With summer just around the corner and kids spending more time at home, parents and caregivers need to think about the right foods for kids on the go.
With snacks, it’s especially challenging to find healthy options that kids will love.
So what are some fast eaters that do the trick?
Thinking about quick, easy, fresh and nutritious snacks should be your goal, said Caren Dobreff, RD, registered dietitian at Spectrum Health.
“Healthy snacks can help growing bodies grow healthily,” Dobreff said. “This means a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and good fats.”
Good fat sources are important for growing bodies. Try kid favorites like nuts, nut butters, dry-roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds, avocados (mashed or sliced), cold-water fish (salmon or tuna), or hummus made with cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil.
Steer clear of processed, packaged, or fast foods — they’re usually high in sodium, saturated fats, added sugars, and preservatives. They are marketed for quick access and easy eating, but they offer few benefits.
“Healthy options and quick meals that kids will love are often as easy as keeping a few key ingredients on hand,” Dobreff said. “With summer approaching, even picky eaters will enjoy snacks that take little time when hunger strikes.”
An added benefit: Some of these items give you more mileage — and opportunities to use more than once in a variety of snacks or different meals.
And none of these snacks take a lot of time to prepare.
Here are a few of Dobreff’s favorites:
“Hunger signals in your stomach make you take the path of least resistance,” Dobreff said. “So it’s important to have things on hand that take less time and are easy to grab.”
- Place a bowl of shelf-stable fruit on the counter or in the refrigerator at eye level to encourage healthy and ready-to-eat options.
- Bananas, clementines and apples are naturally sweet snacks that contain vitamins and minerals.
“If your kids don’t like veggies, try serving them with a healthy side or dip like hummus to help them try new things,” Dobreff said. “This creates a positive relationship with food. If it takes a little ranch dressing to get them to try broccoli, I’m all for it.”
- Buy pre-sliced vegetables or store sliced carrots, celery, broccoli florets in the refrigerator ready to go in individual containers.
- Younger children love snacks that are suitable for smaller hands. Cut your vegetables into fun shapes and sizes and accompany with a dipping sauce.
“Frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt mixed together are colorful and delicious,” Dobreff said. “Add chia or flaxseeds or a little fresh spinach or kale for a nutritional boost. You can also freeze the finished product to cool on warmer days.”
- Greek yogurt usually contains less sugars. For a boost, add fresh berries, chopped nuts, or a little honey.
- Smoothies are another delicious snack that offers a variety of nutritional benefits. Many recipes are yogurt-based and contain gut-healthy probiotics.
One of Dobreff’s favorite recipes is cocoa powder, banana, walnuts and vanilla Greek yogurt. It creates a chocolatey creation that leaves you feeling satisfied.
“You can prepackage pouches of smoothie ingredients without the liquid and store them in the freezer, ready to go,” she said. “Just add some plain Greek yogurt or the milk that works for your household (to avoid allergens) to bring it down to a smoothie texture. This is also a great way to work in a plant-based option like almond milk in the ingredients .”
- fruit dip: Dip whole strawberries or apple slices into an individual yogurt container, or assemble a fruit parfait in a kid’s bowl topped with their favorite chopped nuts. Sprinkle with cinnamon or cocoa powder.
- Hummus: Use as a dip for vegetables or whole grain crackers. Or try hummus as a tasty alternative to mayo on wraps, roll-ups and sandwiches. Individual hummus cups are great too, and many come with mini pretzel chips.
- nut butter: A favorite food at any age – ants on a tree trunk. Use pre-cut celery sticks topped with your favorite nut butter and raisins. These can be prepackaged in Tupperware. Another easy one is whole wheat crackers or toasted English muffin topped with nut butter and sliced bananas or apples.
- Fried pinto or black beans: Opt for a vegan, low-sodium variety. Place in a microwave safe bowl, add a small amount of water, heat and stir. Add pico de gallo or mild salsa for a delicious dip. Another easy tip: spread warm beans on a whole wheat tortilla. Just roll up and enjoy.
- Avocado: The sky’s the limit with this one. Avocado can be used as a dip or on whole wheat toast or corn tortillas. If you add lime juice on top of the crushed avocado, it will last longer before it browns.
Wholewheat English muffins
- Mini pizzas: Top a toasted whole-wheat English muffin with pasta sauce, diced bell peppers, spinach, sliced mushrooms, and a pinch of low-fat mozzarella. Heat in air fryer, toaster or conventional oven until cheese is melted.
- Pizza with fruit and nut butter: Spread your favorite nut butter on a toasted muffin, top with banana or apple slices.
Making sure kids get nutrition from fresh foods should be the goal, Dobreff said. But some foods that come in packages can meet nutritional needs and satisfy hunger.
A few healthier options to keep track of:
- low-fat string cheese
- Granola or muesli bars
- Mini boxes of raisins
- Fruit cups and apple sauce (naturally sweetened with juice)
“These can help you when time isn’t on your side,” Dobreff said. “It’s good to have many options on hand to support growing bodies.”
Younger taste buds, irritable taste buds
Kids usually (though not always) prefer flavors that are recognizable, familiar, and not spicy or bitter, Dobreff said.
“Trying new foods can take several tries,” she said. “Be patient if they didn’t like the first few tries, ask them to try again later without forcing the problem.”
Fun fact: It can sometimes take six to nine tries for a child to like a new dish.
Positive relationships with food
Involving children in the recipe process at an early age is an important and fun activity.
“I tell parents and caregivers to show their children two or three recipes every week and ask them to pick one they want to make,” Dobreff said.
Some tips to increase the chance of success:
- Try new things. Ask kids to pick a new vegetable or fruit at the grocery store.
- Let your kids contribute to the recipe process. Keep tasks safe for their age.
- Teach children how to wash or rinse fruits and vegetables.
- Practice sorting and separating ingredients.
- Have your kids help you measure ingredients as you cook. Give them their own measuring equipment, utensils and chef’s hat to inspire the creativity of the kitchen.
- Let them have a hand in assembling ingredients and cooking.
It’s important to get the family together for meals as well, Dobreff said.
“Work with other parents and caregivers to get children of the same age to eat together, or try to get your family together for a meal at home once a day,” she said. “Children’s eating habits can be influenced by what is consumed in the household, but even more so by their peers as they get older.”