It seems like an impossible feat, to raise healthy eaters in a world laden with processed foods targeted specifically at our children. From cereals, energy drinks, candy bars and everything in between, it is hard to understand and decide what is a healthy snack and how to put it together for our growing children. I am here to tell you it doesn’t have to be difficult, in fact it is quite simple. Children seek the basics. They don’t need anything fancy and they don’t need a lot of help. What children really need, and what they crave, is independence. I could write a book on the subject of raising healthy eaters but for now I’ll give you the basics of healthy snacking for growing kids.
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the ultimate healthy snack guide
Ultimately you are the one in charge, you buy the food, you control what is on hand but let them control what actually gets put into their body. If left to do this, children are the most intuitive eaters there are. In fact, we can all take a lesson from them. They know their hunger levels better than we can judge. If left to eat healthy food, let them eat until their body is satisfied. The mission, you buy the healthy foods, teach them and show them how to eat well and then let them make the final decision on what and how much to put into their body. My top five tips on healthy snacking in kids really follows the previous five snacking tips I gave. But here they are in kid-friendly terms.
1. Make sure that there is always a fat present.
Children need a well-balanced and healthy snack as much as anyone. There is no better nutrient to put into their growing body than a healthy fat. Healthy fats are essential for proper brain development and growth as well as immune function and a number of other mechanisms. It is critical that your child consume a healthy fat at every meal, including snacks. It doesn’t have to be a lot of fat but you will be surprised at how satisfying and delicious this component can be for them. Think avocado, cheeses (or goat cheese), coconut butter, olive oil, full-fat dairy, and nut butters.
2. Pull from a variety of food groups.
A one food snack isn’t satisfying for anyone, including our children. Make sure to pull from a variety of foods and food groups to increase the nutrient content as well as the satiety factor. Don’t just give out an apple, give an apple with a dip or crackers with some cheese. Adding additional food groups will make the snack more enjoyable as well as your typical health foods more exciting and enticing.
3. Make it count.
Children could be pickers. They eat just enough to satisfy for the time being and them move on. But again, children are more in-tuned to their hunger levels than adults. They ultimately know how hungry and full they are, so let them be the judge. What you can focus on is offering a snack and making it count. This is easily done by completing tips one and two. A snack should have substance to it, provide energy and be loaded with nutrients.
4. Let them choose the amounts.
This step is tricky because children are so inconsistent with their food intake. One day they consume a lot and the next day it seems like they have eaten nothing. What we must know is that they are the best judge of how much their bodies need if we let them do this. We, as parents and adults can quickly override their intuitive hunger levels, creating a host of problems leading to overeating the wrong foods. You be in charge of the food you buy, but you let them choose the amounts. If they aren’t hungry, don’t force them to eat and if they are starving let them eat as much as needed to provide satiety (assuming it is from real, wholesome food sources – not processed foods).
5. Make it enjoyable
We are constantly competing with the food industry on enticing children to want healthy foods. It is hard to win over their favorite cartoon character shaped into tiny gummies that are full of sugar, but we must do our best. Think about what foods satisfy you, what makes food more enjoyable for you. They are no different, they like variety and most importantly flavor.
In our house we have five types of snacks (one for everyday of the week). Each day the kids get to pick what type of snack they have. It is a fun way to mix it up but yet simplified all at the same time. Here’s to jazzing up your tradition of bland and stereotypical “boring” health foods with these five kid-friendly ideas.
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the ultimate healthy snack guide
In our house drinkable snacks are almost always smoothies or shakes. Smoothies are a great way to add some vegetables to their life and pack it full of nutrients. Shakes are a great alternative to traditional ice cream or ice cream shakes. Our favorite recipes are;
- Orange Creamiscle Shake = 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice + 3/4 cup almond milk (milk of choice) + 1-2 fresh oranges + 1 cup ice – blended together
- Chocolate Shake = 1 ripe avocado + 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 cup milk alternative + 1-2 Tbsp maple syrup or coconut sugar + 1 tsp vanilla + pinch of salt + 1 cup ice = blended together
Kids love to dip and who are we kidding, don’t we all? Cut anything into strips and provide a healthy fat + protein dip and you have yourself a well-round, kid tested delicious snack.
- Cut up pepper strips, cucumbers and other veggies to dip in a homemade ranch dressing, whipped goat cheese or hummus.
- Slice fruit to dip in nut butters or whipped cheese.
Children love to help and they love to do it by themselves. Independent, right? So why not allow them time to practice their dexterity, work on using utensils and teaching them the basics of cooking. So many skills can be mastered with this snack. Allowing your child a knife (kid-friendly of course) to spread their own dip onto something is exciting for them. Allow them independence and teach and guide them through the process.
- Spread goat cheese or cream cheese on ham and roll-up avocado or other veggies in the middle.
- Spread nut butter and jam on a sliced banana.
The Lunchable had its big break when it picked up on the fact that kids like to stack. Once again, there is something about food independence in having control over what goes in the middle of the stack. They can make it as big or as a little as they want. So why not create your own stackable snacks and leave the processed ingredients at the grocery store.
- Cucumber sandwiches = cucumber slices + deli meats + cheese slices
- Apple stacks = sliced apples + nut butter + jam + raisins
Spoonable snacks are creamy, rich snacks that are layered with nutrients and flavor. Remember, snacks don’t just need to be pickable, you can resort to a variety of different textures of foods. Who didn’t love thick, creamy pudding that stuck to the spoon growing up? Why not let your children experience this but in a healthified way? Our favorite spoonable snacks are;
- Banana Splits = banana split in half + full-fat plain yogurt + nut butter (or nuts and seeds) + diced fruit + a drizzle of honey
- Pudding – Coconut milk pudding, strawberry, lemon-curd pudding, gingerbread pudding, pumpkin pudding and orange creamsicle chia seed pudding are a few of our favorites.
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the ultimate healthy snack guide