A few weeks ago I handed my kids an apple for their snack, and they both told me that they didn’t like apples.
The next day, I cut the same apple into slices, cut one end of each piece off so it was flat, placed them in a bowl standing up and told my kids that their snack today was “Apple Soldiers.” To my amazement, both my kids enthusiastically ate the apples and asked if they could have soldiers for their snack the next day.
Since many snacks are prime sources of extra sugar and fats, providing healthy snacks to your children is a great way to reduce the risk of childhood obesity.
Pediatrician Joanna Dolgoff, MD, author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right (Rodale Press, $21.99), recommends that parents provide their children with three meals and two snacks each day. “Snacking is an essential part of a healthy diet. Going too long without eating is one of the worst things you can do,” says Dr. Dolgoff. “Yes, you save calories initially but studies show that you more than make up for those calories during the rest of the day.”
One of the best ways to encourage your kids to eat healthy snacks is to not have junk food in the house. Instead, you can provide nutritious snacks that your kids will want to eat. Here are five healthy snack ideas.
1. Silly Names
Mary Chao, mother of three kids and owner of www.healthy-diet-mom.com, finds that her kids are more interested in eating healthy foods when she comes up with a silly name for them. She calls trail mix “treasure hunt trail mix” and lean turkey with cream cheese and carrots is “turkey rock ’n roll.”
Your kids may be more excited about eating broccoli florets if you call them “trees,” and grapes may be more enticing if they are “dinosaur eggs.” You can even have your kids help come up with names for different foods.
2. Fun Presentations
You can make nutritious snacks more appealing by presenting them in a different way. Make a funny face out of fruit on a plate and shred carrots for the hair. Or create a small house out of pretzel sticks and cheese cubes. An old standby that is still appealing to kids is making ants on a log by spreading peanut butter on celery sticks and placing raisins on top. Chao serves hardboiled eggs with olive slices on them to make them look like eyeballs.
Children love to use dips and will often eat veggies with dip that they wouldn’t otherwise eat. In addition to baby carrots, offer your child broccoli, cauliflower and celery with a small serving of dip.
Since many dressings are high in fat, Missy Chase Lapine, “the Sneaky Chef”and author of Sneaky Fitness: Fun, Foolproof Ways to Slip Fitness into Your Child’s Everyday Life, (Running Press, $19.95), suggests mixing the dressing with an equal part of plain yogurt.
Because many kids will use the veggies as lollipops and eat the dressing off the piece of broccoli, have your child eat the vegetable before they can get more dip. Vanilla yogurt can also be used as dip for cut-up fruits such as apples, bananas and pineapple.
Another way to get your child to eat vegetables is to serve them with a low-fat cheese fondue. This is a great snack for play dates and sleepovers.
In her recipe for Sneaky S’mores, Lapine uses a carrot and sweet potato puree to provide important nutrients for her kids and reduce the amount of fat by half. She makes the treat attractive to kids by adding two small marshmallows and a couple of chocolate chips on the top as a “decoy.” The kids see the tiny treat and are more willing to eat the healthy food it decorates.
You can make trail mix more appealing by adding in a few chocolate chips. A few colored sprinkles can be used as a decoy on many foods, such as low-fat vanilla yogurt.
Chao’s kids think it’s funny if she serves them a food at the “wrong time of day.” She sometimes serves low-sugar cereal with milk as an after-school snack or veggies and hummus in the morning. You can also serve the snack on bright colored plates or have your child eat it in interesting locations such as under the table or sitting on a picnic blanket on the living room floor.
As you experiment with healthy snacks for your kids, continue to offer their favorites, but be sure to try new foods and creative presentations. If your kids refuse a certain snack, try it again a few days later with a different name or new look.
Jennifer Gregory is a freelance writer.