by Misti Bushmire
“Mom… I’m hungry!” If only I had a dime for every time I’ve heard these words… I’m sure that you feel the same! It didn’t help that it seemed that I heard this when I was also at low ebb and my creativity and energy were low. My saving grace ended up being a list on the front of the fridge (or the inside of a cabinet door depending on where we lived at the time) that I could look at for ideas and planning ahead.
As summer draws to a close in just a few weeks, inspiration seems to be running dry. Our attention is turning back to the busy school season and making sure we are prepared. Whether we’re lazing the day away on a beautiful Hawaii beach or rushing around Honolulu to pick up school supplies or racing the kids to Aiea for soccer, we need good fuel!
Snacking is important for children; keeping their blood sugar on an even keel helps them to feel better and can definitely help with behavioral issues. Some children get whiney, some get cranky, and some get “h-angry” when they are hungry. I don’t have to tell you which one your kids get! Their little tummies just need smaller amounts of food more frequently than adults to keep them going. Having said that, it is also important for them to learn when they are hungry and when they are eating because they are bored. Hummm, it just might be a good idea for moms to learn this too…
So, what kind of snacks? Healthy ones of course! I always tried to stay as far away from anything processed or packaged as possible. There was a definite difference in behavior and the way my daughter felt and acted when she ate “real food” and when she ate an “edible-food-like-substance” during the day. The sugars, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, and altered ingredients are not something that our kids bodies are designed to handle and can set off reactions that we would rather not deal with. Many of these ingredients can also set off food sensitivities and allergies that make choosing healthy alternatives even more important.
Our family loves fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh dairy products, whole grains, and occasionally meats. I know that different families have different beliefs about foods (i.e. vegetarian, paleo, omnivore, etc…) and there is room for all of those in healthy eating. There is lots of room for cultural food-ways also. The key is to stick as closely to food in its natural state as possible.
When I started reading labels on foods that I thought were “healthy” I was shocked. For example: yogurt. When I saw the numbers on how much sugar was in that little container I nearly fell over. Then I read the ingredients and was even more surprised at the artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives. Not quite the healthy snack I had thought I was buying. Many of the things that we buy for “convenience” are actually pretty simple to make yourself, yogurt being a prime example. It takes thinking about it ahead of time but it’s as simple as heating the milk, mixing in the culture and letting it sit in the oven overnight with just the light turned on to keep it at the right temperature. It’s comforting to know exactly what is going into your kids! You can add fruit, honey, vanilla or anything else you like. Most things can be made at home and are much easier than the manufacturers want you to think! Start with one or two things and see where it leads you.
Some children seemingly exist on air alone and some eat just about anything! Picky eaters are a challenge for anyone; one trick is to engage a powerful tool, their imagination. Keep presenting new foods regularly and having them try things. For instance, texture can be a hurdle. Take kiwi as an example. It is so delicious but I’m the first to admit that the outside is unappealing and sometimes it can seem a bit slimy when you cut it up. But… turn that kiwi into a turtle with grapes or a flower with raspberry centers (see our Pinterest board for these ideas and more) and you have a whole new level of interest. This is a great way to integrate some sensory lessons into eating. Don’t be shy – talk to your child’s speech therapist for personalized ways to address food sensory issues and orofacial myology goals.
Tip #1 ::
My first tip is super simple but one we don’t often think to do – make a list. Actually sit down and brainstorm ideas to feed those kiddos. Write down your favorites, do a Google search or a Pinterest search to gather new ideas, ask friends what their favorites are and then type it up and print it out or just write it out and put it on the front of the fridge. When you are tired and they are fussing you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or give in to expediency and reach for a packaged snack, just look at your list of ideas. Learn from my mistake, don’t do what I did the first time and make a list of “ideal” snacks that called for lots of things that I didn’t normally have! Keep it real but also keep stretching towards a healthy kitchen and pantry that you can pull from.
Tip #2 ::
My second tip is to package up individual portions as soon as you bring things home. Open the bag of pretzel sticks and portion them out into snack bags right away. Wash all the grapes and put them into little individual plastic containers or snack bags in the fridge. Cut up that watermelon or mango and have it ready to serve in an instant. That way, if a friend calls and you decide to take the kids to the beach on the spur of the moment you can put snacks in a cooler and head out quickly for a day of fun! Or if you are busy you can tell a child to get their own snack and you know they are getting the appropriate amount. Check discount stores or the commissary for small reusable plastic containers and snack size zip bags.
Don’t forget the benefits of the freezer! If you are lucky enough to have a mango or avocado tree in your yard, take the time to cut it up and freeze in serving sizes for munching or smoothies when the season is over. This is also a great way to save money (because we all know how expensive groceries are here in our Hawaiian paradise!) when fruit is in season to have it available for later.
Tip #3 ::
My third tip is to think ahead. As with the yogurt example, look at your idea list. What can you make at home? When can you do it? We don’t necessarily need to make every single thing at home but there are lots of options that we just don’t think of because we don’t see people doing it anymore. Depending on the dietary needs of your family this might be the best way to go for some moms. Start small, it doesn’t need to be overwhelming! Try one thing and see how it goes then pick something else to add to the list. Sometimes you have to try something more than once to get the best recipe or technique but when you do it becomes quick and easy.
Some of our favorite snacks were the basics:
- cut up melons
- cut up veggies like peppers and celery
- baby carrots
- grape tomatoes
- dried fruit
- simple unflavored pretzels
- yogurt with fruit or granola (or both sometimes!)
- cheese cubes or cheese sticks
- boiled eggs
- peanut butter toast
- home-mixed trail mix with our favorite ingredients
- homemade popsicles from real juice as a treat
Sometimes I would get creative and do something like “ants on a log” (celery cut into approximately 3-4 inch sections, filled with peanut butter or cream cheese and raisins perched on the top) or fruit kabobs (cut fruit up into cubes or fancy shapes with a cookie cutter and put onto a skewer).
If you want some more great ideas for fun snacks head over to our Pinterest board Healthy Kiddo’s. When I started looking I couldn’t believe how many great ideas there were! I found myself wishing that I had had some of these when my daughter was little. Some of them are super simple, just presented in a unique way that engages kids. Some are more time intensive that you use on occasion but all look delicious to me! I’ll tell you a secret – she saw the picture of the kiwi turtles and thought they were so cute that we made them this weekend. Super easy and they were delicious. You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate fun food!
I hope that some of these thoughts help you the next time you hear “I’m hungry…”! We would love to hear about how YOU approach healthy snacking!