A childhood ritual — snacking — is getting a bad rap.

Sure, bags of chips and microwavable globs of processed cheese share the blame for the nation’s childhood-obesity epidemic. A 2010 National Survey on Children’s Health reported that nearly 32 percent of America’s kids are overweight or obese.

But not all snacks are bad, and active children require extra calories to fuel their brains, energy and growth. The key is eating the right snacks in the right amount. Give kids smart choices, not carte blanche.

As children go back to school, parents can help them focus on healthy snacking for a healthy body and alert mind.

“There is a difference between mindless and purposeful snacking,” said Angela Lemond, a Dallas dietitian and childhood-nutrition spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “What a child eats and how much they eat for snacks has a huge impact on their overall nutrition.”

Nutritionists recommend snacking on fresh and dried fruits; whole-grain cereals and crackers; nuts; homemade trail mix; peanut and other nut butters; yogurt; vegetable sticks, and pizzas topped with veggies. Avoid processed snacks high in fat and sugar.

Healthy snacking fits into a larger game plan — teaching kids to be adventuresome eaters who enjoy healthy foods.

“Parents can teach their children that good health and nutrition start with a simple appreciation for quality foods, whether snacks or dinner,” said Kimberly Brown, founder of Raise a Foodie, a year-old Valley venture that holds “foodie adventures” for kids ages 6-10 at restaurants, schools and camps.

Partnering with such chefs as Aaron Chamberlin, owner of Phoenix restaurants St. Francis and Phoenix Public Market Cafe, Brown works to convince kids that there’s more to good eating than chicken nuggets.

“I am passionate about teaching kids to eat right, because I didn’t as a child,” said Chamberlin, who has adopted a plant-based diet. “It’s easier to learn how to eat right as a child than change bad habits as an adult.”