Snacktime can be fraught with unhealthy pitfalls, even for those families who strive to serve healthy meals for their kids every day. At snacktime, you often need to make something quickly, and the easiest thing to do is to reach into a bag or a box for some pretzels or chips.
But snacks don’t have to be all about processed foods that are high in sugar, salt, or fat. A few simple changes in your shopping and food preparation routine could be all it takes to get your family back on a healthy track for snacking.
Think fresh: You can never go wrong with fresh fruits and vegetables. Grapes and apples are always a favorite for kids, but there are many more fruit options you can explore. Expand your repertoire to include strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, plums, apricots, oranges, kiwis, peaches, mangoes, and pears. Look for what’s in season to get the best quality and often the best prices. Vegetables make a great quick snack too. Carrot sticks are always popular, but you can mix it up by offering bell pepper strips, green beans, celery sticks, avocado slices, or broccoli spears.
Get whole-grain goodness: Instead of choosing highly processed snacks that are made with white flour, look for healthier options like whole grain pretzels, crackers, or cereals. Popcorn has a lot of fiber as well; pop your own to control the amount of butter and salt that is added.
Give a calcium boost: Lots of moms like string cheese because it is easy to grab and carry, but if you’re simply snacking at home you don’t have to use the more costly individually wrapped cheeses. A simple slice of cheese will give your child a boost of protein and calcium. Low-fat yogurt can make a great snack too, as long as you watch the amount of sugar you’re getting in each serving.
Go nuts: Nuts make a great high-protein snack. Yes, they are high in fat, but it’s the kind of fat that is good for your heart. Just watch your total intake. Peanut butter is also a good snack item, but if you child won’t eat peanuts you can use almond butter or soy butter as healthy alternatives.
If your child is a picky eater who won’t touch a plain vegetable or piece of fruit, you can try a few fun twists to pique their interest:
Make a dip: Offer vegetable sticks with a low-fat ranch salad dressing or salsa, make a honey-mustard dip for whole-grain pretzels, or serve fruits with a yogurt or molasses dip.
Mix it up: Toss a few fruits and some low-fat yogurt in a blender to make a one-of-a-kind smoothie.
Roll it up: Roll up some turkey, cream cheese, and lettuce in a whole-wheat tortilla; then slice to make pinwheel snacks.
Stick it together: Use peanut butter (or any other nut butter) or cream cheese as the “glue” to hold raisins on to a rice cake or a stalk of celery, or to hold two crackers together for a sandwich.
Shape it: Use a cookie cutter to cut slices of whole-grain bread into flowers or funny shapes, arrange fruit slices into a smiley face, or simply make the food fun to look at on the plate.
Last but not least, for those super-picky eaters who will complain about anything mom prepares, take them along on the shopping trip to choose what kind of healthy snacks they want, and get them involved in the preparation process. Kids are less likely to reject food that they’ve made some choices about, and getting them involved in the kitchen will help them create healthy snacking habits that can last a lifetime.