My Grandma always said that when you’re really hungry, just about anything tastes good. Take advantage of this when your kids get home from school, cranky and starving. Use the opportunity to serve them a couple of the recommended nine daily servings of vegetables and fruit, and initiate the process of training them to enjoy healthy food.
Here are some of the snacks I prepare for my kids. Yes, this does take a bit of planning, but it’s not terribly time-consuming; often, I’ll get this all ready to go in the morning while the kids are eating breakfast, so it’s ready to pull out or heat up at 4pm. If your kids need a bigger “sell,” try putting the veggies and fruits on skewers (a huge hit), using fun plates, or other gimmicks. As I’ve noted elsewhere, skip the “sell”: kids do not respond well to healthy food messaging!
* Cut-up veggies with hummus or guacamole; one fun way to serve this is to fill small cups about 1/4 full with a dip, then place the veggie sticks into the cup so they’re already “dipped” when your child pulls them out to munch on
* Apples with cinnamon, a light smear of PB, a slice of organic cheese, or just plain. This may sound crazy, but I make the Passover delight, charoset, for my kids’ snack throughout the year: chop apples and a few walnuts, sprinkle with cinnamon, and stir in a spoonful of grape juice
* Orange sections, grapes, cantaloupe chunks, or any other fruit; mixing is good, skewers really make a difference
* A mug of vegetable or some other healthful soup with a few croutons atop. Croutons, by the way, are like magic; they transform even the “yuckiest” food into something appealing to kids. Check labels to make sure they aren’t made from white flour with copious sodium and trans fat. Better yet, here’s a simple recipe you can make in ten minutes then use all week.
* A steamed artichoke with just a little salt shaken on top (or a very small amount of melted butter for dipping). My kids mindlessly pull off the leaves and scrape the “meat” off with their teeth. S0metimes they’ll eat a whole head! These can be steamed (about 30 minutes total) in advance and reheated as needed in the microwave; just make sure to cut off the prickly tips before you cook. When the leaves are mostly plucked off, use a spoon to scrape out the choke, and the kids will eat the heart, too—the best part.
* Lightly salted, organic edamame in the pod, served warm
* Any steamed vegetable, lightly salted with a small pat of butter on top: green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.
* Kale “chips”
* Raw juice (try a mix of carrot, apple, pineapple, and orange, this one’s a big hit at my house)
* Air-popped popcorn with salt and a drizzle of a really delicious olive oil top (I love Trader Joe’s Spanish extra virgin organic olive oil)
* Brown rice and veggie sushi rolls
* Salad: any leafy green with any veggies atop that your kids will eat, plus a simple vinaigrette; a few croutons can help here, too
* Plain low-fat, organic yogurt topped with fresh berries or banana slices and a light drizzle of honey
* A smoothie with banana, berries, a few grapes, milk, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and a small handful of organic baby spinach, blended with ice (they won’t see or taste the greens if you blend well; the grapes are key for sweetness)
* Canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed, lightly salted
The list could go on, but the point is that there are many simple snacks that you can easily make that are nutritious and help train the palette to enjoy the right sorts of foods. Most of these snacks can also be prepared in a calorie-friendly way for children who may be struggling with overweight. The more you can steer these kids to a plant-based way of eating, the easier time they will have maintaining a healthy weight throughout life. Same goes for us adults, BTW. Do your family a favor and take advantage of times when they are hungry and likely to be more accepting of higher quality food. If this is new for you, keep at it, and know that this is without question one of the most important things you can do for your child’s long-term health.