As the mother of two juniors now (one in high school and one in college), I have a lot of experience under my Mama belt when it comes to back to school food. As I was putting this segment together for the morning show, I started really thinking about our eating habits through the years. It occurred to me that when we lovingly prepare food for our kids, we are also providing them with food for thought, whether we realize this or not at the time. What works, what doesn’t work and how their wants and needs change through the years.
So, I have put together a few of my best food nuggets of motherly wisdom when it comes to what they eat as families prep and send snacks, lunch and food out the door. As we compete with cheap, easy-to-get fast food and processed snacks everywhere, it is important to send the kids off with a foundation of food ideas that are nutritious, tasty and easy. They won’t also adhere to the lessons and recipes taught, but they will remember and at times strive to eat well with the tools and knowledge you fed them, literally. And it is NOT easy for our parent folk to get it done quickly and do it right all the time, so I include easy ideas as well. So here are my top tips when it comes to healthy back to food ideas and habits. Really food for thought as you not only prepare meals for your kids, but you are also preparing them to fly the coop someday (gets here faster than you think) with hopefully good nutrition habits to take with them as they go out on their own…and eat on their own!
A Lesson In Fab Fare For The Ages
As we rushed through the hectic breakfast hour in the school day mornings and sent them packing with a full lunch box, here are some food themes we taught our kids to try to remember as they grew up and became responsible for their own nutrition. I have organized it by ages and stages and I think this formula works well…
Preschool & Grade School
*Color code food for fun & nutrition – we have heard to eat the colors of a rainbow to ensure that we get all the good food groups and lots of variety. Teach this to kids early on. Make a plate with healthy snacks and form a rainbow with the foods. Pack lunches with the different colors so they recognize early on that colorful foods are yummy and good for us.
*Always serve a fruit and veggie with each meal. I started doing this when they were toddlers. I would put a few slices of turkey on the plate (or whatever the main course was) and right next to that, a fruit and a veggie. Remember to cut grapes in half as they can be a choking hazard.
*Put it out & they will come! Do this for an after-school snack, when friends come over and at dinner when there isn’t a lot of time to prepare a side veggie. If you put out a healthy food tray, they will come!
*Keep sodas and sugary juices out of the house. Especially sodas because they are so unhealthy and worse, they are addictive. Resist the urge to say yes when they ask you to buy soft drinks. There is nothing good about sodas and your pediatrician and child’s dentist will readily agree. Go easy on the juice boxes as well. Check the labels and purchase the ones with less sugar and natural ingredients.
*Make healthy food fun in the lunch box. Make the letter to their name with carrot sticks, include fruit kabobs on a cake pop stick (no pointy edges versus a toothpick), make healthy sandwiches into shapes, include a dark chocolate Hershey’s kiss with a note that says, “A Kiss from Mommy” so in other words, make healthy eating fun. Do it when they are small because they won’t want your creative lunch ideas and mushy notes when they are older, but the message about eating right will be imprinted in their brains as they grow.
*Buy better protein/granola bars – My go to brand is KIND and the company just came out with KIND Kids Bars. I prefer this brand because KIND Kids bars contain 25% less sugar than the leading kids granola bar. Plus, KIND Kids bars have no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, genetically engineered ingredients or sugar alcohols. These bars are made with 100% whole grains with nutritious ingredients like oats and quinoa. Kids love the flavors offered like Honey Oat, Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip.
Mom Approved nutritious fun foods list for the little and pre-school and grade school aged:
*Veggie tray from grocery for quick on-the-go snack, side veggie with dinner & friends over food
*Peanut butter (a brand with no added extra ingredients, honey (don’t give to a baby under 1 year old) and banana slices sandwiches on 100% whole wheat bread
*Fruit kabobs in lunch box on cake pop sticks
*Carrot sticks in individual packets or used to spell fun stuff
Middle School & Before They Fly The Coop Years
*As they age, try lots of different foods to see what they may surprisingly like. My daughter was pleasantly surprised to see that she liked edamame at 10 years old. My son discovered a fondness for cherries when I brought them home in season. Mix it up with lots of different fruits and veggies for them to sample. Expect them to dislike a lot of these foods, but you may be surprised when you find one they like because a variety was offered. More will appeal to their palate as they age.
*Teach your kids to read the ingredients. Follow the rule that if the ingredient can’t be pronounced, chances are this isn’t a chemical you want in your body. I am always thrilled when I see my now 16-year-old read the labels. Yes! Mission accomplished. One snack we readily approve of is the KIND bar brand. Most of the flavors only have 5 grams of sugar and all the ingredient are recognizable. I love this photo from the KIND website!
We do the same thing with bagged snack popcorn. Both are great snacks to have out. Another one is the individual portion sized nut packs. Great protein in that one.
*Get rid of the liquid sugar and find alternatives. Like I mentioned in the section for younger kids above, I can’t stress enough just how bad soda pop is for kids and for adults. We adopted the rule years ago to bar soda, Gatorade and high sugar juices from our home. Not only do these drinks contain empty calories, lots of sugar and no nutritional value at all, but the sodas are also addictive. Your dental bills will be much less without fillings needed caused by sugar bugs found in sodas in such a large volume. Our go-to drinks are milk, water, herbal teas and the occasional alternative soda called Zevia. Zevia is better because it contains no artificial ingredients and is sweetened with the better Stevia leaf extract instead of sugar. The sodas have zero calories, zero sugar and no artificial sweeteners. We also sweeten our own water in a big jug with cucumbers, berries and more. Let your kids get creative with an all-natural flavored water that you make yourself. We also invested in a good blender for homemade smoothies and a juicer, too. All have been used by both my son and daughter. And we drink Boxed Water to be more earth-friendly since recent news reports say that the earth is being choked by plastic, especially water bottles.
*Include your kids in your cooking when they show interest. Both of my kids learned how to make yummy asparagus with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and parmesan on a baking sheet. Teaching them delicious veggie and fruit recipes before they leave home is stored in their memory bank and at times, they just might make one of those recipes. It is all about giving them the foundation.
*Teach them to try a ripe sweet peach for dessert instead of having sugary treats on hand. Trader Joe’s always has incredibly good boxed peaches this time of year. Freeze grapes instead of popsicles. Dip strawberries in melted dark chocolate. Ask your kids if they have ideas for better alternatives and give the recipes a try with them.
Mom Approved Preteen/Teen & Beyond Years Healthy Food & Better Snack Ideas
*Skinny Pop Popcorn in individual bags
*Fruit tray from grocery store for convenience
*Veggie tray for quick on-the-go snack & a good one to put out when friends come over
*Berries assortment so you can determine if they have a favorite. I was happy to discover that my girl loves raspberries, so I always have organic raspberries on hand now.
*KIND bars and other snacks that have whole ingredients that can be pronounced. I am digging the KIND Minis for myself. In addition to that, at times during the teen and college years, your young adult may suddenly start to count calories when weight gain comes along with puberty or the college freshman 15 happens. So, the KIND minis are a great 100-calorie snack option to have on hand.
*UNREAL candy is a better alternative to candy. Instead of candy like M&Ms (my weakness so I am so happy to find UNREAL), peanut butter cups and more, try UNREAL. UNREAL contains no artificial dyes and are instead colored by 100% natural veggies like beets, for example. This brand is also vegan, gluten free and non-GMO. For a yummy treat and better alternative to sugary movie treats, I mix the UNREAL Dark Chocolate Peanut Gems with Skinny Pop Popcorn and the sweet and salty is super tasty! Try it!
*Tortilla roll ups instead of white bread sandwiches. Stuff with romaine lettuce, turkey, swiss and mustard. Easy to make and pack and use a whole wheat tortilla.
*Zevia instead of soda occasionally.
*100 Calorie whole almond snack packs
*Invest in a good blender for healthy homemade smoothies and a juicer for juicing. Both of my kids have made both homemade protein smoothie drinks and green veggie juices during their teenage years.
What are your go-to better foods for your family? Share your ideas in the comments section and be sure to visit managedmoms.com for more ideas, recipes and parenting talk. It takes a village and we love to share ideas on my blog as we strive to help each other make life a little less manic and more managed. This is especially true when we are feeding our family! On most days, anyway! Happy new school year!
A big thank you to both KIND and to UNREAL for the yummy samples! I was a faithful purchaser, eater and lover of both brands before I received samples of some of their newer products! I love better food and treat options for our family!