I’m jumping into the heart of the subject right out of the gate: kids eat a lot of refined carbohydrates. Goldfish, cereal, bread, frozen waffles, boxed mac n’ cheese, breaded chicken fingers…sound familiar? These foods are both convenient and hyper-palatable (meaning they excite your little one’s taste buds). They’re also reinforced by our government. The USDA champions the “healthy whole grains” ideology to children and adults alike. It’s understandable that parents keep buying these foods thinking they are healthy kid snacks.
The problem is we don’t differentiate real food from processed food.
A grain of rice is a WHOLE grain. A kernel of wheat that has been processed down into a packaged food with the label reading “whole wheat bread/crackers/cookies”? Not so much. This is a problem. When you strip food out of its natural form, you also strip away the nutrition. While the USDA gives its “Smart Snacks Compliant” approval (a program designed for school aged children) to Lay’s Sour Cream & Onion chips, as a nutritionist with no vested interest in Big Food, I completely disagree.
Here are five wholesome, real food snacks that are high in nutrition, but low in sugar and processed carbohydrates. In other words, they truly deserve the “healthy snacks for kids” label.
I’ll start with the most obvious, but perhaps the most important. Kiddos definitely aren’t getting the amount of produce they should. One suggestion that the USDA and I agree on: fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Variety is king (or queen) here, so the more you can rotate these fruits and veggies, the better. This ensures a more robust phytonutrient profile (non-geek speak: it’s mo’ better for ya kid). I know children get locked into their favorite – or at least most tolerable – veggies. This is where I’ll encourage you to push the envelope. Keep introducing new veggies in different ways.
We do well with these veggie snacks – my toddler can grab them to munch on as she’s bombing around!
ground (husk) cherries
sliced bell peppers & mini peppers
carrots – heirloom, baby and sticks
steamed green beans
mini Bok choy leaves (great for a tuna salad or dip carrier)
roasted Brussels sprouts (and the crispy “chips” that fall off in the oven!)
Do Da DIPpity
Kids love to dip! You can use the veggies in #1 as a shuttle bus for their favorite dip. Unfortunately, store bought dressings and spreads are bad news bears. They contain lots of additives and inflammatory oils that aren’t fit for children (or human) consumption. Even organic hummus often contains inflammatory oils like canola. No worries – I’ve got some tried and true recipes for you to try out.
You can get with this…
Is ranch the holy grail of kid dips? I feel like maybe yes. Did you know you can make your own? (I knowww…I’m the worst. But trust, it’s easy.)
Dried parsley, 4 Tablespoons
Dill weed, 1 Tablespoon
Garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon
Onion powder, 1 Tablespoon
Ground black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon
Store in an airtight container, then mix with grass fed plain yogurt, sour cream or even avocado oil mayonnaise for a thick and tangy dressing! Check out the best and worst mayos here.
…or you can get with that
Homemade Hommus is extremely easy and hard to mess up. Combine chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, olive oil and salt in a food processor. Don’t have a food processor? Use the back of a fork and mash it all together in a bowl. See? Easy.
If you want to get crafty and get those kiddos even more veggie matter, check out these two recipes – they are both hits in my house!
(P.S. early 90’s hip hop references FTW)
Granola and granola bars are deemed “healthy” in pretty much all circles. And yet most of them are laced with pretty awful ingredients. Even the “good” ones are sorta bunk. Let’s examine a popular granola you can find at many health food stores. The name sounds promising – Organic Coconut Chia Oatmeal – but the ingredient lists tells another tale.
Rolled oats, evaporated cane juice, soy oil, dried coconut, brown rice flour, chia seeds, oat syrup solids, natural coconut flavor, sea salt, molasses, natural vanilla flavor.
Three different types of sugar. Cane juice listed as the second ingredient.
Soy oil. This is so, so cheap and is an industry byproduct – don’t consume it.
Two types of natural flavor. “Natural flavor” can mean anything – sketchy.
Flour. Granola doesn’t need flour. It’s just a cheap way to bulk up the product.
I do love junk free granola as a snack for kiddos – it gets in quality fats, fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Granola made with nuts and seeds offers up far more nutrition and satiety than refined carbohydrate heavy snacks. I like to make my own since it’s way cheaper (find my recipes here and here), but two good store-bought options are Paleonola &Purely Elizabeth Grain-Free Granola.
Kale chips are my favorite grab-and-go option for savory munchies. They scratch that “snack” itch and replace refined carbohydrate – or “carbage” – with a nutrient dense veggie. Rhythm brand is easy to find, and their ranch flavor is top notch. Trader Joe’s also carries kale chips with good ingredients, however they do not use organic kale.
If your little ones are resistant to anything green – even if it comes out of a bag – try making kale chips together. Kiddos are more apt to try new things when they’ve had a hand in preparation. I find that unless you use a dehydrator, kale chips get soggy QUICK, so plan to eat them right away. Be sure the kale is COMPLETELY dried, or else you’re basically steaming it in the oven. (If I’m buying kale fresh from a trusted farm, I won’t even wash it.) De-stem, then rip into rough pieces. Massage with olive oil and sea salt. If you want to get a little fancier, add tahini, lemon juice and nutritional yeast for a “cheesy” effect. Set the oven around 400 degrees, and keep your eyes on these bad boys – they’ll turn on a dime.