With summer upon us and kids spending more time at home, parents and caregivers need to think about proper nutrition for on-the-go kiddos.
With snacks, it’s particularly challenging to find healthy options kids will love.
So what are some quick-hit eats that will do the trick?
“Healthy snacks can help growing bodies grow healthfully,” Dobreff said. “This means a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and good fats.”
Good fat sources are important for growing bodies. Try kid favorites such as 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.
Stay away from processed, packaged or fast foods—they tend to be high in sodium, saturated fats, added sugars and preservatives. They’re marketed for quick access and easy eating, but they offer little benefits.
“Healthy options and quick eats that kids will love are often as easy as keeping a few key ingredients on hand,” Dobreff said. “As summer approaches, even finicky eaters will enjoy snacks that take minimal time for when hunger strikes.”
An added benefit: Some of these items will give you longer mileage—and opportunities to use more than once in a variety of snacks or different meals.
And none of these snacks take much time to prepare.
Here are a few of Dobreff’s favorites:
“Hunger signals in your stomach will make you look for the path of least resistance,” Dobreff said. “So having things on hand that will take less time and are easy to grab are important.”
- Keep a bowl of shelf-stable fruits on the counter or in the fridge at eye level, to encourage healthy and ready-to-eat options.
- Bananas, clementines and apples are naturally sweet snacks that pack vitamins and minerals.
“If your kids don’t love veggies, try serving them with a healthy side or dip such as hummus to get them to try new things,” Dobreff said. “This will create a positive relationship with food. If it takes a little ranch dressing to have them try broccoli, I’m all in.”
- Buy precut veggies or keep cut carrots, celery, broccoli florets in the fridge, ready to go in individual containers.
- Younger kids love finger foods sized for smaller hands. Cut your veggies in fun shapes and sizes and accompany with a dip.
“Frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt blended are colorful and delicious,” Dobreff said. “Add in chia or flaxseeds or a little fresh spinach or kale for a nutrient boost. You can freeze the finished product, too, to help cool off on warmer days.”
- Greek yogurt tends to be lower in sugars. Add fresh berries, chopped nuts or little honey for a boost.
- Smoothies are another wonderful snack that packs all sorts of nutritional benefits. Many recipes are yogurt based and provide gut-healthy probiotics.
One of Dobreff’s favorite recipes involves cocoa powder, banana, walnuts and vanilla Greek yogurt. It creates a chocolatey creation that will leave you feeling satisfied.
“You can pre-pack smoothie ingredient bags without the liquid and keep 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 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-size bowl topped with their favorite chopped nuts. Sprinkle it with cinnamon or cocoa powder.
- Hummus: Use as a dip for veggies 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 butters: A fun food favorite at any age—ants on a log. Use pre-cut celery sticks topped with your favorite nut butter and raisins. These can be prepackaged in Tupperware. Another easy one is whole grain crackers or toasted English muffin topped with nut butter and sliced bananas or apples on top.
- Refried 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 refried beans on a whole grain tortilla. Simply roll it up and enjoy.
- Avocado: The sky is the limit with this one. Avocado can be used as a dip or smashed on whole grain toast or corn tortillas. If you add lime juice on top of smashed avocado, it will last longer before browning.
Whole grain English muffins
- Mini pizzas: Top a toasted whole grain English muffin with pasta sauce, diced bell peppers, spinach, sliced mushrooms and a sprinkle of low fat mozzarella cheese. Warm in air fryer, toaster over or conventional oven until cheese is melted.
- Fruit and nut butter pizza: Spread your favorite nut butter on toasted muffin, top with sliced 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 nutrition needs and stave off hunger.
A few healthier options to keep around:
- Low fat string cheese
- Granola or granola bars
- Mini boxes of raisins
- Fruit cups and applesauce (naturally sweetened with juice)
“These can help you out when time is not on your side,” Dobreff said. “It’s good to keep many options on hand to support growing bodies.”
Younger palates, testy taste buds
Kids usually (although not always) prefer flavors that are identifiable, familiar, and not spicy or bitter, Dobreff said.
“Trying new foods can take multiple attempts,” she said. “Be patient if they did not like the first few tries, ask them to try it again later without forcing the issue.”
Fun fact: It can sometimes take six to nine attempts for a kid to like a new food.
Positive relationships with food
Involving kids in the recipe process at a young age is an important and fun activity.
“I tell parents and caregivers to show two or three recipes each week to their kids and ask them to choose one they’d like to make,” Dobreff said.
Some tips to improve the likelihood of success:
- Try new things. Ask kids to pick out a new fruit or vegetable in the grocery store.
- Have your kids contribute to the recipe-making process. Keep tasks safe for their age.
- Teach kids how to wash or rinse fruits and vegetables.
- Practice sorting and separating ingredients.
- Let your kids help you measure ingredients as you cook. Get them their own measuring equipment, utensils and chef hat to inspire kitchen creativity.
- Let them have a hand in assembling ingredients and cooking.
It’s important to bring the family together for meals, too, Dobreff said.
“Collaborate with other parents and caregivers to have kids of similar ages eat together, or try to bring your family together once a day for a meal at home,” she said. “Kids’ eating habits can be influenced by what is consumed in the household, but even more so by their peers as they get older.”