For kids to be healthy and happy and to have the best chance in life, developing good eating habits from the outset creates a solid framework for positive choices throughout the entire lifespan. For kids, the food they eat every day directly affects their mood, energy levels, physical growth and overall wellbeing. Therefore, ensuring that they have a varied diet that is rich in nutrients is essential.
Unfortunately, snack foods are often the culprit when it comes to unhealthy food choices for children. Kids are often ‘treated’ with snack foods that are loaded with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, additives, preservatives, and artificial colours and flavours. With the significant rise in childhood obesity, early onset diabetes, ADHD, childhood depression, gut issues and an overall weakness in immune health, it is more important than ever before to make sure that the food being consumed is supporting their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
The good news is, children don’t need to miss out on treats and tasty snacks! Healthy snack options for kids are endless and don’t require extraordinary culinary skills, a huge budget or any fancy kitchen equipment. The trick is to get back to basics, become a little label savvy in the supermarket, and devote a little extra time to ensure that healthy nutritious food options are always available for hungry little mouths.
So, where to start?
- Focus on wholefoods. What are wholefoods? They are simply natural, unprocessed foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. These include fruits and vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, beans, lentils, wholegrains, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. These foods are naturally high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre and are low in fat and sugar.
- Get creative with wholefoods! Try apple or pear slices with a nut butter, vegetable sticks with hummus or homemade pesto, tasty green smoothies, homemade trail mixes, healthy granola with coconut yogurt, brown rice sushi, homemade beans and guacamole, or simple lentil soups.
- Have healthy options in plain sight. Kids will navigate towards the easiest options! Clear out the packets of chips and chocolate bars and have fresh fruit on the counter, have jars with trial mix out on the bench, have healthy baked goods in see-through containers in the kitchen. These foods are all visually attractive and are an easy way to sway children’s grazing habits.
- Get kids involved. Taking children to farmer’s markets, to the local fruit shop or into a health food store helps them to see where their food is coming from. Having them cook and get creative with food is a wonderful way to get them interested in what and how they are eating. Having a vegetable patch, sprouting, making nut milk or baking are all fun ways for kids to develop healthy eating habits.
- Make simple substitutions. For every unhealthy snack, there is an alternative that is healthier and most likely tastier too! Switch packets of chips for homemade sweet potato or kale chips, make raw chocolate treats or bliss balls instead of chocolate bars, even foods like pizza can be swapped with healthier options when made at home- load up a cauliflower pizza crust with a tomato sauce, lots of veggies and a simple cashew cheese.
- Check your supermarket for easy healthy snack food options. While you may not have a lot of time to bake from scratch, there are some terrific ready-to-go baking mixes on the market now that are made with natural wholefood ingredients, have no hidden nasties and are not only quick to prepare but will please even the fussiest of eaters! Read the labels and do a little research to find out the best varieties.
- Keep little tummies happy. Gut health is a huge focus in the world of wellness today and one of the leading culprits of poor gut health is the reliance on processed foods, sugar, additives in food, pesticides and other trigger foods such as gluten and dairy. Including some gut-boosting foods in a child’s diet will not only help to support their immune system and ward of common bugs, but will also support their mental and emotional health and their overall gut health in the long term. Foods such as sauerkraut and coconut yogurt, and drinks like kombucha or kefir are a great place to start. If children show signs of a gluten or dairy intolerance, look for healthy options that avoid these common irritants.
A childhood of highly-processed food void of nutrients will invariably result in an adolescence and adulthood filled with the same types of foods and a legacy of lifestyle-related chronic disease. Focusing on nutritious snacks from a young age is a surefire way to encourage a healthy, happy child that is well equipped to make good food choices throughout life.