Making Healthy Snacks Fun for Kids
by Sara Dawkins
Guest Post for 365 Days of Health & Fitness
Getting your kids to eat healthier starts out small. You can’t expect them to change over to a vegetarian diet or eat nothing but green things because it is the latest fad. Instead, try to make healthy eating a normal part of life and even more than that, make it fun! Children snack all day long, most of the time on unhealthy things like candy, cookies, or ice cream if they have their choice. However you are in charge of the food in your house and you can make the snacks both appealing and healthy. Here are some ideas for making healthy food fun for your kids:
1) Fun shapes – From string cheese to fresh fruits and vegetables, you can do all sorts of fun shape and color combinations to make snack time fun. It is a proven fact that the more appealingly food is laid out the more you eat of it. That is why manufacturers work so hard on labeling and packaging their products and part of the reasons why kids like unhealthy foods that are brightly colored and shaped like cartoon characters. You can use the same marketing methods in your snack making. Sting cheese can be sliced into a sting octopus. Apples can be carved into fun animal shapes, and even things like carrots and celery can be placed on the plate to look like SpongeBob or Superman. Make a palm tree out of sliced banana and kiwi or cut out a heart shape using a cookie cutter. The variety is endless. I have even seen apple slices and mini marshmallow teeth, strawberry and yogurt Santas, and berry rainbows.
2) Easy to eat –Another aspect of getting kids to eat more healthy snacks is making them easy to eat and portable. Many times kids eat snacks in the car or on the go, or even while playing. Making these healthy alternatives easy to eat mean cutting them into small pieces and having them washed or peeled ahead of time. You can avoid messes by picking things that are not juicy, like baby carrots, or even opting for dried fruit. Dried peas are a crunchy snack and come in a variety of flavors, as do veggie chips and whole fruit roll-ups. Plain Cheerios, baked cheese crackers, and trail mix are some other on the go snack ideas.
3) Variety –When kids are small they are also picky about what they eat. Maybe they do not like soft foods or hard foods. Maybe they hate the color orange or only eat round food. Whatever the case may be with your child you can help to make sure they eat a healthy snack by offering a wide variety to choose from. I saw a cool idea from one mom who used a (clean and unused) fishing tackle box to store her kids snacks in while they traveled. Healthy snacks like fruits and veggies were put in the large pockets but less healthy things like chocolate chips or gummy candies were also included, just in small does. By giving her kids the option of what they ate but controlling how much, she assured they would eat healthier and still be happy.
4) Dips and sauces –If your children refuse to eat fruits and vegetables as snacks by themselves then you can turn to dips and sauces. By giving your child just a small amount of something tasty to dip their snacks in they will consume more healthy foods. For example you can provide a tablespoon of ranch dip for a pile of carrots and they will happily eat it up. Or a sliced apple with a small amount of melted chocolate or caramel. By providing the dip you give the children the illusion that they are eating something ‘bad’ while they are actually eating more of what is good for them
5) Healthy substitutions –Another aspect to helping your children eat healthier is giving them substitutes for ‘bad’ foods. Like ice cream for example. Many kids beg for ice cream but are just as happy with ice milk, sherbet, or frozen yogurt which is much better for them. Thanks to the frozen yogurt craze there are even trendy places to take your kids for an ‘indulgent’ treat. They’ll never know the difference! Just don’t let them load up on candy toppings. When you are cooking you can also substitute many ingredients for healthier alternatives. Yogurt for sour cream, apple sauce for oil or butter, and whole wheat bread instead of white for their sandwiches.
6) Add some protein –Sometimes fruit and veggies just don’t cut it. We want something substantial for a snack. This is where protein comes in. Healthy proteins like soy beans and nuts make for great snack items. Mix it with other fun foods like dark chocolate chips. Peanut butter is a child favorite, so fill celery with it and add raisins for ‘ants on a log’. Eating proteins help you to feel fuller longer. Avoid salty nuts and make your own trail mix with granola, dried fruits and unsalted nuts. Almonds and almond butter are even healthier than peanuts, so go that way if you can.
7) Drink water –Speaking of substitutions, encouraging your children to drink water instead of sugary drinks like juice and soda does more than just cut calories. Water is essential for your brain and body and can help them to feel and think better. They have also recently discovered that caffeine is not good for children and can alter brain chemistry and effect mood. Avoid the cans and boxes and go for a bottle of water instead. You can even flavor the water with natural things like lemon juice and mint for a different kick. Even cucumber makes for a tasty addition to water. However I think you will find that the more plain water you drink, the more you crave it. Your bodies, and your kids’ bodies, know what they need.
8) Monkey see, monkey do – Eat healthier yourself! If the kids see Mom and Dad munching out on chips and cookies they will not want to sit there with pretzels and carrot sticks. I am sure you could stand to eat a little healthier and if it encourages your kids too then why not go for it. Lose weight, feel better, and encourage your children.
These are just a few of the ways that you can encourage your children to develop healthy eating and snacking habits. The wider the variety of healthy foods children are exposed to at a young age the more likely they are to eat healthier for a life time. Help your children to have a healthy, happy lifestyle by teaching them what it means to eat right and enjoy it.