are Within Reach

Skip the hours of prep time — Mother Earth has done most of it for you

Healthy snacks for kids including mandarin oranges, kiwi, apples

They say, “Be wary of the middle aisles of the grocery store.” Who is the mysterious “they?” And what happens in the middle?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“They” are dietitians and health professionals who know processed foods dwell in the middle aisles (usually at eye-level). “Processed foods often have few health benefits and are often full of additives and sugar,” says pediatric dietitian Jennifer Hyland, RD.

“Parents may reach for them because they’re convenient to serve — but there are plenty of healthy finger foods out there. You just have to know where to look.”

How to spot processed foods

Processed foods are, not surprisingly, packaged in a way that entices kids — lots of colors and cute characters. Hyland says some boxed foods are perfectly appropriate, but not if the ingredient list is extremely lengthy and you can’t make out what many of the words mean.

Instead, choose packaged items with the fewest ingredients, such as tortilla chips made from corn, olive oil and salt. These are typically less processed.

Go fresh

Perishable foods requiring minimal effort are your best choice. If necessary, you can pair them with lightly processed foods for a healthier-than-the-drive-thru snack.


Try these combos:

  • Mandarin orange, strawberries or banana with vanilla yogurt for dipping.
  • Pod-type veggies like snap peas or edamame.
  • Carrots or cherry tomatoes with yogurt-based ranch dip.
  • Zucchini or bell pepper strips with a side of hummus.
  • Lightly salted cooked sweet potato chunks or carrot fries with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Salsa served with tortilla chips.
  • Apples and pears with nut butter for dipping.

Take advantage of these dairy or healthy fat options:

  • Avocado chunks or guacamole served with minimally processed tortilla chips.
  • Cottage cheese (with or without fruit).
  • Greek yogurt tubes.

Whip up some healthy, freezable treats

“You can have a lot of fun cooking with the kids to make your own grain-based snacks,” says Hyland. “It takes a little more effort, but if you make a batch and throw them in the freezer, they’ll be easy to grab and will thaw on the go.”

She recommends:

  • Whole grain mini muffins — zucchini, chocolate, banana or blueberry.
  • Cooked and refrigerated portions of pasta made from whole grains or beans — it’s totally fine to serve them cold with a side of marinara sauce for dipping.
  • Whole grain waffles or pancakes with natural peanut butter.
  • Homemade granola bars (or the less-processed granola bars that use natural sweeteners, like dates, typically found in the natural food aisles).

Healthy proteins are other easy options when you make them ahead of time. Try:

  • Quinoa bites made with broccoli and cheese.
  • Hard-boiled eggs.
  • Mini meatballs made from chicken, turkey or lean beef.
  • Tuna or chicken salad served with a side of crackers.
  • Hummus (you can also buy this at the store) and thin pretzels.
  • Tofu strips with a saucy side.

With fresh foods, size matters

Keep choking hazards in mind when selecting finger foods. “A child’s windpipe is about the size of their pinky finger. Cut food length wise so it’s thin enough to pass easily,” says Hyland. “For the youngest kids, peel and cook fruits and veggies so you can mash them with a fork or your child can easily gum them.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding these foods for younger children:
• Raw vegetables like carrot sticks.
• Whole nuts.
• Whole grapes or cherry tomatoes.
• Popcorn or chips.
• Meats that are tough to chew.

Related Articles

Child hiding behind grandmother and a stranger at a park
January 31, 2024
How To Teach Your Kids About ‘Stranger Danger’ (Without Scaring the Daylights Out of Them)

It’s never too early to teach your kids who strangers are and how to avoid unsafe situations

male kid eating celery sticks with peanutbutter at table with homework
January 11, 2024
Snack Attack: 6 Healthy Snack Ideas for Kids

Look for snacks that are low in sugar and high in fiber, protein and healthy fats

Young female teen drinking canned beverage outside
December 26, 2023
The Young and the Restless: Why Kids Should Avoid Caffeine

No amount of caffeine is safe for kids under 12, and kids 12 to 17 should be cautious about how much they consume

child dragging heavy backpack
August 9, 2023
Is Your Child’s Bookbag Weighing Them Down? Here’s How To Lighten the Load

For starters, pick the right size backpack for your child, with wide, padded straps

child runs through sprinkler during summer
August 6, 2023
How To Prevent Your Kids From Getting Sick

Hydration and sleep are as important as avoiding dirty surfaces

child having chest pain
June 29, 2023
Chest Pain in Children: When Should You Worry?

Most chest pain in kids isn’t worrisome, but there are some symptoms that deserve attention

Parent and toddler make bed together.
April 2, 2023
When to Transition to a Toddler Bed and Tips for a Smooth Move

Maturity and safety matter more than age

Child in dark room huddled under blanket with nightmare ghosts in background.
December 13, 2022
Is Your Kid Having Nightmares? Who Has Them and How You Can Help

Nightmares in children are common and more likely when your child is overtired or stressed

Trending Topics

glass of cherry juice with cherries on table
Sleepy Girl Mocktail: What’s in It and Does It Really Make You Sleep Better?

This social media sleep hack with tart cherry juice and magnesium could be worth a try

Exercise and diet over three months is hard to accomplish.
Everything You Need To Know About the 75 Hard Challenge

Following five critical rules daily for 75 days may not be sustainable

Person in foreground standing in front of many presents with person in background holding gift bags.
What Is Love Bombing?

This form of psychological and emotional abuse is often disguised as excessive flattery