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Healthy Back to School Lunches Kids Will Want to Eat

For many kids across the country, school is starting and that means kids will be eating lunch away from home. Proper nutrition is important for physical health and brain function.

A child who does not get enough nutrients in her lunch or has a sugar crash shortly after lunchtime may have a harder time focusing and learning. But how do we get kids to eat healthy at school whether they are choosing from the cafeteria foods or taking a lunch from home?

Here are some ideas I shared on Oklahoma City’s KOKH Fox 25 morning show to help your kids choose or take healthy lunches they will actually want to eat and won’t trade with their friends.

Get Kids Involved in Choosing What to Eat

Kids who are given choices about what goes in their lunchbox will be more likely to eat what is packed. The key is giving two or three choices among healthy options. Would he prefer whole grain bread or a whole grain tortilla or pita pocket? Broccoli or carrots? Grapes or an apple? Milk or water?

Teach your kids what different foods do for the body and how our body needs nutrients offered by these foods to fuel it so we can do the things we need to do and the things we enjoy. Does your kid like sports or have a favorite athlete? Point out how athletes (such as all our great Olympic champions) eat healthy foods and avoid junk foods so they have the energy and the strength to participate and excel at their sport. When kids understand how healthy foods can benefit them (make them stronger, faster, and even smarter) then they will be open to eating those foods.

If your child eats the school cafeteria’s food, get a menu for the week or month and have your child make some choices from the menu before going to school. This way, you can help guide the choices. If there is not a healthy option listed for a certain day, you can plan to pack a lunch that day.

Packing a Balanced Lunch

A balanced lunch is one that consists of a serving of protein (think lean meats, low-fat cheeses, nuts or nut butter, beans), a vegetable, a fruit, a serving of whole grains (whole grain bread, whole grain tortilla or pita pocket, whole grain rice, etc.), and a dairy serving (if able to have dairy).

Let your child help choose the foods he will take to school and help assemble his lunch. Kids who make their own lunch will want to eat it. Guide the choices when needed and praise healthy choices. And remember, it is okay to pack a little sweet treat too. A small cookie, fun-size piece of candy, or other small treat helps kids learn that these foods are okay in small portions and not with every meal. All things in moderation! As long as it is a small treat, even if she eats it first, she’ll still have room for the rest of her healthy lunch.

Add some WOW Factor to Make Lunch Fun

Another way to get kids to enjoy eating healthy lunches is to make them visually appealing and fun. Think outside the boring sandwich box! Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters or fun-shaped sandwich cutters. Or consider making lunchtime kabobs using wooden skewers or thick big pretzels and alternating meat cubes, cheese cubes, and cherry tomatoes or a variety of fruits and veggies. Mix up some healthy trail mix to eat instead of chips or fries or pack some pita chips, wheat crackers, or crunchy carrot sticks. The more colorful the fruits and veggies, the healthier they are, so make a colorful lunch salad with dark leafy lettuces, spinach, cucumbers, carrots, cherry tomatoes, and pack a side of a low-fat, low-calorie dressing.

Do your kids love pre-assembled lunchable-type lunches? Make your own healthier version with whole wheat crackers, lean meats and low-fat cheeses cut down to size and in fun shapes. Do they like to dip their foods? Veggies and fruits can be dipped into low-fat yogurt or veggie dip. Do they like bite-sized foods? Cut up everything and pack them into separate compartments or put them in small snack-sized sandwich bags. Love a variety of fruits? Cut them up and mix to make a yummy fruit salad. Like to grill or cook-out? Make “campfire” foil packets with their favorite lean meat and veggies, grill until done and pack for lunch. Make it fun and they will be excited to eat their lunch and won’t be tempted to trade!

6 Healthy Makeovers for Summer Snacks

The school year ends, and the parties, barbecues, vacations, carnivals and festivals begin — not to mention a kitchen that’s open 24/7. “It’s harder to get kids to eat healthy snacks in summer because of all the high-calorie temptations,” says Portland-based pediatrician Stephen Ames, M.D. It gets a lot easier when you’ve got healthy substitutions for their favorite treats. Your child won’t even miss the sugar.

Old Summer Snack: Ice Cream

New Summer Snack: Frozen Coconut Bar

Try “ice cream” made from coconut milk. “Coconut milk has germ-fighting and heart-protective properties,” explains certified health counselor Beth Aldrich, “and it may actually stimulate metabolism.” Another healthy frozen treat is mashed frozen bananas with your choice of toppings: Try crushed peanuts (they’re packed with protein and healthy fats) and dark chocolate chips (they contain antioxidants).

Old Summer Snack: Slushies

New Summer Snack: Watermelon Ice Pops

They’re easy to make and loaded with antioxidants and nutrients, says Aldrich. Puree watermelon chunks in a blender till smooth; pour into ice pop molds and freeze. (Add plain low-fat yogurt for a hit of extra calcium if you like.) Also try pureed strawberries, oranges and grapefruit with mint.

Old Summer Snack: Kettle Corn

New Summer Snack: Seasoned Popcorn

High in fiber and low in calories, air-popped popcorn can make a fun, filling snack –without the heavy sugar. Dress it up with a drizzle of fat-free chocolate syrup; a mix of cinnamon and stevia (a natural plant extract that has no calories); or combine with a handful of peanuts and toss with a blend of melted coconut oil and stevia (or agave) nectar for caramel-corn flavor.

Old Summer Snack: Hot Dog

New Summer Snack: Nitrate-free Turkey Dogs

You won’t have to worry about chemicals or bad fats with a nitrate-free turkey dog. Plus, the protein will keep kids satisfied for hours. Wrap the turkey dogs in all-natural, whole-wheat crescent rolls and top with mustard for a hearty, savory snack. Or try Tofurky Franks, made with tofu, for a meat-free ballpark taste.

Old Summer Snack: Packaged Potato Chips

New Summer Snack: Homemade Veggie Chips

Peel fresh carrots, parsnips, beets and sweet potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch slices. Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet; spray with vegetable oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 375 F. Kids can’t resist the colorful crunch — no dip needed!

Old Summer Snack: Lemonade or Cola

New Summer Snack: Fruit-infused Water

Slice fresh fruit — lemon, berries, watermelon or even pineapple — and let it float in a water dispenser or pitcher, suggests Aldrich. Sweeten to taste with Stevia; studies show that it may even prevent tooth decay by fighting the bacteria that cause it. Let kids choose the fruit and name the drink; they’ll think they came up with the idea themselves!

How to Make Fast Food Healthier for Kids

Research shows that kids consume an average of 55 percent more calories when they eat out than when they eat at home. While you should limit fast food to an occasional treat, it’s not a nutritional disaster if you make healthy choices:

Child-size it.

Keep your kids’ portions under control by ordering the child-sized meals that were meant for them — and try one yourself. Just this one move will cut half the calories and fat from your meal. Or share one order of fries with two or three people. This way, you still get to enjoy a little fast food without a lot of calories. Still hungry? Order a side salad with low-cal dressing.

Balance it out.

Cut calories and increase nutrition by making some smart substitutions. Chowing down on a cheeseburger? Forget the fries and order a baked potato or salad instead. Can’t give up the fries? Order a grilled chicken salad instead of a burger.

Skip the extras.

Save major calories by saying no to toppings like cheese, bacon, mayo and special sauces on burgers; pepperoni, sausage and extra cheese on pizza; and bacon bits, tortilla chips, Chinese noodles and regular dressings on salads.

Water it down.

A large cola weighs in at 310 calories, all of which come from sugar. Regular and diet sodas also contain phosphorus, which can prevent kids’ bones from absorbing calcium. The best bet for the whole family: water.

Make Easter Happy and Healthy for Special Needs Kids

Easter is almost here, and like Halloween and Valentine’s Day the holiday celebrations Easter egg sachetinvolve lots and lots of candy. Many special needs children, along with many typical children, are severely affected by the synthetic dyes, preservatives, sweeteners and other artificial ingredients in treats. Simply reading labels and choosing all-natural products before filling eggs and baskets may just let your family have a more enjoyable holiday, and the habit of reading labels can improve the quality of life for you and your special needs child.

The non-profit Feingold Association has tons of information on medical studies that prove the link between these additives and increased hyperactivity, inability to focus and other symptoms. The site also offers a program and diet to eliminate these ingredients. Conditions that have improved on the Feingold diet include ADD, ADHD, OCD, ODD, MBD, TS and many more. Adopting the Faingold diet, or your own modified version of avoiding these ingredients, may not even mean a major overhaul of your family’s eating. According to the Feingold Association website, “Cheetos Natural White Cheddar Flavored Puffs are acceptable, but the orange colored Cheetos (with artificial coloring) are not. Duncan Hines makes a chocolate cake mix with artificial flavor – and another version without.”

So many caregivers of special needs children are searching for that magic pill, which may just be in the form of a shopping cart.

There are many stores that offer a wide selection of all-natural candy and treats, as well as items that are gluten-free, sugar-free and organic:

  • Whole Foods – Find your local Whole Foods here. (Whole Foods has partnered with Streit’s to offer all-natural Hannukah foods, fyi)
  • Trader Joe’s – Find your local location of Trader Joe’s here.
  • Many all-natural items are also available online, such as these All-Natural Jelly Belly jelly beans, which are also gluten-free, dairy free and kosher.

Know of a great store or product? Email me or share it with us all as a comment!

The Best Foods for Sick Kids

Last updated on April 4th, 2022 at 07:44 pm

When your kid is miserable with a stuffy nose, fever or stomachache, it’s tempting to feed her what she wants (ice cream!) or let her skip dinner altogether. But research reveals that eating the right comfort foods can soothe her symptoms and strengthen her immune system. Even if your little one doesn’t have much of an appetite, encourage her to eat; in combination with symptom- and age-appropriate OTC remedies, she’ll feel better in no time.

Here are the best foods for sick kids:

For a stuffy nose … feed them soup. “The hot, steaming broth loosens mucus, so your child can breathe easier,” says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, a registered dietician and the director of wellness coaching at Cleveland Clinic. For even more relief, serve up a bowl of chicken soup: Researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that this childhood staple may relieve cold symptoms by inhibiting inflammation-causing cells in the body. “Plus, chicken soup has carrots, celery and onions,” says Jamieson-Petonic. “These veggies provide vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system.”

For a fever … feed them calorie-rich fare. Forget starving a fever! “You’ll only deprive the body of the nutrients it needs to get well,” says Jamieson-Petonic. A feverish child uses more energy, she adds, so they need to consume additional calories. If your kid doesn’t feel like eating, try adding nutritional bulk to every bite he takes: Slip banana slices into a peanut butter sandwich, mix dry milk powder in mashed potatoes or mac ’n’ cheese, and blend flaxseed into a fruit smoothie.

For a sore throat … feed them soft foods. Does it hurt to swallow? Scrambled eggs, oatmeal, soup and yogurt can coat a painful throat while providing nutrition. Another soother for children above the age of one: honey. According to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, this sweet substance can also lessen nighttime coughing and improve sleep. So if your child can’t stop hacking, swirl a spoonful into a mug of herbal tea or a glass of warm milk.

For a stomachache … feed them crackers. “Bland foods stabilize digestion and gradually get the system up and running again,” says Connie Evers, a registered dietician in Portland, Ore. Once the worst is over, she recommends moving on to more substantial fare, like bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Also steer clear of colas: The caffeine content can make nausea even worse.

For any type of illness … feed them popsicles. For sick kids, proper hydration is key. “Sleeping for long periods of time — as well as running a fever — can lead to fluid loss,” says Evers. To make sure your child sips often, place a water bottle on her bedside stand. Evers also suggests freezing 100% cranberry and orange juices into homemade popsicles; the treat serves up extra liquids along with a dose of vitamin C.

For recovery … feed them balanced meals. Even if they ask for it, don’t serve them their favorite fast-food meal or sugary dessert. “Foods high in sugar or saturated fat can increase inflammation in the body,” explains Jamieson-Petonic. “That can make kids feel worse — and even slow the healing process.” Fill her plate with vitamin-rich produce, whole grains and lean proteins instead. “These foods strengthen the immune system, which helps fight viruses,” she says. “It can also help lower the risk of complications, like bronchitis.”

Teach Gratitude & Give Your Child a Healthier, Happier Life

Last updated on December 20th, 2020 at 04:09 pm

Research shows us that adults who are grateful report having more energy, fewer health problems, and a greater feeling of well-being than those who complain. Most studies show that the more gratitude we show the healthier and happier we are.

The same goes for children. Children who express gratitude are more appreciative, more empathetic, kinder, more enthusiastic and generally happier. Grateful children look outside themselves and understand that others have needs too. They are more polite, usually better behaved and generally more pleasant to be around.

Kids who are not taught gratitude are forever disappointed and fight feelings of entitlement. They struggle with feelings that nothing will ever be good enough for them.

As parents, “Teaching our Children Gratitude” should be at the top of our to-do list. It doesn’t come naturally to our children. It is learned. Who better to teach, than us?

The first thing we might need to do is stop doing some of the things that parents have been doing for years. Avoid pointing out to our children that they are more blessed than others. That doesn’t teach them to be grateful. When it comes to meals, don’t tell them “you should be grateful for your food and eat it, kids in other countries are starving”. This won’t work either.

Instead…

We need to model gratitude ourselves. We must live lives of gratitude if we want our children to really learn to be grateful. That means they need to see us take care of others, including our spouse, write thank you notes, say “please” and “thank you” and show empathy. That means we need to complain less, criticize less, and strive to point out the positives, not the negative, in situations, and in people. This includes our children and spouses. We need to refrain from complaining about our children (and spouses), instead tell them how grateful we are for them. We need to show gratitude for adversity too. Remember, children will, for the most part, do what their parents do. That is why gratitude has to start with parents, in our homes.

Provide your family opportunities to take care of others. Start by encouraging your children to take care of other family members, and then help them find ways to actively take care of others outside the family. Let them help you as you take care of others. They will learn by example. The goal is to give them “grateful eyes”, so they begin to foresee the need before they have to be told.

Give your children responsibility. We are always more grateful for things when we have to do them ourselves. The same applies to children. Give them appropriate responsibilities. They will realize the effort and energy it takes to accomplish them, and become more grateful for the people around them that do things for them. (Like their mom and dad.)

Teach your children to write Thank you Notes. Insist that this be done. Teach them that it is part of life. Organize a thank you note station in your home that is always stocked with papers, envelopes, stamps and crayons, etc. (Let your children see you sitting there often also). Start when they are very small by having them draw “thank you pictures” and then you write the words to go with it. Then move on to notes that have most of the words filled in. Have children write what it is they are thankful for and sign their name. By the age of 7 or 8, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to write the entire notes themselves. Don’t worry about perfection. Worry that they are remembering to do it. And doing it.

Teach your children to be grateful for adversity. When things are hard, or uncertain, or don’t go as planned, we need to teach our children to be grateful. To recognize the blessings that comes from hard things. We don’t want to teach, “we are luckier, or better than someone else”. Instead help children see what can be learned, and how we can take what we learn into other situations to help others and ourselves.

Say “No”. Our children don’t need everything they ask for. It is important for us to be reasonable and say “No”. We also have to be careful rewarding our children for everything. We want them to do good because it is the right thing to do, and not because they get something, like a new toy or money.

Role Play. Practice saying “please” and “thank you” with your children. Role play situations (grandma gives you a new toy, or someone pays you a compliment). During the role play, talk about how others feel when we show them gratitude. Remember, children aren’t thinking about everyone else. They are thinking about themselves, so we have to teach them.

Point out the simple things. Teach children to be grateful for the creations around them, the seasons, the sunshine, the falling leaves and the rain. Children will quickly understand that there is beauty all around, and that it has come from something much bigger than we are. Celebrate creations. Jump in the leaves, splash in the puddles, and feel the sun on our skin.

With Thanksgiving on our minds, it is a great time to encourage gratitude in our children.

By starting new traditions now, we can hope to encourage gratitude year round. Here are some simply Thanksgiving Traditions that can help our families “think grateful”.

Make a Gratitude Chain

Cut long strips of paper in different colors. Each day have family members, or help little family members, write down something they are thankful for. Take your stapler or tape and hook the strips together to form a chain. Hang it where the family can see it everyday and watch it grow. On Thanksgiving have each person read what they have written throughout the month.

Fill a Gratitude Jar

Any jar will work. Cut up strips of paper and round up some pens and crayons. Put the jar in an obvious place in your home. Everyday until Thanksgiving, have everyone in the family write or draw a picture of something they are thankful for that day and drop it in the jar. Help small children. On Thanksgiving day, pull all the strips out and read them as a family. Talk about how it felt to show increased gratitude all month long.

Have Grateful Hands

Once a week, throughout the month of November, trace the hand of everyone in the family. Sit down every Monday and write down 5 things you have each been thankful for that week. We like to write one in each of the fingers, like feathers. Tape the hands to your kitchen wall throughout the month so everyone can see them. Use the hands as a centerpiece for your Turkey Table. You could even laminate them after the holiday and post all the old ones each year as your children grow. They will love seeing how their hands, and their gratitude has grown.

Gratitude Tree

Head outside and find a few sticks and twigs. Put them in a jar and cover them with some rocks to hold them in place to make your own “tree”. Cut a bunch of leaves out of “fall colored” paper ( or just use tags, or small slips of paper). We have even used real leaves. As you write down what you are thankful for on your leaves, tape them, or tie them to your tree. Use your gratitude tree as your dinner centerpiece on Thanksgiving day

Thankful Tablecloth (My Favorite)

Find a big tablecloth. Or make one the size of your table. You will want a material that has a tight weave and that is smooth. On Thanksgiving Day, trace each person’s hand on the table cloth and write in the middle of the hand something they are thankful for and the year. Fabric markers work best. Each year, on the same cloth, enact the same ritual. Your family will love not only seeing how their hands have grown, but they will love to see what they were thankful for in the past.

Once thanksgiving is over, don’t let the gratitude stop.

  • Each night over dinner, have family members express three things they are thankful for that day.
  • Encourage your kids to keep a gratitude journal. Help them write down one thing they are thankful for each week. Or, have little ones draw pictures of things they are grateful for. Encourage them to move up to every night.
  • Clear a “grateful space” on your fridge. Throughout the year, post anything your family members are thankful for. Encourage family members to contribute. It can become an everyday reminder of the people and blessings your family is thankful for.

Above all things, start by focusing on our own behavior. This in and of itself will help model and teach our children gratitude.

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