September means back-to-school for the kids and busy schedules for adults, but did you know it’s also Fruit and Veggies – More Matters Month?
Snack Food = Junk Food
It’s tough enough trying to plan and serve three healthy, nutritionally balanced meals every day. But snacking has become a daily part of our kids’ diet. Compared to 20 years ago, twice as many kids eat snack foods like chips, popcorn, crackers, and pretzels. There’s also been a nearly 40% increase in children ages 6-9 who drink soda. So, while they’re getting many more calories, they’re not getting enough vitamins and minerals, which are crucial for healthy development.
Research shows that fruit and vegetables are vital for maintaining good health, but most kids don’t consume enough of them. So instead of allowing children to eat junk food, offer them snacks that are just as healthy as the meals you prepare for them. Incorporating fruits and vegetables into snacks is a great way to get your kids to eat healthfully and up their intake of essential nutrients.
Getting Kids to Eat Healthy Snacks
Whether eaten at school, on the go after school, or at home, healthy snacks are easy to prepare and eat, and they provide important nutrients and energy.
One of the best ways to get children to eat fruit and vegetables is by including them in the purchasing, planning, and preparation. Let them choose ingredients at the grocery store, and have them help wash or arrange the food.
If they are familiar with the food, they will be more inclined to eat a wide variety and try new things. Having them help with preparation also alleviates fear and engages them in making healthy choices beyond snack time. Encourage them to choose and pack their snack in their bag so they’re involved from beginning to end.
Snacks that are fun, colorful, and visually appealing also encourage eating by little ones. Looking for creative ways to encourage your kids to eat healthier snacks? Check out our list of 11 fun & healthy snacks that are easy to prepare.
11 Fun & Healthy Snacks for Kids
1. Fruit Kabobs. Food on a stick is fun! Cut a variety of fruit (pineapple, apples, mangoes, melons, etc.) into fun shapes (hearts, stars, flowers) using small cookie cutters and alternate them with other fruit such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and grapes. Be careful not to serve to children who are too young (under 4 years of age) as skewers can pose a choking hazard.
2. Bugs on a Log. This gross-out snack always gets attention. Spread peanut butter or almond butter (good for protein and unsaturated fats) on celery (fiber) and top with a few raisins (ants), dried cranberries (ladybugs), or fresh blueberries (beetles) for vitamin C and antioxidants.
3. Apple Sandwiches. Core a small apple, and slice it horizontally into thin circles. Spread peanut or almond butter across one slice and top with another slice of apple. Stack them into double, triple, or even quadruple decker sandwiches! Apples are full of fiber and vitamins, and the nut butter will provide protein and healthy fats.
4. Veggie Ribbons. Use a vegetable peeler to make ribbons of carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, and other vegetables. Place in ice water to make them curl, and serve them with low-fat dip or hummus for added protein and fiber.
5. Pear Pinwheels. Spread a whole-wheat tortilla with peanut butter and top with thinly sliced pears. Roll up and cut into slices. You can also substitute apples, bananas, strawberries, and other fruit.
6. Sweet Potato Fake-Cake. Quick-cook a sweet potato (high in fiber) in the microwave for 5-10 minutes on high. (Use a skewer to determine doneness.) Mash the sweet potato in a bowl and spread the mixture on a piece of whole wheat toast. Cut the crust off and cut toast into quarters. Stack the toast pieces, sweet potato side up, to make a slice of layer “cake” with yummy orange “frosting.”
7. Waffle Sticks with Fruit. In a rush? Spread nut butter on a whole-grain waffle cut into sticks and top with berries or banana slices. The little grooves add texture and make them fun to eat.
8. Homemade Snack Mix. This is easy to make ahead and portion for the week. Mix a healthy blend of nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc.), whole grain cereal, banana chips or other dried fruit, and air-popped popcorn for a handy, portable snack. Nuts contain minerals such as magnesium, iron, and zinc, whole grains provide fiber, and dried fruit brings sweetness and vitamins into the mix.
9. Pizza Treats. Make a healthy, fast, no-cook version of pizza. Cut a piece of whole grain bread into a circle using a cookie or biscuit cutter. Toast, and top with a thin slice of tomato. Sprinkle with a little salt, Italian seasoning (optional), and top with small pieces of lean ham or turkey.
10. Mini Tea Sandwiches. Little sandwiches cut out into fun cookie cutter shapes are extra cute. Cut out shapes in whole-grain bread and layer with nut butter and fruit or hummus, lean turkey or ham, and cucumbers, lettuce, carrots, or other vegetables for a balanced treat.
11. Fruit-filled Jello. Little jello cubes with fruit floating in them are visually appealing and fun! Take two cups of juice (apple and grape work well – avoid pineapple due to its high enzyme content) and warm over low heat. Mix in 2 Tbsp. of gelatin and stir until dissolved. Pour into a silicon ice cube mold, and drop a piece of fruit (raspberries, grapes, blueberries, strawberries, etc.) into each one. Once they set in the refrigerator, pop them out and voila! Jello cubes with fruit floating in the middle!
Teaching children to eat healthy sets them on the right track for a lifetime of healthful habits. Start small, with snacks!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.