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Published on September 15, 2016

celery with peanut butter and raisins

Think Healthy with Snacks and Meals for Kids

Parents know the lure of pre-packaged foods — it’s an easy choice on a day packed with events.

But as another school year gets started, it’s important to think healthy when it comes to preparing lunches, snacks and dinner for you kids.

“Helping our kids eat healthier is so important in so many ways but it does take a little bit more time to plan,” said Muna Ashraf, MD, a Family Medicine provider with Avera Medical Group.

A healthy diet is key to maintaining a healthy weight into adulthood. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States and obesity among children and adults continues to rise. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight. Not to mention doctors are still discovering just how close the link is to what we put in our bodies and how it makes us feel both physically and mentally, Ashraf said.

A balanced diet for children should include a range of the food groups — protein, grains, dairy, and fruits and vegetables, with a heavy emphasis on vegetables. It’s also important to stay hydrated with milk and water but to limit sugary drinks like juices and soda.

The first step is making healthier choices available instead of go-to snacks such as potato chips.

To make things easier, Ashraf recommends planning ahead for healthier meals:

  • Create a meal plan for the week
  • Cut up fruits and veggies for snacks and meals
  • Prepare healthier treats ahead of time

“When you’re in a rush after work that’s the hardest because it’s so much easier to take out packaged, processed food,” Ashraf said. “If you have veggies already cut and washed, then you’re well on your way to preparing a quick meal or having a healthy snack on hand.”

Ashraf said it’s best to make gradual changes in your family’s food options — they may be surprised to come home and find none of the usual snacks in the house and a fridge full of veggies. While it’s OK to have treats on occasion, Ashraf said to always have healthier options available. If parents serve up cut vegetables and fruit, those will get eaten, too.

If your kids are averse to anything green, try incorporating vegetables into the main dish (adding veggies to spaghetti sauce or chili) or adding greens or other veggies to a smoothie. If your child will only eat broccoli with melted cheese that’s OK, too.

Because kids don’t always want to try new things, don’t be afraid to get creative. A couple options:

  • Freeze yogurt with a couple of pieces of fruit into mini-muffin tins for a bite-sized treat
  • Pair cut veggies with dips such as hummus or guacamole
  • Ants on a log is a long-time favorite — celery with peanut butter and raisins on top

And remember, don’t give up. It may take a few tries before your kids warm up to a new taste. Kids learn by example, so the more your kids see you serving up and eating healthy meals, the more likely they’ll be to try it too — even if it’s not today.

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