Sometimes you are either too busy or out running errands and can't make your kids a healthy snack. But regardless of where you are your kids will eventually need to refuel. So here are some ready made natural snacks that will keep your kids satisfied and away from the vending machine.
Sesame honey almonds- available at Trader Joe's, these snacks combine two excellent and healthy snacks into a single, sweet, crunchy bag. They're high in protein and can satisfy a sweet tooth.
Cascade Fresh Cascaders- available at natural foods stores, these yogurt smoothies are all natural and full of probiotics to help maintain a healthy digestive system. They are sweetened with fruit juice as opposed to regular sugar and gram for gram actually have less sugar than other yogurt smoothies. Translation- your kids won't get hyped up after drinking one!
Stretch Island® Fruit Company™ Original Fruit Strips- available at many grocery stores, it doesn't get more portable than these. They're small enough to fit in a pocket and one strip equates to 1/2 a serving of fruit. They come in a variety of flavors so your kids can have a different one each day of the week.
Ingredients lists are often overlooked, however they provide a wealth of information about what your kids are eating. Ingredients are listed in decreasing order (i.e. from highest to lowest) by weight. Thus if you're concerned about sugar, you want to insure it's not one of the first few ingredients. In addition the components of complex ingredients (such as chocolate) must also be listed in parentheses so make sure that you can also see what these are made out of.
I once read a quote from an athlete in which he said that if he couldn't pronounce the ingredient on the list, then he didn't eat the product. That sounds pretty basic and yet is actually good advice. If you don't know what the ingredient is or how to say it, you probably don't want your kids to eat it. The more simple the product, the less processing and refining. That then translates into more easily digestible food for your kids. Moreover the easier it is to break down, the less gets left behind to be stored by the body.Food additives are the result of trying to keep food production costs down and making the manufacturing process easier to control. Many times they are less expensive than higher quality ingredients and they also increase the lifespan of a product, allowing for wider distribution.Since there are typically a lot of ingredients that are not readily recognizable, here is a list of common food additives with their purpose and examples of each:Acids, bases and buffersPurpose: Improve flavor and preserve foodExamples: Citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum phosphateFlour bleaching agentsPurpose: Lighten foods, oxidize grain to develop glutenExamples: Nitrogen oxides, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, benzoyl peroxideColoringsPurpose: Enhance and preserve colorExamples: Annatto extract, caramel coloring, sulfur dioxideDough conditionersPurpose: Strengthen textureExamples: Ascrobic acid, ammonium chloride, DATEM, calcium saltsEmulsifiersPurpose: Keep liquids and solids from separatingExamples: Monoglycerides, diglycerides, egg yolk, sugar ester, soy lecithin, calcium stearoyl di laciateFlavorings and flavor enhancersPurpose: Improve tasteExamples: Monosodium glutamate (MSG), disodium inoinate, guanylic acid, disodium guanylate, maltolLeavening agentsPurpose: Make batter or dough riseExamples: Yeast, egg whites, baking soda, baking powderNutritional additivesPurpose: Improve nutritional contentExamples: Vitamins and mineralsPreservativesPurpose: Keep foods from spoiling by either antimicrobial or antioxidant abilityExamples: Benzoates (like sodium benzoate, benzoic acid), nitrites (like sodium nitrite), sulfites (like sulfur dioxide), sorbates (like sodium sorbate, potassium sorbate), vitamin E, vitamin C, Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), polyphosphates, EDTASequestrantsPurpose: Improves stability of foodExamples: Ethylenediamine tetra acetic acid (EDTA), potassium gluconateStablilizers and thickenersPurpose: Preserve a foods textureExamples: Algin, xanthan gum, modified food starch, gelatin, pectin, agarSweetenersPurpose: Sweeten tasteExamples: Sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, granular fruit sugar, sucrose, lactose, isomol, amlitol, mannitol, sorbitol, maltose, xylitol, malt, honey, maple sugar, maple syrup, molasses, rice syrup, aspartame, saccharine, sucralose (Splenda)
I know that reading ingredient lists at the grocery store is both tedious and time consuming. You're infringing on nap time, your infant is about to have a break down, or your three year old won't stay in their ever-shrinking spot in the cart. The last thing you have time for is reading the long list of ingredients in painstakingly small print on the side of the box. What I recommend doing is getting to know what your kids are really eating gradually. Buy your groceries as normal, then check out the ingredients when you get that item out to feed your kids or when you have some extra time. Gradually phase out those products that are chalked full of processed goods and replace them with more natural productsRelated external links
Search food additives website
Thank goodness for nutrition facts! They give us an idea as to how much good stuff and bad stuff a product has. The only issue is a lot of people don't know the caveats of these lists. Sure it's easy to tell how many grams of fat something has, so what else do you need to think about?
The guide above is adapted from the FDA's guidelines on reading nutrition labels. In addition here are a few more things to consider when reading these labels with your kids in mind.
First off, you have to keep in mind that the companies that list these facts are also trying to sell you the product. So a lot of times the serving size is much smaller than what your kids might actually consume. Case in point: ice cream. Typically the serving size listed on the product is a 1/2 cup. That's not very much ice cream, try measuring it out sometime. So keep this in mind when you look at that list, you might need to multiply the numbers 2 or 3 times to get a more accurate assessment.
Many people simply focus on the calories and fat content of a product. Don't stop there! When it comes to kids diet's, it's also important to look at the salt and sugar content, which are displayed in grams. The less the better in kids' bodies.
Finally think about the total number of calories when you look at the percentages. These numbers are meant to tell you what one serving of the product gives you in terms of your total daily needs. But these amounts are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, which is about what a healthy adult woman should consume. So if you're feeding a teenage boy, these percents are actually lower since their total caloric needs are higher. On the other hand if your feeding a 3 year old these percents will be a lot higher, so don't over do it.Related external links:How to read food labels- detailed info from the FDAKids food pyramidCalcium requirements
Kids need a lot of snacks since their small stomachs limit their ability to get all of their caloric needs from large meals alone. Their growing bodies require a lot of nutrients to ensure proper growth. In fact osteoporosis is sometimes deemed a juvenile disease with adult onset, meaning that a lack of calcium at a young age results in osteoporosis in the latter years of life.
Thus since you need to keep them fueled with healthy foods, when your kids want a snack don't grab the junk food that's in the check out lane or in the center aisles of the grocery store. These prepared foods typically have a lot of additives that won't help developing bodies grow. Instead stock your pantry with snacks that give your kids valuable nutrients that will aid in growing strong, healthy bones and bodies overall. When in doubt as to what kinds of snacks you should invest in go for natural snacks, such as trail mix, cheese sticks and rice cakes. since these food typically don't have a lot of preservatives. And always make sure you don't leave the house without them so that you aren't tempted to cave into that junk food crutch to soothe a tantrum or placate a persistent child.
One of the most portable and satisfying snacks are nut-based goodies because they are packed with protein and, depending on the nuts or seeds they're made with, potentially contain omega 3 fatty acids . Keep a bag of trail mix in the car or in your bag so that you always have them handy. Just make sure you are getting trail mixes that have healthy ingredients. That means that you should lay off the ones that have chocolate pieces , yogurt pieces or M&M's since most kids will preferentially eat all these sweet morsels first, then be too full for more beneficial ingredients. Instead opt for mixes that have nuts, seeds and dried fruit so that your kids are getting a variety of nutrients in each handful.
In addition fruits, vegetables and anything that you make at home using basic products will be better for your kids than something that you get out of a vending machine. Keep a store of these in the fridge or cupboard so you can grab them before you leave. Great examples include fresh portable produce like grapes, apples, oranges, sliced melon, sliced carrots, snap peas or bell pepper slices. For snacks that will hold your kids over longer try hard boiled eggs
or whole grains (like whole wheat bread , bagels or rice cakes) with nut butter toppings.
Finally it really helps satisfy your kids daily nutritional needs if you combine two food groups in one snack. For example, have fruit with a dairy product like cheese (like in our fruit and cheese kabobs
) or yogurt so that your kids get two food groups in one sitting. It'll make your kids diets more diverse and balanced and keep them satiated a little longer.
A great way to add a little more nutritional content to your kids snacks is top them off with a little extra crunchiness. Case in point- seeds. They are small enough to not draw away from the overall taste of the food while adding a little more texture and a lot more nutrients. Essentially seeds (and legumes and nuts) contain the nutrients necessary to make a new plant, thus they have a lot of value in a very small volume. Moreover they are high in fiber and rich in minerals.
One excellent choice are flax seeds. These can be sold raw, roasted, or ground. They are high in fiber, have a lot of omega-3 fatty acids and also have a high amount of protein. They can easily be disguised in ground from and added to yogurt, cottage cheese, hot cereals and soups or you can top off cold cereal and trail mix with the whole version. The ground flax are going to add the most nutritional value, while the roasted from will be a little more concentrated that the raw state.
Sunflower seeds are packed with omega-6 fatty acids. They also have a lot of vitamin E, thiamin, magnesium and folate. They are delicious eaten alone, or can be added to trail mix and cereal. They are sold either within the husk or shelled. Your kids might really enjoy eating them when they are in their shells, but if you're going to add them as a topping it will be a lot easier if you have a bag of the shelled variety.
Pumpkin seeds are another source of omega-6 fatty acids and protein. They also have a lot of minerals, like zinc, magnesium and copper. They are available year round, but it is a wonderful family Halloween tradition to roast (i.e. bake them in your oven until golden) your own pumpkin seeds using your kids pumpkin carving scraps. Not only will you all be having fun, you'll also be making them a fabulous healthy snack. They are fun to eat alone, or can also be incorporated into cereals.
Seeds make an excellent addition to your kids diets. If your kids initially don't like them, they are easily disguised in food or can be ground so they aren't visible to the discerning eye. They'll help hold your kids over longer while giving them minerals that typically are not easy to incorporate into their daily diets.
Everyone know that eating fruits and vegetables is a good thing, but it is not always clear as to why they're so good for your health. In fact there are a lot of health benefits associated with eating lots of fruits and vegetables: specifically lower blood pressure, better gastrointestinal function, and a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke and even some types of cancer. Furthermore eating more fruits and vegetables can moderate blood sugar so appetites are less fluctuating.
But despite the fact that they are so good they are for you, some kids are particularly adverse to eating them. That particularly pertains to vegetables, which can taste bitter to kids sensitive palates. Keep in mind that children have more taste buds than adults, and even have some on their cheeks. That means that they are more likely to notice flavors that you would consider mild, and that can lead to difficulty getting them to eat food that have a more distinctive flavor, like broccoli. Furthermore many children are wary of trying new foods, in fact many children will not accept a new food until it has been introduced ten times (source: American Academy of Pediatrics
You can dull the distinctive tastes of bitter vegetables by either tricking their taste buds or by cooking your vegetables so that they lose some of those distinctive flavors. To trick those sensitive mouths, try frozen veggies. The coldness of the vegetable makes it taste less bitter because the flavor is masked behind the cold sensation. In addition the crunchiness of the frozen food is also appealing, just take note of how many snack food are crunchy. If you're lucky then your kids might even started to eat raw vegetables as they develop a tolerance to the bitterness. Moreover frozen vegetables are quickly frozen at their peak ripeness, so they actually retain a lot of their nutritional content.
Cooking them will also really reduce their bitterness, but depending on your cooking method you can lose a lot of their natural vitamins and minerals. Your best option at keeping the most nutrients intact is microwaving since it cooks vegetables quickly without added water. If you're going to cook them on the stove top, steaming will retain more nutrients than boiling. If you opt for the oven keep in mind that the higher temperature of cooking will break down more nutrients than a stove top method. Try offering vegetables and fruits in different ways- either by joining them with food you know your children will eat or by cutting them up differently. For example, shred carrots one day with raisins, then serve carrot sticks alone the next day. You can always fine tune your art skills and make a funny fruit arrangement, like a friendly face or a rendition of your child's favorite pet.
If those options still don't work there is always the sneak it in other foods technique. A couple of good potential targets of this method are pancakes and home made pizzas. Simply puree, shred or finely chop fruits and veggies, then cook them in the pancake batter or strategically hide them beneath the cheese. If you are adding tomato sauce to your pizza, puree sweet potatoes and add them to the sauce.
When selecting fruits and vegetables for your children, remember that diversity is your best friend. By giving your kids a diverse assortment of fruits and vegetables, you're increasing the nutritional benefits they'll receive. As a general rule of thumb, the more color the better it is for your kids. Dark green, red, orange and yellow produce are particularly beneficial.
To make sure that your whole family is getting their fruits and veggies, always make sure you have at least one side of fruits or vegetables with every meal. Even if it's just a slice of cantaloupe or some carrot sticks, it'll give your kids one more serving to help get them closer to that five a day goal. Then if they have two fruit or vegetable-based snacks on top of that, they'll have made their daily allotment.Finally make sure that you set a good example. If your kids see you eating fruits and vegetables, they're more likely to try them out. Then everyone benefits from eating a healthier diet.
After noticing them for years, I've finally jumped onto the Bento lunchbox bandwagon. My children attend a daycare where we have to pack their lunches daily. I finally grew tired of packing several different tupperwares (which also involves trying in vain to find the right lids) and trying to cram them in to a lunch bag. Kids can be picky, and if I mixed two sides together sometimes my little girl would complain that they both tasted funny. With a Bento we get around that. I have to admit, we both are pretty happy with the results thus far. And packing her lunch gets my creative juices flowing again.I bought my daughter's Bento from a store here in Tucson called Nurturing Nature that sales eco-friendly products (I recently bought a $40 wool diaper there, much to my husband's chagrin, but that's another story). The box is made by Laptop Lunches and is BPA, phthalate and lead free. Essentially it's a large latching plastic box that you can put smaller plastic boxes into, some with lids and some without. In our box there are five inner boxes total; two large, two small and one very small for dipping sauce (or I use it for sunflower seeds) along with a stainless steel fork and spoon. So viola, everything is transportable and compact. Moreover everything is dishwasher safe, although I just hand wash it all since I need it ready to next day. So if anyone's in the market for a waste-free lunch box, try a Bento. If you already have one, here's an idea for a tasty Bento:Large box: cheese quesadilla with black beans and corn (just add canned whole beans and some frozen corn kernels while melting the cheese)Large-Medium box: supremed grapefruit slices mixed with coconut flakes with honey drizzled on topSmall box: shelled edamame and carrot coinsSmall box: trail mixLike I said, it's like having lots of snacks for lunch- what could be better? Enjoy!
Processed foods are convenient, but there's little else about them that is good. Technically they have been altered from their natural state by means of cooking, chemicals, preservatives and dyes that make them last longer and more aesthetically appealing, but these additives are not necessarily good for kids. Recently it has been shown that there is an increased prevalence of kids developing kidney stones, which might be due to the high amounts of salts found in processed foods that kids regularly consume, like soups and deli meats. Furthermore in adults processed food have been linked with obesity and an increased risk of certain types of cancers, such as stomach cancer.
Natural foods, on the other hand, typically provide more nutrients and minerals since they are fresher (nutrients degrade quickly, thus the older a food is, the less nutritional benefit it contains). Technically natural foods do not contain any artificial ingredients, coloring, or chemical preservatives. Aside from negating artificial components from your kids' diets many fruits and vegetables (an obvious natural food) contain antioxidants, which can help kids bodies flush out remnant harmful compounds found in processed foods.
Keep in mind that not all processed foods are necessarily bad for your children- for example most dairy products are pasteurized which would qualify as processing. Yet this heating process removes potentially harmful bacteria from the milk, thereby keeping your kids healthy. However when processed food contain a lot of additives, they can be detrimental. Examples of snacks that should be avoided are as follows:
- canned foods with lots of salt
- Foods made with refined white flour, such as white breads and pastas
- packaged snacks like potato chips
- store bought baked cakes and cookies
- sugary breakfast cereals
- processed meats
So how do you know which is which? There are the obvious natural foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. If you are not buying the product in it's natural state, then consult the ingredients lists
. If there are a lot of ingredients that are unfamiliar to you, or if you see ingredients that contain the words "refined", "bleached" or "modified" these products are not something that your kids should be eating in excess. Finally check the sugar and salt content on the nutrition facts label
- the higher these numbers are the less your kids should have it.Related external linksWhat are processed foodsWhich foods are whole grains
When it comes to snacking, many parents are resorting to organic foods for their kids. This makes sense in the wake of all the issues in the media relating to conventional foods. So how do you know if something is organic, and what does that even mean?Food that are labeled organic must be approved by USDA to carry such a label. This label means that organic food producers must adhere to regulations
regarding soil and water use and also must practice human treatment of animals. The latter also entails that hormones and antibiotics cannot be used on animals. Furthermore these animals must have outdoor access and livestock need to have access to pastureland. State agencies oversee these farms and fine those that in violation of these practices. However there are large scale organic farms that have exploited loopholes in these regulations. To help curb this the Department of Agriculture has created stricter rules governing the treatment of animals that produce organic meat.
That means that these animals will have more defined rules about grazing and outdoor access to food. These rules will go into effect in 2011.Fruits and vegetables that are organic are labeled as such on their price look up tag (PLU, those stickers that are on each fruit and vegetable). Any PLU that starts with a 9 is an organic product. These numbers are 5 digits long while conventional produce are 4 digits and begin with either a 3 or a 4. For these items to be designated organic pesticides are not allowed and they cannot be bioengineered. You do have to look at the fine print when it comes to how organic your food is, particularly if you are getting a processed good like cereal or crackers. Here is a guide to decipher what each term means:
Related external linksGreenerChoices.org
- 100% organic - single ingredient food like fruits and vegetables, meat, milk and cheese.
- Organic- there are multiple ingredients that go into the food that are 95 to 100% organic.
- Made with organic ingredients- Again this is for multiple ingredient foods and 70% of the ingredients are organic.
- “Contains organic ingredients” - Less than 70% of the ingredients are organic.
Many parents try to cut sugar out of their kids diets by resorting to reduced sugar or sugar free products. The only issue with this action is that a lot of these products still have sweeteners, but they are artificial ones that replace traditional sugar. Thus you are not cutting down on the sweet taste of the product, but adding in more artificial ingredients. These artificial sweeteners are not easily processed by the body since they are such foreign products.
One study found that when subjects consumed aspartame (a common artificial sweetener found in diet soda), they're bodies were still expecting a glucose load that never was filled by the artificial sweetener. Since their bodies didn't get what they expected, those same subjects then ate more in a subsequent meal than controls.
Not all sugars are created equal. Or more accurately the refining process makes some sugars less digestible than others. Our traditional refined white sugar, which you find in almost all recipes, is not a natural sugar. Instead you should try to replace it, when possible, with unrefined cane sugar. These are becoming more available at many grocery stores and typically are golden in color and have larger granules. You can also use honey, agave nectar or rice syrups (which come in an assortment of flavors) as substitutes.
Brown sugar, though darker in color, is not necessarily any better that traditional refined sugar. A lot of times the cheaper brands just take refined sugar and coat it with molasses to make it brown. If you soak these granules, you will find that they turn white again. So keep this in mind when you buy your brown sugar. You can always research the brand on-line to learn more about it's processing.