The eternal question: what healthy snacks will children eat
when we live in a fast-paced world full of ready-to-eat pre-wrapped,
sodium-laden, heavily-marketed "kid-friendly" meals? It doesn't take
trickery, bribery or luck to get kids to eat better. It takes knowledge
of what makes the unhealthy options appealing and finding more
nutritious alternatives that meet those criteria.
Basically, it boils down to this: Humans are hard-wired to crave fat, sugar and salt. Pre-packaged combos meet those requirements, but they do so in quantities that far exceed a child's daily needs, and they come from artificial sources. Sure, it's easy to pick up a few boxes from the deli case and toss one in each backpack in the morning, but the following three combos take the same amount of time and offer natural sources of fat, sugar, and salt, in quantities more suited to growing bodies, and are packed full of vitamins and amino acids.
Snack 1 - Fresh Fruit and Cheese
Geographical region determines which fruits are in season in
specific months, but generally speaking, grapes, apples, pomegranates
and pears in the fall, kiwi and citrus in the winter, berries in the
spring and summer and pitted fruit in the summer. Get
individually-wrapped cheeses or spend a few minutes one afternoon
slicing and packaging chunks to toss in the backpack in the morning.
Most cheeses freeze well, and will remain cold throughout the day
without needing to be packed on ice.
Snack 2 - Hummus and Pita Wedges
Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are full of protein, which is crucial to growing bodies. You can buy tubs of hummus, in flavors that range from plain to sun-dried tomato to eggplant, or you can make your own with a combination of canned chickpeas, tahini (sesame seed paste), salt, lemon juice, olive oil and a food processor; there are hundreds of recipes and variations, but those are the basics. Likewise, pita chips can be purchased in bags like potato chips, or you can cut pita bread into triangles with a pizza cutter and bake them until they're crispy or leave them bread-like.
Snack 3 - Vegetables (and Something to Dip Them in)
Even the pickiest eater likes one vegetable, or will eat a few of
them if there's a dip provided. Nut butters like peanut, almond,
sunflower or cashew provide protein and salt and varieties are
available without hydrogenated oils, also known as trans fats; carrots
and celery are classic pairs for peanut butter. Hummus pairs well with
cauliflower, olives and bell peppers. While various dressings can be
just as trans-fat-laden as the foods you're trying to avoid, healthier
- and even organic - options exist. Many sushi restaurants offer
lightly steamed snow peas with a bit of sesame dressing as an
appetizer, a choice many children enjoy.
If your area has a farmer's market, you can take the kids and have them pick out their own fruit, hummus, vegetables and cheeses, which has the added bonus of teaching them about local farming practices, introducing them to the community and getting them more involved in their eating habits.