As a busy entrepreneur, wife and mom of three boys, I understand how crazy it can be to keep everybody fed and healthy during the school year. At our home, we're constantly on the go, and I'm sure your home is no different.
Still, I am committed to feeding my family healthy, homemade food because I know that it really makes a difference in the way we feel, and how well we perform. At our home, I don't allow convenience foods, sugary snacks, refined juices, sodas or junk food. Simple and delicious homemade food is always the name of the game. It isn't always easy, but it is possible, and it makes a huge difference in my family's health and well-being.
With long days of classes and extracurricular activities, kids' bodies work hard to grow and stay well. Kids need good nutrition to feed the immune system so they can ward off colds and flu, and keep their energy levels up for classwork, sports and play.
I've noticed that when it comes to nutrition, most parents are focused on mealtime. Shopping lists revolve around stocking the pantry for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks as a distant afterthought. That isn't all our kids need.
Here is the reality: Kids eat a lot of snacks. And mealtime may be carefully supervised, while snacktime goes unnoticed - kids grab juice boxes, sodas, snack crackers, chips and cookies and off they go.
By relying on processed foods, snacktime becomes a missed opportunity to nourish.
Parents ask me all the time how it's possible to do without processed snacks. My big secret is a well-stocked pantry. We have to plan for it. Here are my top five tips for prepping your pantry for healthy snacks every day:
- Redefine the pantry. The pantry is more than just dry goods. I suggest looking at your kitchen's food storage in zones, and think of them all as "the pantry": Dry goods, refrigerator, freezer and countertop. Think about the kind of snacks you want to serve, and list the staple items you'll need. Staples are the basic ingredients needed for healthy snacking.
In general, the dry goods are shelf stable items like oils, vinegars, whole grains, flour, sweeteners, dried fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grain crackers, popcorn kernel, nut butter, herbs and spices, and sea salt. The refrigerator should contain condiments and pickles, dairy and dairy substitutes, eggs, broth, fruits and vegetables, and beverages.
The freezer can be packed with homemade convenience foods - anything that you see in the grocery store freezer case can be made from scratch in batches, and frozen. That includes whole wheat rolls, muffins, pancakes (sweet and savory), grilled and roasted meats, cooked grains, beans and more. If buying commercial, make sure you are reading the label to validate every wholesome ingredient.
Lastly, don't forget the countertop. A bowl brimming with washed whole fruit makes it easy to grab and go with a healthy, juicy good-for-you snack.
- Clean it out. When I go to my friends' houses, I'm always checking out their pantries. (Yes, I'm that nosy friend! But food is my business, so I have an excuse!)
The biggest mistake I see is a filled pantry. People buy way too much snack food: Cheesy snack crackers are buy one-get one - so they buy; cream-filled cookies are marked down - so they buy. The pantry ends up packed with unhealthy things that tempt overeating - or the food just sits back in the dark corners until it expires. You might as well just throw those dollar bills into the garbage, because the money is tied up in old, unhealthy and unusable food.
If you want to eat healthy, you've got to make room for the good stuff. Be ruthless, and get rid of all of those expired, unhealthy snacks. Clean it out!
- Make a snack plan. Just like you write down a dinner plan for the week, plan for healthy snacks also. Variety keeps it interesting - and tasty. Be sure to go for colorful fresh fruits and vegetables for maximum food value.
A good formula for a complete snack consists of protein, grain and fruit. For example, nut butter (protein) on a piece of 100 percent whole wheat toast (grain) with sliced apple (fruit) would be a very nutritious, satisfying and complete snack. Other ideas: Lettuce leaves filled with leftover chicken and rice, topped with avocado; homemade hummus with toast, along with fruit and veggie sticks; a homemade carrot raisin muffin with a slice of aged cheddar; the possibilities are endless.
It doesn't have to be complicated - fresh, whole foods are easy and delicious. Making a plan ensures variety at snacktime, plus allows efficient shopping and preparation.
- Beverages count. The best beverage is always clean, pure water and most kids - and adults - don't drink enough. Snacktime should include a refreshing glass of water. There is no need for the excess sugar that comes from bottled juices and sodas. Studies show kids typically get way too much sugar, and beverages tend to be the biggest culprit, by delivering a whole day's worth or more, in a single serving.
Make water appealing and fun by keeping a pitcher of infused water in the refrigerator. Simply add any combination of sliced lemons, oranges, apples, pears, berries, mint, basil or cucumbers to a pitcher of clean water.
Other healthy beverage options - unsweetened herb teas (or lightly sweetened with honey or maple syrup) such as camomile, turmeric, rose hips, hibiscus, mint and ginger. Herbal teas also deliver health benefits by gently supporting the immune system and good digestion. Teas can be served cold or hot, depending on the weather and your child's preference.
- Involve your kids. From the youngest age, involve your kids in snack plans and preparation. Every step is a teaching moment. My youngest son is now 12 years old - and he knows how to prepare his own healthy snacks. He loves to eat raw cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce.
That's because when he was little, he helped wash and dry the fruit, break the broccoli into florets, drop the lemon slices into the water pitcher, sort the groceries, and put the apples in the refrigerator. While he helped me in the kitchen, I was able to teach in little ways, every day, by engaging him in the process. Tell, show, do, review - that's how little ones learn. Snacktime is prime time to empower your kids to make healthy choices, and those skills will last a lifetime.
Remember, if unhealthy snacks are not there, no one will eat them. Parents are the ones shopping, so bring home food that you are proud to have your kids eat.
Finally, don't worry too much about what your kids will eat when they are away from home. I can't control every food that my children eats at a friend's house, or a school event - but I can control what I have in my home. Just keep at it, and be consistent.
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Achindu is a mother of three and founder of Yummy Spoonfuls Organic Baby Food. Visit the website at yummyspoonfuls.com.