I’d like to give a profound thank you to Elizabeth Bigelow, who agreed to try out on her children a whole new variety of snacks. She put a huge effort into shopping for and preparing new things, and she has reported back on what things worked the best for her family. I have included Elizabeth’s comments in pink so you can see all of her valuable feedback.
Perhaps you often find yourself in the same situation that Elizabeth was seeing day after day when the kids get home from school: they are starving and reach for a big snack. Kids these days have a very short period of time for lunch, and they often feel rushed to get out to enjoy recess. What results is a hungry kid that walks in the door and wants something to eat… FAST. With afternoons being the busiest time of the day (3 kids on 3 different schedules for Elizabeth), she found that convenience foods were often used to fill this gap—goldfish, cookies, snack bars, etc.
After we took a look at the ingredients and nutrients in these snack foods, we came up with three goals that would help Elizabeth make the most of these snack times. After all, snacks are a good thing and can be a very important component of a child’s diet. (I have even read authors who believe that snacks are the #1 most important meal(s), given how much kids like to snack). Here are the three goals we came up with:
#1. Include protein
#2. Encourage lots of fresh vegetables and fruits
#3. Omit any potentially harmful ingredients, such as trans fats, artificial preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup.
For each goal, I came up with a list of ideas that she could pick and choose from. After all, kids have very different tastes, and they change all the time! The idea was to try some new things and see what works in this moment in time. Here are the ideas, along with Elizabeth’s feedback on what worked for her family:
Goal #1: Include protein
This is probably their favorite snack “group”.
–hardboiled eggs (just make a dozen or more on the weekend and always have them ready in your fridge). The hard boiled eggs are a hit and great for the lunchbox too. So easy.
–turkey rolls. If you want to get only organic meats, try Applegate farms.
–turkey/ cheese rollups/ wraps—try them with spelt tortillas from Rudi’s Organic Bakery, or heat them up for a quesadilla. We love the turkey wraps.
–cheese slices or chunks – Try Applegate or Kerrygold. You can cut into fun shapes if you want. Kids also like Laughing Cow cheeses or Organic Valley mozzarella sticks. Cut up mozzarella sticks with crackers was a great pairing with grapes and other fruits!
–homemade “granola” (just mix all kinds of nuts/ seeds if not allergic with some of the cereals on September’s list; add raisins/ dried fruit and some good quality chocolate chips). Homemade granola is also nice, particularly to take to sports events.
–peanut butter, sunbutter, or any nut butter on crackers or rice cakes. Try Back to Nature brands (they have rounds as well as wheat thins), Alexander likes Suzie’s Puffed Spelt Cakes; there is also the Lundberg brand. For a whole grain cracker, Triscuits are an oldie but a goodie. You can also spread nut butters on bread or bagels (Ezekiel and Natural Ovens are good brands; my kids gobble up the Natural Ovens Organic Plus Bread Whole Grain & Flax.)
–Natural Ovens bagels with cream cheese, peanut butter or butter. The flavors include brainy (Elena likes), cinnamon raisin (Alexander likes), blueberry and other. I get them from Peapod, but you can get them from anywhere. I like this brand because they are loaded with good nutrients, not just a bunch of carbs! Love the Natural Ovens whole grain bread and bagels, especially with honey, peanut butter and bananas. ALL STAR!!!!
–hummus (SO easy to make! All you need is a cuisinart. Take 3 cans of garbanzo beans and 9 tablespoons of tahini/ sesame seed butter and whirl in your cuisinart with a little olive oil and lemon juice to taste. When you drain the liquid from the garbanzo bean cans, save it as you will need to add a bunch of this liquid, maybe a cup or more, to get the hummus to the consistency you like. Try to get organic garbanzos. That’s it! Traditional recipes use garlic and spices (cumin, paprika, etc.), by my kids like it as plain as possible. Experiment with them. Hummus was the only tough sell, but the cut up veggies were eaten.
Goal #2: Encourage lots of fresh vegetables and fruits
–celery (spread with peanut butter, sunbutter, or any nut butter, then put raisins and tell them it is “ants on a log”; or spread with laughing cow cheese). We like the ants on a log, and fun to make. The trick is to have it all washed and laid out for them.
–carrots, jicamca peppers (all great with hummus). We are working towards more veggies. We always have them at dinner, but it would be better to sneak in some extra at snack time. I also always pack a veggie at lunch, I think that they eat a few.
–edamame. Many kids love this stuff, and they even package them in kid friendly packaging with characters like Dora and Sponge Bob.
–fruit. Try every kind you can think of. My kids are fans of apples, grapes, berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries), and clementines. Try also oranges and grapefruits (you never know) and experiment with fun ones like kiwi and mango. Always try to buy organic and also wash with a produce wash (I use Veggie Wash). We have been buying a huge variety. The clementines are wonderful right now and they like the strawberries and cut up watermelon. I usually pair with the healthy bagels because they are so hungry.
— you can make fun things out of bananas. I sometimes make “boats” with a lettuce sail, blueberries around the side for water, and grapes on toothpicks for oars. You can also make bananas sandwiches. Just toast bread and spread with peanut butter (sunbutter, nutbutter, whatever), etc and slice bananas on top. Or, my mom used to make banana sandwiches for me with cinnamon and honey. Yum!
–avocado and guacamole are often popular with kids
Goal #3. Omit any potentially harmful ingredients, such as trans fats, artificial preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup
I think that we made the most progress in this area. The tricky part is shopping and really learning what all the best brands are. As the holidays creep up, and I am pressed for time, this is where I will have to be careful.
Here are some quick packaged snacks that are a step up from the usual fare:
-Kashi granola bars
-Kashi fruit bars (Alexander’s favorite is the Kashi TLC Cereal Bars Baked Apple Spice All Natural)
– Natural Ovens Great Granola Bars Chocolate Almond
– Nature’s Path EnviroKidz Crispy Rice Bars Chocolate Organic -They like the organic crispie cereal, noticed no difference
– Enjoy Life Soft & Chewy Snack Bars Nut & Gluten Free Sunbutter Crunch- –The Sunbutter bars from Enjoy Life won the taste award.
The Back to Nature crackers are great with cheese. Chandler (Elizabeth’s husband) likes them too!
Here are some great additional tips on snacks from Elizabeth:
-I bought a whole bunch of the Natures Path, Kashi Bars and Enjoy Life Sunbutter bars. I put them in a huge bowl and they are always around before games etc. Funny enough, now that they are out at all times, the kids don’t eat them as much and tend to grab fruit etc.
-My personal goal is to stay snack organized. I carry lists of good foods to the grocery store. I am trying to organize the list by favorites.
-I saw that the kids ate better when the snacks were on the kitchen table, waiting for them when they came home. It is always rather busy from 2:25 on and everyone gets home at a different time. It is impossible to supervise everyone. By having it all on the table, it avoids the diving into the fridge and pantry for anything that looks yummy!
Those are some awesome tips, Elizabeth! Thank you for being the guinea pig and sharing with us. We hope that all of you have fun experimenting and trying new things at home.
In conclusion, here is just a quick comparison showing what a difference there can be from one “snack bar” to another:
Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats. Sugar, 8 grams. No fiber. Protein 1g.
INGREDIENTS: Toasted Rice Cereal (Rice, Sugar, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Malt Flavoring, Niacinamide, Reduced Iron, Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Marshmallow (Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Artificial Flavor), Fructose, Margarine, (Vegetable Oil [Canola and/or Sunflower Oil, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Cottonseed Oil, Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, TBHQ and Mixed Tocopherols for Freshness], Water, Natural and Artificial Butter Flavor [Contains Milk], Datem, Acetylated Monoglycerides, BHT [Preservative], Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D), Corn Syrup Solids, Contains Two Percent or Less of Dextrose, Glycerin, Salt, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Soy Lecithin.
Enjoy Life Soft & Chewy Snack Bars Nut & Gluten Free Sunbutter Crunch. (The taste award winner at the Bigelow house) Sugar, 4 grams (half as much). Fiber 3g (a decent amount). Protein 3g (3 times as much).
INGREDIENTS: Sunflower Seed Butter (Roasted Sunflower Kernels, Evaporated Cane Juice, Salt), Rice Crisps (Rice Flour, Rice Bran, Raisin Juice Concentrate, Honey, Salt), Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Vegetable Glycerin, Sorghum Flour, Expeller-Pressed Vegetable Oil (Safflower Oil and/or Sunflower Oil), Brown Rice Flakes, Brown Rice Flour, Inulin (Chicory Root Fiber), Date Paste, Gum Arabic, Xanthan Gum, Salt, Baking Soda. Vitamins and Minerals: Calcium, Magnesium, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B6, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Folate.
Looks like an improvement to me!
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. We will be back in touch in December. Stay warm and healthy!
Disclaimer: This column is for information only, and no part of its contents should be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, recommendation or endorsement by the author. You should always ask your physician for his or her recommendation before starting any new health-related activity.