You already know how important healthy food is for your kids during school to keep them alert, healthy, and energized, but it is easy to fall into quick-and-easy food patterns that sacrifice nutrients for ease. Here are some ideas to give your kids healthy, easy, delicious meals.
Start with breakfast
“Studies suggest that children who skip the morning meal run a greater risk of being overweight…Healthy breakfast foods, such as milk and whole grains, provide an array of nutrients necessary for proper growth and good health, including iron, calcium, vitamin D, and fiber,” said Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, a Boston-based spokewoman for the American Dietietic Association, quoted in an article on healthy family meals on WebMD.
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Here are some healthy breakfast ideas suggested by WebMD:
- Whole-grain toast topped with 1 1/2 ounces melted reduced-fat cheddar cheese; 1 cup cubed fruit
- 1/2 whole-wheat English muffin with 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese; medium banana; served with milk or decaf fat-free latte
- Mini whole wheat bagel spread with almond butter; 1 cup plain Greek yogurt mixed with ½ cup frozen puréed berries
- Nut butter pancake roll-ups: microwave two small frozen pancakes and spread with 2 tablespoons nut butter; ½ cup grapes; serve with 8 ounces 1% low-fat or fat-free milk
- Whole wheat English muffin egg sandwich: Layer ½ of the English muffin with a sliced hard cooked egg, ¼ cup reduced-fat cheddar cheese, and top with other half. Microwave until cheese is melted.
- Plain oatmeal microwaved with milk instead of water and topped with ¼ cup California raisins and 2 tablespoons chopped almonds
Everydayhealth.com adds that breakfasts do not have to be time consuming. Dry cereal in a baggie, a Nutrigrain bar, or a banana eaten on-the-go is just as nutritious.
What’s in your lunch box?
Here are some healthy lunch ideas from everydayhealth.com:
- A natural peanut butter sandwich topped with sliced apples, bananas, raisins, or shredded carrots on 100 percent whole-wheat bread
- Strips of grilled chicken breast with avocado, tomato, and peppers in a whole-wheat wrap
- Whole-wheat pasta salads with cubed lean ham or turkey
- A quesadilla made with reduced-fat cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla
- Individual packets of high-fiber, whole-grain crackers with hummus or reduced-fat cheese
- An assortment of colorful cut-up veggies paired with reduced-sugar ranch dressing for dipping
- Reduced-fat cheese sticks
- Single-sized portions of unsweetened applesauce or fruit chunks packed in natural juice
- Sliced apples, pears, or other fruit for dipping in low-fat vanilla or lemon yogurt
- Trail mix made with whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat pretzels, and dried fruit
Snacking to re-energize
Snacks can get you through homework, sports practice, or that late afternoon lull. These principles of smart snacking from the Mayo Clinic’s website can help you plan a delicious, nutritious snack menu:
- Keep junk food out of the house: Your child won’t clamor for cookies, candy bars or chips if you don’t keep them on hand. Set a good example by choosing healthy snacks yourself.
- Go for the grain: Whole-grain foods — such as whole-grain pretzels or tortillas and high-fiber, whole-grain cereals — provide energy with some staying power.
- Mix and match: Serve baby carrots or other raw veggies with fat-free ranch dressing or hummus. Dip graham cracker sticks or fresh fruit in fat-free yogurt. Spread peanut butter on celery, apples or bananas.
- Broaden the menu: Offer out-of-the-usual fare, such as pineapple, cranberries, red or yellow peppers, mangoes, tangelos or roasted soy nuts.
- Revisit breakfast: Serve breakfast foods — such as scrambled eggs and whole-grain toast — as healthy snacks for kids in the afternoon.
- Sweeten it up: Healthy snacks for kids don’t have to be bland. To satisfy your child’s sweet tooth, offer fat-free pudding, frozen yogurt or frozen fruit bars. Make smoothies with skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and fresh or frozen fruit.
- Have fun: Use a cookie cutter to make shapes out of low-fat cheese slices, whole-grain bread or whole-grain tortillas. Make fruit kebabs or show your child how to eat diced fruit with chopsticks. Make a tower out of whole-grain crackers, spell words with pretzel sticks, or make funny faces on a plate using different types of fruit.
- Promote independence: Keep a selection of ready-to-eat veggies in the refrigerator. Leave fresh fruit in a bowl on the counter. Store low-sugar, whole-grain cereal and fruit canned or packaged in its own juice in an easily accessible cabinet.
- Don’t be fooled by labeling gimmicks: Foods marketed as low-fat or fat-free can still be high in calories and sodium. Likewise, foods touted as cholesterol-free can still be high in fat, saturated fat and sugar. Check nutrition labels to find out the whole story.
- Designate a snacking zone: Restrict snacking to certain areas, such as the kitchen. You’ll save your child countless calories from mindless munching in front of the TV. If your child needs to snack on the go, offer string cheese, yogurt sticks, cereal bars, a banana or other drip-free items.