There are lots of great alternatives for serving young children with quick and healthy snacks. When families are on the go, it’s important to have lots of options that are easy to prepare, and easy to take with you, other than prepackaged foods you see so commonly in today’s pantries.
In my volunteer work at Wolfsons Children Hospital, I hear this question asked over and over again,“How can I get my child to eat healthy snacks? He refuses fruits and vegetables, and demands crackers, chips, or cookies. I give in every time.” As I observe these parents, I see they feel pulled by today’s fast paced lifestyle. In fact, they confess their active lifestyle is hindering their children’s eating habits. Instead of choosing from fresh prepared snacks, children are picking whatever they can get their hands on. As a result, these poor eating habits are leading to health problems in children. Fortunately, with a little renewed attention to your pantry, and simply spending five extra minutes preparing snack each morning, you can eliminate unhealthy eating patterns, and also avoid daily conflict. Here are some ways to make sure your child eats healthy snacks.
Preparing the pantry and Fridge
Toddlers have an enormous drive for independence. They want to do things all by themselves, but sometimes they do not have the skills or know-how, especially when it comes to nutrition. You can start helping them by preparing the pantry with only foods that are acceptable to eat. The lowest shelves of the pantry should be supplied with only healthy snack and in appropriate quantities. Whatever is visible to the child’s eye should be appropriate choice snacks. All other items should be kept out of the child’s sight and reach. The most orderly approach is to line your top shelves with wicker baskets or colored Tupperware. This is where you would keep cookies, chips, fruit chews, or any other special snack, for special occasions. In this way, you have control over when that special snack will be given and you eliminate a daily battle. I think the old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
You can choose a lower shelf in your fridge to do the same thing. Place cheeses, fruits, applesauce, or pastas into small Tupperware, with a prepared serving size. On the top shelf, it can be helpful to have colored Tupperware to place extra yogurt, pudding, juice boxes, etc. So when the fridge is open, all that is visible to the child is appropriate snacks and servings. It is also helpful to empty an entire juice jug into a serving pitcher and then mix with water. Most young children pick up quickly on the trick half juice/half water, but when mixed in advance, most children will not even notice a difference. Of course, drinking plain water is always better, none the less, children do want change sometimes. This is one way to provide more flavor, but not all the sugar.
The purpose of placing prepared snacks into small Tupperware is for the way it offers convenience and flexibility to families on the go. Simply have your child grab his/her snack from the pantry or fridge, and then off you go. Bellow is healthy snack suggestions to fill your Tupperware.
Fruit: Apples, Oranges, Pears, Strawberries, Blueberries, Bananas etc. The more you can encourage your child to eat fruit as a “sugar-fix,” rather than candy or processed snacks filled with high-fructose corn syrup, the better. You can spice-up fruit with a little serving size of peanut butter , cool whip (light), or flavored cream cheese (strawberry is a favorite). You may also want to try fruit salad. Mix fruit and yogurt together, and then sprinkle the top with granola.
Dried Fruit: Cranberries, Cherries, Apricots, Raisins. You get the idea. You can take dried fruits and mix with popcorn, pretzels or whole grain cereals to make a tasty trail mix. This is a good snack suggestion for families on the go. Place a single-serving into a small Tupperware and store on the lower shelf of the pantry.
Veggies: Carrot sticks, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices. Place a single-serving of ranch dressings or veggie dip into a small Tupperware and you’re ready to go!
Celery w/ Peanut Butter: This is slightly less portable, but it’s still quick and easy as long as your child doesn’t have a peanut allergy (you can always replace peanut butter with cream cheese). All you need is some celery sticks and about a tablespoon of peanut butter. If your child likes raisins, throw some on top. If you are home, make a tray and place on the bottom shelf of the fridge. When your child is hungry he/she will find a healthy, yet inviting snack waiting for them.
Apples with Peanut Butter / Banana with Peanut Butter: Same idea as above, but slightly sweeter.
Sandwich squares: As long as you use 100% whole wheat bread (if you start them on it as toddlers, they’ll love it forever), & stick to lean meats (turkey, chicken) and mustard (rather than mayonnaise) as toppings, there’s no reason why this wouldn’t be a healthy option. Make 1 sandwich in the morning & cut it into 4 squares–dole one or two squares out for a snack.
Ham and Cheese Roll: Take a slice of ham, and then add a slice of cheese on top. Place this on a plate in the fridge with a fun toothpick lying on top. This will be inviting to the child. Most children find rolling meat and cheese exciting, and then finishing it off with a fun toothpick, holding it all together.
Boiled Eggs: Just boil a dozen at the beginning of the week, put them in the fridge, and they’re ready to go when you need them. You can prepare a boiled egg by peeling the shell off and placing on the lower shelf of your fridge in a small Tupperware. This works well with younger children however, older children enjoy peeling their own egg.
Single Serving Yogurts: Get a “light” version; this means there is less added sugar and lower fat content. Place one yogurt on the bottom shelf of the fridge and all remaining yogurt on the top shelf, inside colored Tupperware. Once your child has chosen a yogurt for snack, you can then replace it with one from the top shelf. If your child does not care for yogurt, you could try mixing with ¼ cup of light cool whip and place in a Popsicle mold. In just a few hours you will have a healthy yogurt pop!
String Cheese: What kids doesn’t like string cheese? Get the good, old-fashioned mozzarella so that your child can actually pull off strips of cheese. Same replacement rule applies above.
Whole wheat crackers: Top with whatever you want: peanut butter, jelly, lean sandwich meat, or cheese. Make sure to only serve a single-serving size, as listed on the box.
100% fruit Popsicle: The great thing about this is you can make them using your child’s favorite fruit juice, or you can make multiple varieties. Just purchase a Popsicle mold from a grocery store. At home, fill the mold with your child’s favorite 100% juice variety (orange, lemonade, cranberry-grape, etc., you can even use the V-8 Splash or Juicy-Juice options). Put them in the freezer and you’ll have great, healthy snacks available in a few hours.
Frozen Peanut Butter Bananas: This is not portable and a little more involved, but a great way to get your child involved in fixing a healthy snack. You’ll need bananas, Popsicle sticks, smooth peanut butter and granola. Get 2 or 3 medium bananas, peel them & cut them in half. Stick a Popsicle stick into the cut side. Coat them in a thin layer of smooth peanut butter, and then roll them in granola. Put them on a small pan or a Tupperware container & freeze them. In a few hours you’ll have a delicious, healthy frozen treat. You can do the same thing using Hershey syrup for an extra chocolaty version.
Rice Cakes: Place a serving size of peanut butter in a small Tupperware on the lower shelf of the pantry. This way your child can grab it, spread it on the rice cake, and enjoy then or on the go. If your child has a peanut allergy, try using flavored cream cheese.
Well, those are at least a starting point. I hope you and your child enjoy them!