It's hard to believe that it's already October! The school year is back in full swing and finding creative lunches to pack for your kids is getting harder. In our home, I follow four basic guidelines when preparing snacks for my children (aged three and six) that helps me get stay creative all year long:
Our basic guideline for eating is that if we’re eating at home, we eat healthy foods. It’s really that simple! This allows us relax and enjoy meals eaten not at home, and if you’re like us, this is probably happening more often than you realize.
We have a family restaurant meal on Friday evenings and will often eat out several times on weekends when we are visiting family or friends or on outings. With two children, we also attend birthday parties at least two times a month. Nobody wants to decline crème brulée after steak-frites, and no parent finds it easy to limit their child to a single piece of birthday cake if the other kids are having two. By ensuring 75-90% of our food intake is healthy, we can relax the rest of the time.
Also, while healthy foods are generally not as easy a sell for kids as sugar-filled foods, because children are often quite hungry after school, they may be more receptive to healthy foods at snack time than at other times of day.
Home-made and healthy go hand-in-hand. Preparing snacks from scratch may seem more involved than buying packaged snacks, but if healthy snacks are a priority, it’s time well spent in the kitchen.
Purchasing healthy packaged snacks requires significant research. Many packaged snack foods are essentially empty calories, designed to fill bellies and titillate tastebuds, but are essentially void of nutritional value.
In some cases this is obvious (e.g., potato chips), but many unhealthy foods are marketed as ”healthy” choices (I’m looking at you Nutella®, a product marketed as a healthy, natural, hazelnut-based breakfast option, which is actually 55% sugar, 13% hazelnuts, and is nutritionally nearly identical to a Cadbury Hazelnut Dairy Milk bar … but with much more sugar).
Distilled to their essence, truly healthy packaged snacks are few and far between (and often priced at a premium).
Low-Sugar and -Starch
Starches are what most people refer to as “carbs” – refined/simple carbohydrates that are quickly broken down to sugars in the body.
The primary benefits to reducing sugars and starches in the diet are evident in mood and energy. Sugars and starches give a quick but short-lived boost in energy, followed by a “crash.” Practically, this plays out as a period of hyperactivity (for some, but not all children), followed by low energy and irritability.
Protein and the fiber in non-starchy vegetables and fruit help to further slow release of sugar into the bloodstream.
When you look at the bigger picture, sugars and starches are the ingredients your children will be eating most often away from home, so limiting their consumption at home creates flexibility from a “maintaining a healthy balance” perspective when eating away from home.
Because making snacks isn’t the only thing I have to do with my life!
Pulling it All Together
The simplest way to meet all the guidelines set put above is to think of foods as falling into three major categories: proteins, starches and non-starchy vegetables and fruit. (For more on this, please see an article I contributed for Joy on healthy lunch preparation.
Proteins are meat and dairy products, as well as beans, nuts and seeds. Starches are all grain products and “starchy vegetables” (e.g., potatoes). Non-starchy vegetables and fruit are all other vegetables and fruit.
Create snacks by combining proteins with non-starchy vegetables or fruit.
Some very simple examples of healthy, simple, balanced snacks my kids love are:
Try these, but don’t be afraid to experiment using this “modular” approach on your own.
Wishing you and your kids a healthy, productive and happy school year!