Snacks are important. Children have evolved to crave more calories to fuel their growth and play. That's one of the reasons why, as a registered dietitian, I tell my clients to think of children's snacks as less like actual snacks, and more like mini-meals.
That means sitting down at the table for your snack, whenever possible. And it means using it as an opportunity to give them real foods like whole grains, fruits and veggies. Sure, we all have those days when we have to grab something on the move to keep the little ones quiet -- but those days should be the exception, not the norm.
Below are some ideas for convenient, healthy snacks that may make your snacking regimen a little easier.
FROZEN SMOOTHIES AND POPS: Unhealthy, processed snacks are always a temptation for a busy parent. But there are some easy, healthier alternatives. Homemade fruit- and yogurt-based smoothies can make a great, sweet treat for the kids without the need for additional processed sugar -- and they pack in a healthy dose of fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients too. If you know you're going to be too busy to make a smoothie from scratch, try fixing them up in advance and then freezing them as a frozen pop. You can also find good all-fruit smoothies at the grocery store these days. Just be aware that because of the natural sugars in fruit, these are not a low calorie food -- so don't go overboard.
BROCCOLI CHEDDAR 'THINGS': Some time ago, I found a super-easy recipe for broccoli cheddar nuggets over at a blog called Wholesome Baby Foods. It's become a staple at our house, though it did get renamed as "those broccoli cheddar things." I make batches of these and then store them in the freezer, pulling them out and heating them in the microwave as needed. Because broccoli is high in fiber and vitamin C, I know that these filling little snacks are helping keep my little ones healthy. And the egg and cheese makes for a good source of protein too. My only trouble is keeping my husband from scarfing them all down when I am not looking.
Check out this list of baby finger foods from Wholesome Baby Foods for that and other easy recipes.
YOGURTS, KEFIR AND OTHER PROBIOTICS: Something like 90 percent of the DNA contained in our bodies is not human; rather it belongs to various forms of bacteria and mini-beasts that help to regulate our body health. In fact, gut bacteria may play an important role in determining your body weight. The science of the "human biome" is relatively new, so researchers are still trying to figure out how best to encourage a healthy, diverse inner ecosystem. Nevertheless, there's some evidence to suggest that cultured milk products and other "live foods" can help boost a kid's immune system because of their probiotic properties. So try giving your kids organic yogurt, kefir or other probiotic snacks -- but be sure to keep an eye on the sugar content. (Offering plain yogurt and then adding fruit, cereal or honey yourself is one way to control sugar intake.)
VEGETABLE 'FRIES': I like to make my kids "French fries" from time to time -- but please don't tell them that the name is slightly misleading. Actually, what we usually offer are vegetable "fries" -- breaded in corn meal -- and then baked in the oven until crisp. You can make these with a whole variety of veggies, from carrots to zucchini to sweet potato, and you can experiment with adding herbs or parmesan cheese to the breading if you like. These can be great served with a variety of dips like low fat ranch or marinara sauce too.
SAVORY MUFFINS: In a blog post on why breakfast is essential for losing weight, I offered up a recipe for savory quinoa muffins (included again below). There's absolutely no reason why those muffins have to be for breakfast alone. They are packed with protein from the quinoa and eggs, and the addition of a little spinach means there's healthy vitamins too. Try baking some in advance and then freezing them until needed. I have a feeling Robin's savory millet cakes would be a hit as a kid's snack too.
SAVORY BREAKFAST MUFFINS: This is a vegetarian version of a recipe from the wonderful Iowa Girl Eats (check out the website). If you need meat with your breakfast, you could add ham or even a little bacon. Just don't go overboard on saturated fat. Feel free to also play with different veggies and herbs, or to switch up the cheese. (I have an inkling that Gruyere would be delicious...)
2 cups cooked quinoa (3/4 cup uncooked)
2 egg whites
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix to combine. Liberally spray a mini muffin tin with non-stick spray and spoon mixture to the top of each cup. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cups are golden brown. Let cool for at least 5 minutes in the tin before eating or freezing for later use.