Take a wide-angle view
An all-or-nothing approach to eating is a trap at any age, but it can really backfire when it comes to getting kids to eat well. Highly restrictive approaches and pressure typically glorify the forbidden. The helpful reality is that a healthful diet has a lot of flexibility: If you are mostly eating minimally processed foods, including plenty of vegetables and fruits, a bag of chips or gummy worms now and then, or a cookie isn’t going to wreck the day. Rather than stress over one snack or ingredient, present an array of healthful options.
Get kids involved
One way to foster a genuine enjoyment of nourishing foods is to give kids a say in planning the week’s snacks. At the market, have them select the fruits and vegetables; let them choose between cheese or yogurt. Give kids a pre-approved list of recipes, such as the Apple Ring Treats and Big Dippers, which let kids put their stamp on snacks. Decisions about a bag of chips vs. a sweet can be part of it, too, without letting those foods dominate.
One way to get kids jazzed about food is to approach it with the wonder of an explorer. Lead them to notice the color, shape, aroma, texture and temperature. They don’t care for broccoli when it is soft and warm, maybe they enjoy it when it is crunchy and chilled? How does eating a fresh banana with peanut butter differ from blending a frozen banana with peanut butter in a smoothie? When they choose a snack, encourage them to consider a variety of colors and textures — something creamy, something crunchy, something juicy — and see what they come up with. This familiarizes children with a variety of foods and makes it more likely for them to enjoy a wider selection of healthful options in the long run.
Make healthy the easy option
When we are hungry and busy, we impulsively reach for the easiest option. Prepping snacks ahead makes grabbing something fresh and healthful ultra-convenient, so that becomes the default. The nourishing recipes here can mostly be made in advance, so they are ready for you and/or a child.
Consider the timing
Try to avoid the trap of the whole afternoon becoming one extended snack-fest or eating too close to dinnertime. Establish a routine where your child eats their snack soon after coming home from school and then waits until dinner is ready. If my daughter nagged, she was “starving” right before dinner, I’d offer her some of the vegetables I was cutting for that meal, which usually helped tide her over just enough.
Be a role model
Encouraging children to snack on fruits and vegetables when you are on your third energy bar of the day is a disconnect they internalize, so model the eating habits you’d like to see them have. The recipes here may be especially kid-friendly, but they are for people of all ages, so let yourself be nourished by them too, and if the timing works, all the better if you can take a moment to snack together.
Make this recipe: Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter and Banana Smoothie
This milkshake-like smoothie is filling, nourishing and perfectly sweet thanks to the very ripe frozen banana blended into it — no added sugar needed. It’s so simple to make, children can whip it up on their own, giving them early kitchen autonomy, and their parents a welcome break.
Make this recipe: Apple Ring Treats
Apples cut into rings, then topped with peanut butter (or any nut or seed butter) make a canvas for an array of toppings, such as coconut, granola, dried fruit, dry cereal or mini chocolate chips. Kids can mix-and-match toppings to decorate their own slices, so they will not only be fueling themselves healthfully, they’ll be having creative fun, too.
Make this recipe: Big Dipper Snack Trays
I often call the yogurt ranch dip in this recipe “magic dip” because it makes everything magically delicious, and it’s healthful, too. The hands-on act of dipping is especially alluring to kids — you might be amazed at how many vegetables they eat when made dunk-able! I like to put a big dollop of the dip into a jumbo ice cube tray (or you could just use a plate) and let the kids choose from whatever is in the cupboard or refrigerator to fill the rest of the wells, encouraging (but not pressuring) a variety of colors and textures, and a mix of different food groups (vegetables, proteins, grains).
Make this recipe: Maple Peanuts and Popcorn
Crunchy, salty, sweet and satisfying, this snack delivers a Cracker Jack vibe in a less sugary, more healthful way. Whole-grain popcorn plus protein-rich peanuts add up to a fun snack that gives you some real sustenance.
Make this recipe: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie
This cookie, chock-full of chewy oats and melty chocolate, satisfies a sweet tooth in a better-for-you way. It’s made with whole grains and less sugar for longer-lasting energy, and a blend of healthful oil and butter. Baking it in a skillet gives it a big-cookie wow factor and eliminates the need to scoop individual mounds of batter, so it’s extra easy to make, too.
Make this recipe: Strawberry Milk
Blending milk with whole strawberries, a touch of vanilla and a little honey makes for a blushing pink, berry-licious treat that’s packed with nutrients. It’s a game-changer from the standard store-bought kind that’s super-sweet and contains no actual fruit. A delightful snack on its own, this milk is even better with the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie (see related recipes) for dunking.
From cookbook author and registered nutritionist Ellie Krieger.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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