One of your most important roles as a parent is feeding your children healthy foods to ensure proper nutrition. However, in today’s busy society, convenient, easy-to-grab, processed, unhealthy items surround us.
Packing your kids’ lunch for school, weekend activities or a summer day at the park can ensure they are eating well away from home. Nutritious, vegetable-packed meals and convenient on-the-go snacks follow. Bonus: They work for the whole family! The next time you take a day trip or even an afternoon hike, pack a few easy meals or snacks for a family picnic. A little prep time can save a lot of hassle and stress on the road, as well as keep everyone happier and healthier.
Leave the processed food trays and snack packs at the store. One staple for a to-go meal or snack is a make-your-own charcuterie board or sampler plate. Foods can vary based on seasonal availability, so try to keep to the highest quality local foods you can find. Focus on the vegetables and fruits, and add accompaniments.
Vegetables: cherry tomatoes, broccoli, carrots.
Dippers: hummus, pesto, peanut or almond butter.
Fruits: apples, figs, grapes, pears, cherries.
Meats: pulled pork, turkey, sausage.
Other ideas: olives, hard-boiled eggs, various hard cheeses.
Quesadillas are fun for kids, and you can make them to suit your child. Fill a tortilla with sautéed onions, zucchini, broccoli, spinach and/or black beans. Sprinkle some cheese inside, close and heat in a pan. When cheese is melted, cut into slices. For an added healthy bonus, serve with an avocado or homemade guacamole.
Quiche, a pie-like egg dish, is easy to transport and can pack a lot of veggies. To your pie shell, add sautéed or steamed broccoli, asparagus, spinach, carrots or a combination of cooked vegetables you have on hand. Beat four-to-five eggs in a bowl, add 1/2 cup of milk and pour the mixture over vegetables. Sprinkle some cheese on top and bake at 350º F for 45 minutes. Slice and serve with lettuce greens or a side of fruit. “Hiding” the vegetables can be a way of getting a picky eater to get those vegetables in!
Create your own lunch wrap. Start with tortillas, turkey or ham slices, and cheese. Add spinach or lettuce, and a thin layer of cream cheese, mayo, pesto or avocado.
Sweet potatoes are very versatile and popular with children because of the taste and texture. Cut into one-inch pieces, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 450º F for 30 minutes. This can be a delicious side dish or an addition to your favorite wrap for a nutritious lunch.
For an easy pasta salad, boil tricolor rotini as instructed on the box. When complete, add kalamata olives, cooked broccoli, cucumber quarters and feta cheese. Drizzle olive oil and red wine vinegar to taste.
These meals are designed for short-term transport with no refrigeration. Avoid heat or excessive storage time if you include meat or eggs. If necessary, place an ice pack in your carrier bag or box to protect your meals. You can also freeze a water bottle or packet of applesauce or yogurt to help keep items cool.
Fun, Nutritious Snacks
Roasted chickpeas are an easy finger food. Drain, rinse and dry a can of chickpeas. Spread on a baking sheet, and roast at 375º F for 45 minutes. While hot, toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and a few of your favorite seasonings. Try Parmesan and garlic, cinnamon and honey or a ranch packet.
Foods that are protected by their rind, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, hold up well while you’re out and about.
Make your own trail mix. Pick and choose from mixed nuts, cranberries, raisins, dried fruit or cereal. For an occasional sweet treat, try peanut butter chips or mini-chocolate chips.
A fruit bowl is great for summertime splendor. Mix green and red grapes, blueberries, strawberries and kiwi. Sprinkle with lime juice and drizzle with honey.
Drain and rinse a can of kidney, cannellini, lima or black beans. Heat as instructed and pack for an on-the-go protein punch.
Steam or boil a bag of edamame, in the pod or out.
Baked apple chips take some time but are much more cost-effective than purchased bags. Thinly slice apples and lay them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on the chips. Bake at 200º F for two hours.
Make blueberry, strawberry or apple muffins. Oftentimes, store-bought muffins have triple the amount of sugar compared to homemade recipes. Make at home, add more fruit than called for, and enjoy your healthier home-baked treat.
Kids love dipping sauces. Keep peanut or almond butter on hand, and use apple slices or bananas to dip. Hummus is another great dipper with carrots, broccoli, bell peppers or celery.
Roasted beets drizzled with maple syrup are a lovely (although colorful on the hands) snack item. Peel a whole fresh beet, cut into wedges and roast at 400º F for 35 to 40 minutes. If your child needs a bit of sweet to balance the beets, drizzle a touch of maple syrup while warm.
Be sure to avoid nuts, popcorn or other small-piece choking hazards with younger children, especially if they are active.
Keep this list on hand and add your own favorites to have an ever-ready source of ideas for simple, wholesome snacks and meals for your family.
Courtney Morris Gardner, MSN, RN, CPNP, practices in Marion, NC. She enjoys cooking, hiking and camping with her husband and twin toddlers.