Healthy kids become healthy adults, but with lives that are so busy and convenience foods that are so convenient what simple changes can you make that will yield the best results? In this edition of Eat This, Not That, we focus on easy changes to make to feed your kids more veggies and less fast food, plus a few other changes that they will find delicious!

Instead of: The Clean-Your-Plate Club

Try: The Try-Everything-On-Your-Plate Club

There used to be a time when cleaning your plate was the hallmark of a healthy eater, but with plates expanding right along with waistlines, that is missing the point. Instead of insisting that your child eat everything on their plate, insist instead that they try a bite of everything. Studies have shown that it takes a toddler sometimes up to 20 tries of a new food before they will say they like it, and this simple practice can help expand the range of foods they will eat.

It should go without saying that the foods you put on their plate matter. Try to provide new foods they haven’t had before or to cook familiar foods in different ways. Do they like raw carrots? Try lightly steamed carrots. Mashed potatoes a big hit? Try mashed cauliflower.

Be judicious with portion sizes, too. You can always offer more of a certain food, but start off with age-appropriate portions. Some children may want to serve themselves. In that case, provide them with a smaller serving spoon.

Model this behavior yourself by trying new foods and mixing up your own diet.

Instead of: Fast food because it’s quick and convenient

Try: Bento boxes for on-the-go

It’s very simple: healthy kids eat minimal fast food. There is really no place in a healthy diet for even one fast food meal a week. But what do you do if you need food, fast?

A little planning ahead can help with this, and it starts with Bento boxes. Bento boxes are a Japanese art form, basically beautifully prepared lunches in a box. They go beyond a simple sandwich and bag of chips, using cookie cutters for shaped fruit and cheese. Servings are small, perfect for tiny eaters and grazers, and there is a large variety of foods offered in each box.

Spend some time on Sunday afternoon before the week starts to plan a few Bento boxes for those times when you know you will need a quick meal. Some Bento kits come with thermos options so you can even provide a hot soup or snack. Some quick Bento ideas include:

  • Meat and cheese rolled into a tortilla and sliced in rounds, served with berries, celery, and cucumber
  • PB&J (or any other nut butter) with sealed crusts, fresh pineapple flowers, and sugar snap peas
  • Pita or flatbread with hummus, blueberries, and a mini-muffin
  • Small black bean “meatballs” with barbecue dipping sauce, avocado slices (sprinkled with lemon to prevent browning), and cantaloupe bites
  • Rice or quinoa salad with watermelon and nuts
  • Hard-boiled egg, fresh berries, and a handful of cocoa-dusted almonds

The possibilities are endless. Take mini versions of the foods your kids love, and pack a few Bentos for quick, on-the-go meals.

It also helps to have an emergency stash of snacks in the car. Focus on nutrient dense snacks like bars filled with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits or small baggies of nuts on their own. This can help fight the temptation to swing through the drive-thru on the way home.

Instead of: Making all food choices for your kids

Try: Egg cartons or muffin tins filled with healthy snacks your kids can get to on their own

Younger kids don’t always have the stomach to sit down to just three squares a day. They like to graze and may only need a small amount of food before they feel full. The easy, stress-free solution to this is simple: fill up an egg carton (toddlers to kindergartners) or muffin tin (elementary school kids) with portioned, healthy snacks and put them in the ‘fridge at kid level. When hunger strikes, they can help themselves to a variety of snacks on their own. If you have multiple children and one has health issues or allergies and the other does not, you can tailor each tray to each kid. If you need to monitor calories consumed or types of foods eaten, this is an easy way to do that, too.

Some idea of muffin tin snacks for the ‘fridge are:

  • Cheese cubes (or shapes, cut out with cookie cutters)
  • Grapes or other fruits like berries
  • Ants on a log (celery with peanut butter and raisins)
  • Hard-boiled egg halves
  • Edamame
  • Veggies (they can sit in a small serving of dip or hummus)

It helps to also have a designated snack shelf in the pantry for your kids, too. Fill this with shelf-stable snacks like pretzels, dried fruit, crackers, peanut butter, and nuts and let them have free access to it whenever they are hungry. The key is to make the snacks appealing and healthy and give kids some freedom when it comes to eating. They may request certain foods to be included, and older kids can help put the trays together.

Instead of: Soda

Try: Juice-spiked seltzer water

In general, we could all stand to drink more water, but sometimes kids want a little something else. Instead of reaching for soda with 22 grams of sugar per serving (about a cup of soda, generally), reach for plain seltzer and flavor it with their favorite 100% juice. Make the drink even more special by adding chunks of frozen fruit or fruit puree cubes to the glass and top with fresh mint. Juice does contain natural sugars, so it’s important to not overdo that either, but this is a great substitute for sugary sodas.

It is important to also avoid water flavorings. Those are made with artificial ingredients and sugar substitutes, both of which are not healthy for anyone. In general, sugar substitutes should be avoided completely, and the natural sweetness of fruit juice can help you do just that while offering an alternative to soda.

Instead of: French fries

Try: Roasted vegetables

Getting kids to eat their daily recommended allowance of vegetables can be tricky, and the old line, “But French fries are potatoes!” makes a good point. Instead of giving in to the siren call of the deep fryer, swap out French fries for crispy roasted broccoli, cauliflower, beets (cut into long, thin fry shapes), carrots, and yes, even potatoes. Toss cut veggies in some heart-healthy olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt, and roast in the oven at 350˚ for about 20 to 30 minutes (depending on the size and type of vegetable). Roasting brings out the sugars in the sweeter vegetables, caramelizing them as they cook, and other veggies like broccoli get crispy bits the longer they roast.

Instead of: Ice cream

Try: Homemade frozen yogurt pops

Dessert can be a battleground at times but it doesn’t have to be. Ditch the ice cream in favor of homemade yogurt pops for a sweet treat that is nutritious and satisfying. To Greek yogurt add any of the following:

  • All-fruit jam (no added sugar)
  • Coconut flakes
  • Finely chopped dark chocolate
  • Honey
  • Extracts (vanilla, strawberry, etc)
  • Chopped nuts

Then freeze in popsicle molds and serve. A perfect, healthy end to any meal or great for a mid-morning snack. The Greek yogurt packs in protein, and you control the amount of sugar.

Mealtimes can be struggle-free and healthy with just a few swaps; what are your favorite healthy snacks and meals for kids?

Image by Melissa via Flickr