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Sprucing up your child's snack menu

Q: My kids are bored with our snack menu. Can you give us fresh ideas to spruce up our selection?

boys eating

A: Snacks are an important part of kids' daily food intake because they get hungry between meals. With their rapidly growing bodies it actually benefits them to eat throughout the day, so snacks become more like a mini-meal.

Keeping any menu lively can be challenging when your bag of tricks start to go a little stale. Sometimes, all it takes is putting a twist on the usual and getting creative with what you have on hand.

There are three basic principles I use when preparing or buying snacks for my kids. First, think of creating snacks from "everyday" ingredients such as fruits and vegetables, proteins, and whole grain-based foods rather than "sometimes" foods such as chips, and sugary and refined foods such as muffins and cookies. Second, keeping with the idea of a snack as a mini-meal, focus on how it can nourish your kids rather than simply fill their stomach so they stop complaining of hunger. And third, find snacks your children can help prepare — this will teach them how to feed themselves and help them develop a vested interest in eating what they make.

Creative mini-meals:

  • Sandwich puzzles — Cut a sandwich into "puzzle"-fitting shapes for a fun take on the plain old sandwich. You can work in a protein using lunch meats, nut butters, spreads or cheese.
  • Pancake sandwiches — Refresh leftover breakfast pancakes by filling them with fruit, drizzling them with honey or dipping them into yogurt.
  • Frozen fruit salad — Freeze cut fruit then serve with yogurt or cottage cheese.
  • Fruit kebabs — Place different pieces of fruit onto a skewer and watch it get devoured.
  • Green smoothies — Throw a handful of leafy greens such as spinach, kale or parsley into your usual smoothie. It's so delicious my son calls it "green ice cream"!

For the adventurous:

popcorn
  • Kale chips — Watch the video
  • Spice lab — Explore spice combinations on popcorn or deviled eggs. Try nutritional yeast (found in our bulk section) for a cheesy flavor on popcorn that also is a great source of B vitamins.

Staples to keep on hand:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables — Make them the easy choice — have them cut and ready to eat on a plate.
  • Dips and spreads — Keep a couple on hand to spread on a sandwich, or use with veggies or crackers. Try our easy ranch dressing recipe, which kids can whip up in less than five minutes. In some cases, I agree with Mary Poppins when she says, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Homemade ranch dressing could be a gateway to getting kids to eat more fresh vegetables.
  • Eggs — Boil and keep in the fridge, or scramble with toast or tortillas. Try throwing in a handful of greens when you scramble the egg and put it on an English muffin.

by Leika Suzumura, R.D., former PCC Nutrition Educator

More about: nutrition, PCC Healthy Kids

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