Blog | Rachel Begun, MS, RD

Fun, Easy, Healthy Back-to-School Snacks

fun food for kids on wooden background

Food art for kids is adorable, and if you have the time to do that for your children, GREAT. However, most of us don’t have that kind of time.  But that doesn’t mean getting our kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and other nutritious foods is not of high priority.

I mentioned in last week’s post (Back-to-School Lunch Ideas That Will Please Everyone) that, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, just 2% of children meet the minimum requirement for daily produce intake.

In this country, we often think of snacking as an opportunity to indulge in treat foods–chips, cookies and bars made with too much added sugars and fats, and artificial ingredients.

It’s fine to indulge in these foods on occasion. The problem, though, is that Americans, including our children, snack every single day, and often multiple times a day.  And treat foods shouldn’t be eaten every single day, and definitely not multiple times a day.

So, what’s the middle ground between these fancy creations and the lonely piece of hand fruit or chopped veggie sticks that go untouched?

Here are some fun snack ideas your kids will love and are easy for you to make.  You’ll notice that we’re not using any hard-to-find, unfamiliar ingredients…just presenting them in a fun way!

Apple Nut Butter Stacks
Nut and seed butters contain protein, fiber and healthy fats, all of which add important nutrients and staying power to snacking.  Take your child’s favorite type of apple and cut into thin slices.  Smear a layer of their favorite nut or seed butter in between two slices or even three slices.  For a little bit more texture, add in raisins or granola.  If your child’s school is nut free, no worries.  Sunflower butter is a great option that tastes strikingly similar to peanut butter.  

AppleNutButterStacks

Fruit and Cheese Kabobs
If you want kids to eat their fruit, then incorporate it into a finger-food snack!  Alternate slices of banana, pineapple, grapes, melon cubes and/or berries (whatever they like) with cubes of cheese on long toothpicks and voila!, you will have a snack that gives them a much-needed serving of produce, plus protein to keep them satiated and calcium, a nutrient many kids are not getting enough of.

FruitandCheeseKabobs

Cucumbers and Hummus
The difference between your kids eating their veggies and hummus snack or not may be as simple as making the veggie look pretty.  A simple trick is using a cookie cutter to make a pretty and/or fun shape with cucumbers.  It takes just a minute longer to make!  Refreshing cucumbers are a kid favorite that go great with creamy, savory, fiber-filled hummus.

CucumberandHummus

 


Back-to-School Lunch Ideas That Will Please Everyone

Mother on porch waves to child heading off to school

If you are a parent, you have many things on your mind right now.  What to put in your kids lunch box is one of them. Taste and fun are top of mind for your kids, while good nutrition is on your priority list.  So, how do you please everyone?

Here is a list of nutrients most likely to be missing from childrens’ diets and fun lunch ideas for each.  You’ll have piece of mind knowing you’re giving them good nutrition, and they’ll come home with an empty lunch box and two thumbs up!

Potassium and Fiber
The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans identified four nutrients of concern for Americans, meaning these are the four nutrients Americans are most likely to be deficient in, children included.  Potassium and fiber are two of the four (the other two are mentioned below).  I mention them together, because they are both found in high amounts in fruits and vegetables.

It’s probably not a secret to you that children aren’t getting enough fruits and vegetables.  In fact, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, just 2% of children meet the minimum requirement for daily produce intake. This is not a judgement. I know how difficult it is to get kids to eat their fruits and veggies, so here are some ideas to keep in mind when packing their lunches:

  • If whole fruit and cut veggies go untouched, find ways to incorporate them into the foods you know they like. Mix blueberries and granola into yogurt.  Veggies just might go down easier when they are in the the sandwich rather than next to it. Think lettuce, tomatoes avocado and grilled peppers (from last night’s dinner) for turkey, chicken and tuna sandwiches.  Sliced bananas go well with a nut or seed butter sandwich.
  • Take advantage of leftovers! Veggie stir-fry, lasagna or a frittata from last night’s dinner make for a tasty lunch and require no preparation.
  • For stand-alone fruit, kids like options they can eat with their fingers.  That’s one of the reasons I love Naturipe Washed and Ready-to-Eat Fresh Blueberries.  They’re a sweet finger-food loaded with nutrients, including potassium, fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. They come in three connecting snack packs.  So, you can pack one or all three in your kids’ lunch box. They’re sealed for freshness so one or two of the packs can last for an afternoon snack.

Trio Blueberries

Omega-3′s
In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a joint statement recommending that pregnant women, breastfeeding women and young children eat more fish low in mercury in order to get the nutrients important for brain health and development.  Omega-3′s are one of the nutrients being referred to.

The statement said “Choices lower in mercury include some of the most commonly eaten fish, such as shrimp, pollock, salmon, canned light tuna, tilapia, catfish and cod.”

Well, canned light tuna is a tried and true option for the lunch box or brown bag.  If your kids aren’t digging the tuna fish sandwich, try tuna-stuffed cherry tomatoes.  They’re a cinch to make and your kids will love to pop them in their mouth. Cut off the top of the tomato, scoop out the seeds with a small spoon, and fill the hole with your favorite tuna salad.  Canned salmon works, too!  It’s fun finger food and they’ll get an extra serving of produce from the tomatoes.

For variety, avocados and peppers are great stuffing vessels as well!

Tomatoes stuffed with tuna

Calcium and Vitamin D
Calcium and vitamin D are the other two nutrients of concern.  And, their benefits go well beyond bone health.  Calcium is important for cardiovascular and muscle function.  Vitamin D is also essential for muscle function and we are learning plays a critical role in immunity.  The important thing to know is that they go together.  The body needs vitamin D in order to absorb calcium (they don’t have to be eaten together).

Most know that milk products are rich in calcium and fortified with vitamin D, but that’s just the beginning.

Calcium is found in many non-dairy foods, which is important for kids who don’t tolerate milk or young adults who may choose not to drink/eat it. Think leafy greens for a lettuce wrap, figs as a side finger food, almonds as part of trail mix, black bean dip as a sandwich spread or dip for 100% corn tortilla chips, edamame as a finger food (buy them frozen and they usually defrost by lunchtime), and fortified alternative “milks” as the base for a smoothie

Vitamin D, unfortunately, is found naturally in very few foods.  Salmon is one, so the canned salmon ideas mentioned above are a double nutrition whammy.  Eggs are another.  It’s easy to find recipes online for an egg, cheese and veggie baked frittata.  The eggs contain vitamin D, the cheese is loaded with calcium, and the veggies provide potassium and fiber.  For a fun lunch idea, pour the frittata batter into muffin cups.  One is a perfect serving size for younger children.  As they get older, they may need two or three.  This is a great idea if you have kids of varying ages.  You won’t have to make a completely separate lunch for each kid!

 Mini Frittata Finger Food

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.  I received complimentary samples of the Naturipe Washed and Ready-to-Eat Fresh Blueberries and was paid by Naturipe to write this post.  The opinions, lunch ideas and nutrition knowledge shared in this post are my own.)

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