5 Tips to Creating Healthy Snacks for Your Family
For those of you who know us, you know that it is pretty much all about food all the time around our house.
Between two growing and very active boys, a husband who bikes 4-5 days a week and my serious running habit, it takes a lot of fuel to keep us going.
I love to cook, and I plan our meals very carefully to ensure we’re getting a variety of whole foods and nutrients in our diet. And in between meals, I put the same amount of energy into making sure our snacks are just as healthy, balanced, and delicious.
Here are my five tips to creating healthy snacks for your family:
1. Make Every Snack a Complete Snack
The perfect snack is a snack that contains a combination of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
Carbohydrates provide quick energy and are are critical to active and growing bodies. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Most packaged snacks are made from refined grains, are highly processed, and are filled with excessive amounts of sugar and a long list of harmful ingredients.
The best sources of carbohydrates are those that are rich in fiber and abundant in nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils. Aim to provide snacks containing carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, and try to minimize starchy carbohydrates from breads, cereals and crackers.
Protein is essential for building every single one of the body’s cells, is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood, and helps provide lasting energy.
Good sources of protein from animal products include eggs, cheese, dairy, meat and poultry. There are many excellent vegetarian sources of protein as well, including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, quinoa, vegetables and whole grains.
Healthy Fats support brain development and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, healthy fats help reduce inflammation and can provide benefits in children with asthma, allergies, eczema, and ADHD. Finally, healthy fats provide a feeling of satiety, and therefore help to tame hunger that can often develop between meals.
Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds and avocados.
2. Always Be Prepared
The key to healthy snacking is to have healthy snacks on hand for your family no matter where you are. In most cases, the snacks you have access to when you’re away from home are highly processed, filled with harmful ingredients and high in sugar. And that will be all you have to turn to when you’re caught hungry and unprepared.
Planning ahead ensures that you will always be able to provide healthy snacks when you’re out. I keep a stash of our favorite snacks easily accessible in my pantry so I can quickly pull them together as we head out the door. It just takes a few minutes, and it is so worth it. I make sure that everyone grabs a refillable water bottle as well.
3. Fill Your Pantry With Snacks You Feel Good About Serving
Filling your pantry with a variety of healthy snack options means that you can easily create healthy snacks to balance the meals you serve that day, and that you’ll never be caught in a situation where you don’t have a healthy option to offer when the need arises. The more options you have available in your pantry, the easier this will be.
As you continue to fill your pantry with healthy options, focus on crowding out those that aren’t as healthy so that you and your family can’t be tempted by them.
4. Timing Is Key
In addition to helping to control blood sugar, healthy snacks can provide a boost of energy in between meals and can help tame hunger. As a general rule, I recommend that snacks be served two to three hours before the next meal, and that you avoid serving snacks after dinner because it is too close to bedtime.
It is important, however, that we learn to listen to our hunger cues and teach our kids to do the same. There is no hard and fast rule that says that everyone must eat two snacks every day. Use the meals you’re preparing as a guide … if your family is getting the nutrients they need from every meal, then snacks can be used less frequently. However, if you have a busy day ahead and/or your child is in the middle of a growth spurt, you may all need a little extra boost to get you through to the next meal.
One more important note about timing … hunger is a common side effect of dehydration. Because water is obtained through various foods we eat including fruits and vegetables, our body signals its need for water via both thirst and hunger cues. These cues are often misread, and in many cases it is in fact water that your body desires, not food. You can read more on the importance of drinking enough water here.
5. Be Creative
Snack time is an excellent time to try new foods, especially fruits and vegetables your child may not be familiar with. I’ve found that having slices of a new fruit or vegetable on the counter when my boys come home from school is a perfect way to get them to try something new. This is also the perfect time to introduce new snack recipes. Their hungry tummies and their excitement about sharing the events of the day combine to create the perfect environment, and they’re often far more adventurous than they’d be at other times of the day.
Our Favorite Healthy Snacks
These are the snacks that most frequently make the rotation at our house. They’re quick and easy to pull together and can easily be packed when we’re on the go.
Fresh vegetables with Our Favorite Hummus
Fresh fruit with a handful of nuts or seeds
Apple slices with almond butter
Greek yogurt with a sprinkle of granola
Roasted Chickpeas and orange slices
Kale chips and fresh fruit
Carrot sticks and a slice of raw cheese
Following these five tips will ensure that the snacks you provide for your family are healthy and meet all of their nutritional needs.
What are your family’s favorite healthy snacks? I’d love to hear about the snacks that most often make your rotation in the comments below.