I’m very happy to have a reprieve from packing school lunches every morning. But with the kids home for more meals and wanting constant snacks, the new challenge is providing healthy options. Growing kids need plenty of quality calories and many want lots of choices, yet they’re often picky. Here are a few ideas to help them pack in the nutrients this summer.
1) Take Advantage of the Extra Time – Summer brings longer days, fewer commitments, and more down time. Take advantage of a looser schedule to spend more time in the kitchen preparing fresh food. It’s easy to fall into the trap of eating out when we’re busy, but eating at home is the healthier choice. (Read more about this in It’s Cool to Cook at Home.)
2) Enjoy More Fresh Produce – Vegetable gardens are usually yielding lots of delicious produce over the summer. If you don’t have one, consider taking on the project with your kids. Farmer’s markets, near home on while you’re traveling, will be in full swing. Bring the kids along and get creative with what you bring home.
Melons like cantaloupe and watermelon are at their peak, not to mention anti-oxidant filled berries. Mangoes and Pineapples are everywhere. Cut them up and put them in glass containers where they’re easily seen. Serve them as dessert.
3) Get the Kids Interested in Cooking – Whether you’ve got little ones or teens, teaching them to find their way around the kitchen is key. You might put an older child in charge of preparing one meal each week.
4) Be the Example – You’ve got to walk the walk. Unfortunately kids are bombarded by bad food choices at the mall, on TV, and even at school, so what they eat, and see you eat, at home is really important. Good eating habits, good choices, start at home.
5) Prepare and Eat Food Together – This is the best way to be the example (see #4). It’s a simple concept but has huge benefits for your health, waistline, and your family. Your goal might be a minimum of one meal a day eaten together. This is easier if you don’t allow teens or middle schoolers to take food back to their rooms, or eat a meal in front of the TV.
6) Clean out the Pantry with your Kids – Talk to them about processed and packaged foods and the overuse of sugar (it goes by 41 different names on food labels) trans fats, and other preservatives. You might want to take them to see Fed Up. Then challenge them to round-up any foods that have these ingredients and toss them. Although the FDA has instituted a gradual ban on trans fats, some products still contain them. Look for “partially hydrogenated oil” on the labels of things like microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough (biscuits), and ready-to-use frosting.
So with all of those easy-to-grab processed snacks out of the picture, what are you going to feed your hungry kids? Here are some snack ideas.
- Hummus and Vegetables – Think baby carrots, sliced celery, jicama, red pepper
- Fresh Fruit Popsicles – Outshine by Dreyer’s is a good product, but if you want only organic fruit and no added sugar, try making them at home.
- Whole Wheat Tortillas – Keep them on hand and fill them with fresh options like red pepper, fresh spinach or arugula, avocado, tomatoes, salsa, beans or my favorite, leftover grilled vegetables.
- Trail mix – Packaged granola bars are easy and some brands are healthier than others, but consider mixing your own trail mix with healthy nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and maybe even some chocolate thrown in there. (Remember to put these in glass jars so you and your family see them.)
- Hard Boiled Eggs – Plain or prepared as deviled eggs or egg salad, all options are a good cooking project to get kids started.
- Homemade Protein Bars – This is one recipe kids really love.
- Whole Wheat Pasta – Cook more than you need next time, and then reheat with some pesto, red sauce or olive oil.
- Fruit – Grapes, apples, berries, cherries, pears, papaya, bananas, melon, apricots…the possibilities are endless.
- Nut butter – Whether made from peanuts, almonds, or cashews most kids love nut butters. Look for brands without added sugar and oils. My favorites are 365, Woodstock and Kirkland.
- Smoothies – If you’re not already in the habit of making fruit smoothies, summer is an ideal time to start. As long as you keep the fruit (fresh and frozen) on hand, and maybe some yogurt and even some greens, the kids can whip up a cool creamy snack with ease.
If you need more help, sign up for a Kitchen Consultation with me! I offer lots of information and advice on eliminating processed foods, introducing more plant-based options, preparing easy, healthy meals, label reading, and the impact of good nutrition on your health.
Last but not least, I’d love to hear your ideas for healthy meals and snacks. Please post them in the comment section below.