Healthy picks for busy parents and hungry kids.
It’s 3:30 pm: Do you know where your children are? Chances are, they’re home from school, hankering for a snack. Rather than pop open a box of microwavable pizza bites or a bag of chips, they could just as easily be eating quick, healthy, hold-you-off-until-dinner foods. Janice Newell Bissex and Liz Weiss of Meal Makeover Moms share their best picks for sensible after-school snacking that kids and adults can agree on.
Newell Bissex’ and Weiss’ ultimate “linner” snack? A quick quesadilla made with a whole-wheat flour or corn tortilla. “Healthy snacks are all about filling the nutritional gap in your diet or your child’s diet,” Newell Bissex says. Fill tortillas (a good source of complex carbs) with high potassium diced veggies, mushrooms for bone-building selenium, or beans for fiber and protein. Just be sure to rinse canned beans to remove about 40% of the sodium, they say. Add a zing of flavor with low-calorie options such as cilantro, BBQ sauce or salsa. “Think of snacks as mini-meals rather than an opportunity to snack on empty calories,” Weiss says.
Smoothies are fast, easy, and ideal for fussy eaters, as almost anything goes. Wholesome add-ins include frozen fruit, nut butter, vanilla soymilk, Greek yogurt, or even a bit of chocolate syrup to please kids or chocolate lovers. Your cup will give you a quick hit of nutrition and provide kids with essential nutrients such as fiber, protein, and potassium, Newell Bissex and Weiss say. When you make your own smoothie you have control of what goes in (no artificial colors or flavors, for example).
Pre-made Baked Goods
Replace store-bought granola bars, cookies, and muffins with homemade takes to get natural ingredients like whole grains, protein, and filling complex carbs while avoiding a sugar overload. “Once you have the recipe, they’re super easy [to make],” Weiss says. Snack bars and muffins are ideal for on-the-move parents, and kids who tend to gravitate toward starchy foods, she says. Make a big batch to freeze in individual zip-top bags for easy grab-and-go bites.
Veggie-based dips are rich in antioxidants and provide kids with an immune system boost, which is especially important as school germs creep in, Newell Bissex says. “Kids do like dipping things in various sauces,” she says. Skip ranch dressing for the more nutritious hummus or a dip made with roasted veggies to bring out sweetness. For dippers, use mixed veggies, or, if your child has braces, serve dips with soft pita triangles. Don’t feel guilty about opening up a bag of good-quality tortilla chips, the Makeover Moms say. When buying prepared foods, look for quality ingredients such as whole grains (hint: if you or your kids can’t pronounce them, they’re probably off bets).
“Presentation matters. Snacks should be fun and playful,” Weiss says. Prepare buffet-style bars to get kids excited about healthy snacking and work with ingredients that you both enjoy. Lay out a trail mix bar with natural, no-sugar-added dried fruit, popcorn, raw nuts, and carob, apple, or banana chips in separate bowls, they suggest. Alternately, you can do a fruit parfait or a veggies-and-dip bar. Little tweaks such as putting colorful produce on kebabs or toothpicks can engage kids in healthy snacks, Newell Bissex and Weiss say.
Alternative French Fries
Oily, sodium-laced fries are empty carbs that won’t fill you until dinner, but baked “French fries” made from nutritious veggies make a satiating snack for kids and adults. Vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes are one option, but you can bake almost any veggie to a satisfying crunch. Try pumpkin, squash, zucchini, kale, or panko-breaded avocado for healthier alternatives. “When kids are hungry and you present them with healthy food versus junk food, they’ll eat it,” Newell Bissex says. Plus, can you really go wrong with fries?