It’s no secret – fresh fruits and vegetables can be pricey. For many families living on a tight budget – or worse, living in poverty – produce is out of their price range, or not available at all. Impoverished rural areas often don’t have full-service grocery stores that stock fresh produce. The result: kids are filling up on cheap, empty calories that leave their bodies and minds unfulfilled. This New Year, make a resolution to support Save the Children and help children develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
Let the healthy snacking begin!
- Go for the Yogurt (Low-fat Yogurt)
Low-fat yogurt is not only high in protein and calcium but also in active cultures that boost the body's immune and digestive systems. Something this good doesn't have to be bland.
Toss in fresh fruit, add a little low-fat milk, a bit of honey and blend to make a delicious fruit smoothie sure to satisfy any sweet tooth craving. Bonus: freeze your kids' favorite flavors in paper cups and serve as popsicles.
- Gain Whole Grains (Whole Grain Snacks)
Whole grains are key sources of B vitamins and minerals (iron, magnesium, and selenium), that can keep kids' hearts healthy and reduce the risk of certain cancers and Type-2 diabetes. Replacing even a few refined flour products with whole grains in a child's diet will help provide the dietary fiber necessary to help maintain a healthy body weight.
A best bet for tummy satisfaction is to pair whole-grain treats with a yummy dip: a whole wheat pretzel with low-fat cheese or yogurt; whole grain crackers with peanut butter or apple sauce; or try whole wheat pita bread with hummus.
- Enjoy an Egg-cellent Energy Boost (Eggs)
We're bringing breakfast back. Protein-packed eggs are not just a great way to start the day, but also a low-calorie way to refuel in the afternoon.
Fix them sunny side up or scrambled (go easy on the oil) and serve with whole grain toast and jam. Or opt for a fun hard boiled version, slicing eggs in half, adding a cheese flag with a toothpick and sailing your way through the afternoon with an egg boat.
- Find Fashionable Fruit Ensembles (Fruit)
Fruits are high in fiber and full of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that help children grow strong and healthy.
The trick is to add visual appeal by keeping the variety and presentation fresh and creative. Cut fruit slices into fun shapes like stars or hearts. Mix and match your berries, melons and mangos with more traditional apples, bananas and oranges on skewers to make fruit kabobs. Keeping it colorful benefits more than meets the eye: fruits of varying shades deliver different vitamins and minerals. For an added protein boost, pair kids' favorite selections with low-fat vanilla yogurt or peanut butter.
- Be a Little Cheesy (Cheese)
Sure, you already know that cheese is full of protein and calcium. But did you know that it also contains vitamins and minerals critical to a child's development, including phosphorous, zinc and vitamin A? Cheese gets a bad reputation because of its fat content. But low-fat cheeses are some of the easiest and tastiest ways to ensure even the pickiest eaters are getting the nutrients they need.
Cut cheese slices into letters that spell words from the spelling list. Serve cottage cheese with seasonal fruits. Or opt for the tried-and-true favorite, string cheese, because what child would turn down a free pass at playing with her food? Enough said.
- Go Nuts (Nuts)
Nuts, whether almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, pecans, you name it, are chock-full of protein and heart-healthy unsaturated fats. These tiny nutrition vessels also contain must-have minerals such as magnesium, iron and zinc. Busy parent-friendly, nuts require little or no preparation and are easy to pack as a school or travel snack. Often having just a handful in the afternoon will help prevent kids from loading up on sugary snacks or overeating at dinner.
Use your kids' favorite varieties as a base for a D-I-Y trail mix created to taste with raisins or other dried fruit, cereals and low-fat granola.
- Chip Away at Vegetable Servings (Vegetables)
Ensuring that children eat the recommended 1 ½ -2 cups of vegetables every day can seem like an impossible feat, especially when their snack of choice is of the processed, fried variety bought at the store. To cure a case of the munchies the healthy way, skip the oil-laden empty calories found in your average bag of potato chips, and make your own veggie crisps the little ones will love.
Kale, full of fiber and cholesterol-reducing vitamin K, may look like seaweed to kids when raw. But when baked with a spritz of olive oil and salt, it transforms into a tasty crispy snack. Do the same with sweet potatoes, which are rich in vitamin A, B6, C and folate.
- Pop to the Top (Popcorn)
Popcorn not only provides a high-fiber, whole-grain snack, popping it at home makes for family fun! Instead of choosing the pre-buttered microwave options, try popping your own in an air popper or on the stove with a little olive oil. For the best nutrition boost, swap the butter topping with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and serve in small bowls for portion control.
- Wear a Milk Mustache (Low-fat/Skim/1% Milk)
Instead of quenching thirst with sugary beverages, encourage kids to drink water or low-fat milk (skim or 1 percent). In addition to providing the calcium kids need to grow strong, healthy bones, milk is often fortified with vitamins A and D to make each cup power-packed. If you're looking for a substitute, try soy or almond milk or sweeten the liquid goodness, occasionally, with some sugar-free chocolate syrup or powder.
- Make a Meat Treat (Meats, including poultry and fish)
Meats, including poultry and fish, contain complete proteins that supply the body with the building blocks it needs to function. Foods from this group are also rich in other critical nutrients, including iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E and B vitamins that aid children's growth. Opt for low-fat meats such as turkey, chicken, tuna or beef with 10 percent or less fat.
At snack time, serve with low-fat cheese on toothpicks or make crust-less sandwich sliders on whole grain bread. Want to spice things up? Wrap turkey or chicken in a whole-wheat tortilla with a little cheese and salsa. Yum!