Healthy meals for kids look very much like the healthy meals you would make for yourself! If you start this practice early enough, there is no need to modify everything to make it “kid-friendly”. If this is not the case, it’s still not too late!
Coming up with healthy lunches and snacks to send to school might be the biggest challenge for some parents, especially when you have picky little eaters.
I often hear parents say “my kid won’t eat that”. Remember that it can take offering a child a food up to 15 TIMES before they are willing to eat it. I know parenting can be exhausting, but please don’t give up on your child’s nutrition. Try explaining to them why it’s important that they eat healthy – even if they don’t understand at first, as they grow, it will eventually get through to them.
Here are some quick tips on what to choose for healthy lunches and snacks:
- Sandwiches using Whole grain bread (organic preferably). Sneak in some lettuce or spinach or any vegetable they might like. They might pick it out at first, but keep putting it and they eventually try it. Also, skip the luncheon meats and opt for whole foods where possible. This might mean prepping your own slices of meat or tofu.
- Leftovers from dinner the night before in a thermos
- Homemade quesadillas on a whole grain tortilla
- Homemade pizzas (you can use any sort of flatbread as a base, so less prep needed)
- Veggies and/or whole grain/grain-free crackers with hummus (opt for hummus that does not contain oils such as canola, sunflower, safflower – instead choose olive oil, avocado oil or oil free varieties). You can also try making your own at home (takes about 10 minutes)!
- Fruit fruit fruit! Kids are typically more open to eating their fruit than their veggies. Fruit provides lots of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Seeds like pumpkin or sunflower (nuts are likely not allowed in schools)
- Sugar-free applesauce or fruit pouches
- Yogurt with fruit (try to buy the ones with no added sugar and mix in a bit of honey, coconut sugar or maple syrup and fruit)
- Salted popcorn popped in coconut or avocado oil
- Sweet potato, plantain, or cassava chips cooked in coconut oil, or air fried/baked at home using avocado oil.
- Kale chips – These are dried, not fried. They make many yummy flavours now that will likely go over well with the little ones.
- Homemade granola/granola bars
- Homemade muffins, cookies, loaves
I love making homemade treats for kids because you can control the ingredients and there are SO MANY great recipes out there. Look for ones that do not use any refined sugars. If your child has dietary restrictions, you can easily make these recipes gluten free or dairy free by just using a couple of substitutions (or finding a recipe that is already gluten/dairy free). Tip: Gluten free flours such as almond and all-purpose mixes work pretty well. Great egg substitutes include flax/chia eggs, applesauce, xanthan gum, and even the liquid from a can of chickpeas (called aquafaba). Great dairy substitutes include any plant milk, avocado oil, olive oil or coconut oil.
Common snacks to avoid:
Skip the snacks that are sweetened with refined sugars. Sugar gives kids a quick rise in energy, but overall is doing so much more harm. The more sugar they eat, they more they will crave. This creates a cycle that is very difficult to kick.
Also skip the deep fried, or processed snacks (ie. chips, buttered popcorn, animal crackers, cracker sandwiches – most common foods can find in the ‘snack aisle’ of the grocery store), as they lack the vitamins and minerals that are needed for growing bodies, and can be inflammatory. Try looking for snacks in the ‘health food’ section of the grocery store, however you still need to look out for hidden ingredients such as refined sugars and oils.
Overall, sugary snacks or processed foods are totally okay as an occasional treat, but try not to include them in your child’s daily diet.
The main goal is to set your child up for nutritional success in adulthood. This means getting them used to eating healthy, whole foods so that when they start making their own food, they will WANT to eat healthy because it is yummy and makes them feel good!