Healthy Meal Options for Children
Fall is in full swing, the school year is finally upon us, and our to-do lists are growing by the minute. Extracurricular activities, busy work schedules, and other obligations leave little time for healthy meal preparation. This means we often eat on the go or buy prepackaged foods that can easily be thrown into a lunch box. While convenient, these aren’t always the best options for providing nutritious meals for ourselves or our children. The good news is that there are a number of options that can help you plan meals and snacks for your family that are tasty, healthy, and affordable.
Set aside time for breakfast
It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast provides the necessary calories, nutrients, and fiber to sustain children going off to school until lunch time. Setting aside time to enjoy a nutritious breakfast can make a huge difference for your children’s digestion and moods for the rest of the day. If you find that your mornings are hectic and you have little time to cook, begin breakfast preparations the night before, or cook something quick and healthy that morning.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
- Blend a vitamin-packed smoothie using your child’s favorite fruits and veggies. You can add yogurt, milk, almond milk, or protein powders for a little boost of protein.
- Oatmeal or whole-grain granola is a great choice. Top it with berries and bananas for extra nutritional value and be sure to include seeds and/or nuts for healthy fat and protein.
- Scramble eggs with nutrient-rich vegetables, such as bell peppers, spinach, kale, or mushrooms. Chopping the vegetables the night before can save you a lot of time in the morning.
- For a twist on traditional home fries, try using root-vegetables instead. Rutabaga, yams, parsnips, or other vegetables can be chopped and cooked the night before then reheated in the morning. Top with a poached egg for added protein. See the recipe for “Root n’ Tuber Home Fries” at the end of this article.
Get creative when planning lunches and snacks
If you have a look at store shelves today, you’ll find that there are myriad prepackaged lunch options specifically marketed for kids. Fruit snacks and juice pouches contain high amounts of artificial sugars, flavors, and colors, and the lunch kits contain many nitrates and preservatives. There’s no doubt that these options are easy and convenient, but they lack the appropriate nutrition that children need to get through the day. There is no denying that many parents buy some prepackaged foods for their children’s lunches. If you do, try to find products that contain whole grains, organic ingredients, natural flavors and colors, and that are low in sugar.
School lunches are another convenient way to make sure your children are eating during the day. While schools have begun to offer much healthier choices at lunch time, there is no better way to control what your children eat, thus their nutrition, than by making lunch at home. That way, you can determine what goes into your children’s meals. Making lunch can be a mundane task, but you can make it more fun and educational by creating it together. Getting your children involved in the preparation process allows for plenty of family bonding time, and it might even encourage more adventurous palates!
Here are some great lunch and snack options that you can make with your children:
- Vegetable Sushi Rolls – It’s really not as hard as it sounds and is great for making the night before. Thinly slice raw vegetables, sprinkle with sesame seeds, roll with rice in a seaweed wrap, cut in pieces, and voila! You have a super healthy lunch alternative.
- Brown Rice Stir Fry – Cut broccoli, carrots, and green beans and toss in a pan with cooked brown rice (this is a great way to use leftovers). Sprinkle with a little tamari; add chicken, slivered almonds, or beans for extra protein. If you want an alternative to brown rice, try using quinoa instead!
- Hummus Dip with Veggies – Garbanzo beans are a great source of protein, and sliced veggies provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Nut Butter and Banana Wraps – Apply a layer of peanut or almond butter onto a whole -grain tortilla, top with a banana, and then roll.
- Avocado Toasties – Toast a piece of sprouted whole-grain bread, then add a layer of avocado, nutritional yeast, or any other toppings your child might enjoy.
- Yogurt Parfaits – Place a layer of organic yogurt in a bowl or glass, add a layer of granola, followed by a generous helping of fresh, organic berries, nuts, and seeds.
- Frozen Smoothie Ice Pops – Simply place your leftover breakfast smoothie in a plastic cup, insert a wooden stick, and freeze for a few hours.
While it may be tempting to offer your children prepackaged foods, it’s best to opt for unprocessed and nutrient-rich alternatives – fresh, seasonal, and organic fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. By using these healthy meal planning tips, you can ensure that your family gets all of the nutrients they need to be healthy and happy, even if you’re shopping on a dime and pressed for time.
Root ’n Tuber Home Fries
By Lizette Marx – Bauman College Natural Chef Instructor
Potatoes are not the only spuds to consider when making home fries, as this recipe demonstrates.
2 tablespoons ghee or olive oil
1 large onion, medium dice
1 medium rutabaga, medium dice
1 large parsnip, medium dice
1 medium yam, medium dice
2 medium red potatoes, medium dice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black
pepper to taste
- Put diced rutabaga, parsnip, yam, and red potatoes in a large pot and cover with filtered water. Add a generous teaspoon of salt and bring water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook roots until slightly tender but not mushy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a large sauté pan, melt ghee or olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Gently stir in root vegetables and sauté over low to medium heat until lightly browned and fork tender with crispy skins. Season with salt and pepper and toss in chopped parsley.