As a mom of three, I feel like I'm constantly grocery shopping and preparing food for my kids. Of course, I'm always trying to incorporate nutritious foods into their diet. Snack time is often a great opportunity to try out new foods and cram in as many nutrients as possible, even for picky eaters.
I am by no means an expert at this, but thought I would share some of my experiences with you all - what has worked and what hasn't worked these past few years with my three children. At the time of this post I have a five year old girl, Riley, a three year old girl, Jade, and a one year old boy, David. Like most kids, mine don't beg me for kale chips, celery sticks and raw broccoli with bean dip. I'm constantly experimenting with what foods I offer them and how I offer them. Sometime presentation is everything with kids. My kids respond well to color, design and being part of the snack preparation process.
My girls have favorite colors that are basically part of their identity. Anytime Jade sees something red (her favorite color) her whole face lights up. So, I oftentimes make her a red smoothie (frozen beets, raspberries, strawberries) or give her something new I want her to try in a red bowl.
In the smoothie below I blended: 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 3 large medjool dates, ¼ cup slivered almonds, 2 tablespoon hemp seeds, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 cup frozen beets, ½ cup strawberries, ½ cup frozen riced cauliflower, large handful of ice cubes.
I'll sometimes make hummus and add in roasted red pepper to make it red. She loves that.
Riley's color is orange so no surprise that she loves bright orange smoothies (baby carrots added to neutral or light colors such as bananas, frozen riced cauliflower, frozen peaches or mango). In the smoothie below I blended: 1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk, 3 large medjool dates, ¼ cup slivered almonds, 2 tablespoon hemp seeds, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 cup frozen mango chunks, 1 cup fresh baby carrots, ½ cup frozen riced cauliflower, large handful of ice cubes.
Be sure to check out my post on how to make a healthy after school snack board (pictured below) - such an easy way to fill your kiddos up with the good stuff while using up whatever you have in your fridge!
And beyond just eating their favorite color we talk about the importance of eating a variety of colors to get a variety of nutrients. I challenge them to eat the rainbow. It is a fun game for them to see if they can eat all the colors throughout the day. And, when serving food to them I try and keep it colorful. We all eat with our eyes, and I'm starting to realize kids do that even more than adults. Which brings me to my next point...
If I ask them if they want a certain food they often turn it down. If I simply put the food on a plate and attempt to serve it to them, it can be hit or miss. Let's take an apple and almond butter for example. If I say, do you want an apple? They don't get too excited. If I cut the apple into slices and put it in a bowl with a bit of almond butter on the side they still may not go for it. But, if they get to choose the color of the apple, and then I plate it in a fun way as shown below, oh man, do they go for it. It feels different than the norm and special to them. My girls call these apple flowers. They love the jelly swirl in the center.
Now, you certainly don't have to do this every single time you give your kid a snack (who has that kind of time/energy to always be creative?). But, if you are trying to get them to try something new or if you feel you are in a rut with their snack habits, this is a great way to shake things up and get back on track. And usually it doesn't take that much extra time, but if it does, I find it is worth it because I'm not spending time on the back end begging them to eat what I've prepared only to have it go to waste.
One of my favorite ways to get my kids to eat healthy snacks is a muffin tin snack tray. This is a fun way to use up leftovers. I grab a muffin tin and fill each cup with something different. I go for different colors, textures, shapes and food groups.
Here are some ideas:
- Veggies: raw or leftover cooked veggies such as baby carrots, steamed zucchini, or roasted sweet potato cubes
- Fresh fruit (whatever is in season)
- Nuts and seeds
- Avocado slices or mashed avocado for dipping
- Oven roasted chickpeas (I drizzle with avocado oil, a bit of maple syrup and sprinkle on some salt - they love these)
- Black beans or frozen peas
- Hummus or other bean dips (see bottom of this post for dip recipes)
- Packaged snack ideas: freeze dried fruit, dried fruit or baked pea crisps (I'll talk about why I love these below).
Row 1: peaches, freeze dried blueberries, dried apples
Row 2: pea crisps, avocado, strawberries
Row 3: cucumber, blackberries, pea crisps
Row 4: dried mango, carrot sticks, pumpkin and sunflower seeds
I go for a variety of colors and textures. I try and make sure I have a couple veggies and some protein-filled snacks too. One of my favorite options lately has been baked pea crisps called "Peas Please" by Peeled Snacks. They make a couple different flavors (my personal favorite is the sea salt). I have tried a lot of different pea crisp brands and this one is hands down my favorite. My kids devour these and I love that one serving offers five grams of protein and a half cup of veggies. Peas Please snacks are organic, gluten-free, non-GMO and baked. I am thrilled to be partnering with Peeled Snacks because I can honestly say I have been a loyal fan of their baked pea crisps and my kids absolutely go for these. They are pictured in the muffin tin above. I also included their gently dried fruit which is also organic and non-GMO. I love that the only ingredient is organic fruit and that there are no added sugars. We love the dried mango and dried apples. I also love that the bags are resealable which make them great for taking on-the-go. I buy their products off Amazon, Whole Foods or my local natural market. Click here for $1 off coupon of any two Peeled Snacks products.
For the snack trays, you don't have to use a muffin tin every time. A small cookie sheet or storage container also works. The idea is to provide small amounts of a variety of items served on something that is slightly more interesting than a plate. I leave it out on the table and everyone grazes together. It introduces variety and choice into the snack. They won't always eat everything that is put out but they likely will try things they wouldn't have tried otherwise. I try to mix up a couple snacks I know for sure they will go for to draw them in and then sprinkle in a couple veggies or new items they might not go for if I offered it solo. Another reason to love this idea is easy clean up since it is one dish and doesn't require any utensils.
Some more presentation ideas...
Shapes: I sometimes cut fruit, veggies, and sandwiches into fun shapes. I have a set of mini geometric cutters (affiliate link) that have been a huge hit with the girls. See how I put the heart shape cutter to use this past Valentine's Day.
"Sushi" Sandwich: Sometimes sandwiches make great snacks. Riley's favorite thing to do is to flatten sandwich bread, fill it with avocado and hummus or black bean spread and then roll it up like sushi.
Here is how she does it: we take a piece of bread and roll them out using a tumbler glass. Then we smear the flattened bread with hummus and add 2-3 thin slices of avocado. You can also use nut or seed butter and jelly.
We then roll it up like a sushi roll and cut it into four pieces. She gobbles this up in no time. She loves using her kids training chopsticks (affiliate link) or even just her fingers. It also packs well when we are taking snacks on the go.
Patterns: Rather than just giving a bowl of fruit or veggies, I display it in a pattern (or better yet, I let them do it or have them eat it in a pattern). You can turn it into a game of what comes next as you eat it. Rainbow fruit kabobs or veggie skewers are always popular with my girls and a great way to use up whatever is leftover in the produce bin.
Puree or Blend Fruit
To make fruits and veggies more exciting I sometimes add them to a blender or food processor. For example, instead of serving watermelon chunks (which by the end of summer they might be bored of), I make them "watermelon slushies" (which is simply watermelon combined with ice in a blender). On a hot summer day my girls slurp this down. I don't even have to sweeten it. And really anything in smoothie or slushie form is a hit in our household. This also applies to homemade fruit pops. When I have leftover berries, melon or any fruit I just add to a blender and pour the puree into popsicle molds (affiliate link to my favorite for kids). Sometimes I add our favorite yogurt to the fruit pops as well.
Some more fun snack ideas...
Banana Swirl: This is basically ice cream made out of frozen bananas (also known as "nice-cream"). It is simply frozen banana that is processed into ice cream texture. You can enjoy it plain or flavor it with any nut or seed butter. You can also top it with nuts, seeds or berries. How I do it: I take 2 bananas, peel and slice them into 1 inch chunks. I then freeze them overnight on a parchment lined tray. When I'm ready to make the ice cream I place the frozen banana chunks into a mini food processor and pulse the mixture, scraping down the sides occasionally until smooth and creamy (1-2 minutes). Toward the end, add any nut or seed butter for a protein and flavor boost and pulse until combined. You can serve immediately as soft-serve style, or put in a freezer safe container and freeze for later. My girls go crazy for this and it is a great way to use up older bananas that might not get eaten otherwise.
Banana Burrito: Smear nut or seed butter on your favorite tortilla (I love Siete almond flour tortillas from Whole Foods). Place a banana and hemp seeds inside and roll it up like a burrito. You can also add cinnamon or a drizzle of maple syrup if desired.
Being Part of the Process
Early on, both of my girls took a huge interest in cooking with me. They help select ingredients for smoothies and they love to help add the ingredients to the blender. For July 4th they requested red, white and blue smoothies so we figured out together how to make each layer with the right ingredients to achieve the perfect color. Smoothies make great anytime snacks (or meals) and they are always a great way to sneak in veggies. I add fresh or frozen peas, zucchini, riced cauliflower, sweet potato cubes, beets, baby spinach or baby carrots to their smoothies and they don't mind at all.
Riley loves to use her kid-safe knife (affiliate link) to help cut food and I find she is more likely to eat food that she helps prepare. She even helps me spiralize veggies (under my close supervision with the safety seal on the spiralizer blade). Just turning the knob is fun for her. I remember loving curly fries as a kid mostly because of their fun shape so I try spiralizing things like apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, cucumbers and pears rather than cutting them up.
Some final thoughts
I have really seen first-hand the importance of leading by example. My kids want what I am eating. When I make an afternoon smoothie all three kids (yes, even the one year old) beg me for some of it. I use these kid-friendly mason jars for the kids to avoid spills.
I keep nutritious snack options in the house to avoid temptation. I keep their favorite healthy snacks at eye level in the fridge so that when they look for a snack they see that first and ask for it.
I teach them that no food is a bad food and everything is fine in moderation. In fact, in the muffin tin pictures above, they didn't go for the raw pepita seeds and sunflower seeds initially so I sprinkled in some mini dark chocolate chips and the seeds were gone in an instant. A little chocolate seems to go a long way with my girls.
I like to keep eating positive and I never force food. Instead, I try and make it intriguing to them by eating it myself or displaying it in a fun way. Every kid is different so find what works for your child. Riley is a big dipper. I make different dips for her (see recipes at the bottom of this post) to try out with new veggies. It is what works for her so I go with it. Jade loves to touch her food and eat it in funny ways so I ask her to turn things into different shapes as she bites it (like, "can you turn your sandwich into a heart as you eat it?"). We make it a game. Of course, not everything works all the time, but anytime we are snacking on something that is more nutritious than a bag of chips I feel like that is a total win.
Some of their favorite snack recipes:
- 5-Minute Stovetop Granola
- Sweet & Salty Roasted Pumpkin Seeds (oil free) (I love to have these on hand for healthy snacking throughout the week)
- Sunshine Smoothie (Riley and Jade's current favorite smoothie)
- Strawberry Salsa with Avocado (I omit the cilantro and jalapeno)
- Super Seed No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars
- Protein-Packed Avocado Toast (yes, even toddlers love avocado toast)
- Raw, Vegan Chocolate Filled Snack Bars (a snack treat!)
- Homemade Coconut Whipped Cream with fresh fruit (berries and peaches this time of year)
- Dye-Free Green Muffins
- Crispy Socca with Avocado Mash
- Grain-Free Granola
- Homemade Mango Sorbet
- Super Seed Crackers (great for spreading hummus on or topping with avocado)
- Easy Almond Flour Crackers
I love to have dips on hand for crackers, raw veggies or sandwich spreads:
- Simplified Israeli-Style Hummus
- Black-Eyed Pea Hummus Dip
- White Bean Hummus Dip
- Green Lentil Hummus
- Creamy Vegan Black Bean Dip (I omit the jalapeno for the kids)
Energy Bites (great to make with the kids):
- No-Bake, Instant Sunflower Energy Balls
- Almond Butter & Jelly Energy Bites
- No-Bake Flourless Brownie Energy Bites
- No-Bake Quinoa Energy Bites
- No-Bake Birthday Cake Energy Bites
I hope this post gives you some inspiration for your kiddos. Snack time really is a great opportunity to expose your kids to small portions of new foods in new and interesting ways.
This post is sponsored by Peeled Snacks.
As always, all opinions expressed in this blog post are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that I work with and love!