Summer for most kids means no school, road trips, and days well-spent in the sun. With that, your child’s body needs to be well-fed and hydrated in order to power through summer activities. For some kids three square meals will do the trick, but for others, snacking can keep them going between meals. Melody Steeples, MPH, RD, with Woodland Clinic, shares some insight on why snacking can be helpful for your child, as well as some advice on how to snack healthily this summer and beyond. Read to the end for a special summer recipe from Melody Steeples!
Building Healthy Habits
When snacking comes to mind, it’s easy to gravitate to quick and pre-packaged treats like granola bars or smoothie packs. While those are indeed convenient (and tasty), swapping out pre-packaged snacks for unprocessed foods can help build healthy habits for your kid or teen.
“Childhood is when most eating habits are developed and preferences are formed, so guiding children and teens into healthier food choices is essential for lifelong health,” says Steeples. All of us could use a reminder on healthy nutrition recommendations; according to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most of the U.S. population, including children, aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables and are lacking variety in their grain and protein intake. The prevalence and convenience of prepackaged snacks and sugary drinks makes it easy to pass over healthier options, but nutrient-dense foods and drinks are what the body needs to thrive. It may seem daunting to try to switch your kid’s favorite sugary treats for veggies or granola, but Steeples has some advice to make healthy summer snacking come naturally.
Food as Fuel
As mentioned above, the best snacks are those that are unprocessed and nutrient-dense. “Children often do need snacks between meals, but those snacks should almost always be from the six basic food groups - dairy, protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fat,” Steeples recommends. Her go-to snack options are raw veggies with hummus, fresh fruit and almonds. If you can’t convince yourself or your child to go for any of these or similar unprocessed foods, Steeples suggests what she calls “the carrot test:” if you’re really hungry, then carrots or other raw veggies should do the trick. If you think you’re hungry but carrots sound unappealing, you can probably hold off until the next meal.
What about when you’re packing your child’s lunch for camp or getting ready for a road trip? Steeples suggests chopped or dried fruit and nuts as they’re packable, portable and usually don’t need refrigeration. For longer adventures, bring a cooler bag and fill it with Greek yogurt, cheese sticks, or a classic wheat bread sandwich to avoid stopping for fast food.
Hydration is always important, but during summer months it’s especially imperative to drink plenty of water to avoid heat exhaustion and dehydration. The best way to stay hydrated is simple — water.
“Unless a person exercised very hard or has been sweating profusely, electrolyte drinks are seldom necessary,” says Steeples. In other words, energy drinks should, for the most part, stay out of the lunch bag. Some kids (and adults) complain of water being “boring” to drink. To spice it up, you can add cut fruit or herbs like mint and basil to a pitcher of chilled water, or add some lemon slices to your water bottle when you’re leaving the house.
How Much to Eat?
Snacks aren’t meant to replace a well-rounded meal — parents need to ensure their child is staying within a healthy range of calories. Before reaching for a snack, try to address two questions with your child: “am I hungry?” and “will I feel better (physically and emotionally) if I eat this?” These preliminary questions will help you and your child learn to tell the difference between physical hunger, head hunger and cravings. It’s okay to pass on snacktime if you’re not really feeling it — hunger is not an emergency! Our bodies simply send the sensation of hunger to gradually remind us to nourish ourselves.
What’s more important is making sure that each family member is meeting their recommended caloric intake to fuel their body throughout the day. If you don’t know how much you or your child should be consuming, there are plenty of online resources like MyFitnessPal.com, EatingWell.com, and MyPlate.gov. Be sure to always check in with your physician before making any dietary changes.
Spinach Salad with Black Beans and Sweet Potato Croutons
“This is a great salad meal for lunch or dinner, or a hearty side dish to an entree!” — Melody Steeples, MPH, RD.
1 large sweet potato, cubed and tossed with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1-2 teaspoon cajun style seasoning, roasted at 375 for about 30 minutes then cooled (can substitute with roasted winter squash, like butternut or kabocha, to reduce carbs if desired)
2 cups cooked quinoa
8 - 12 cups spinach leaves (destemmed, large leaves torn into smaller pieces)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin slivers
1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved if desired)
2 cocktail cucumbers, sliced (about 1 cup of slices)
3 green onions, greens thinly sliced and whites discarded
2 cups home cooked or 1 can low sodium black beans, rinsed
1 medium/large avocado, cubed
- Toss all ingredients in large bowl.
- Pour in dressing just before serving and toss well to coat.
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon each of fresh lemon juice and vinegar of choice
2 tablespoon water
2 teaspoon dijon style mustard
1/2 teaspoon italian seasoning blend
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
pinch of salt if desired
Add all ingredients to a blender or bowl and mix with an immersion blender until well blended.