9 Best Meatless Protein-Rich Foods For Kids (+Recipes!)

9 Best Meatless Protein-Rich Foods For Kids (+Recipes!)

Protein is an essential macronutrient that’s found in every cell of the body and is vital for building muscle, strengthening skin and bones, producing hormones, and transporting nutrients.

Although everyone needs it in their diets, kids in particular must get adequate levels of protein to support their rapid growth and development.

What’s more, eating meals with a combination of protein, fiber and healthy fats promotes feelings of satiety, staves off hunger, keeps blood sugar levels steady and can prevent overeating.

According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, protein needs for kids vary by age and gender:

  • Children between 1 and 3-years-old: 13 grams of protein each day
  • Children between 4 and 8-years-old: 19 grams of protein each day
  • Children between 9 and 13-years-old: 34 grams of protein each day
  • Girls between 14 and 18-years-old: 46 grams of protein each day
  • Boys between 14 and 18-years-old: 52 grams of protein each day

Whether your kids are vegetarian or you’re cutting back on meat and trying to get more plant-based foods in their diets, here are some of the best meatless protein-rich foods for kids, plus healthy and delicious recipes to try.

1. Quinoa

A gluten-free, whole grain carbohydrate, a 1/2 cup of quinoa has more than 4 grams of protein. Quinoa is also high in fiber and a good source of B vitamins and magnesium.

A great substitute for rice and pasta, quinoa can also be served as a side dish, added to salads, incorporated into soups, stew, or chili, or even served for breakfast.

Try this recipe: Apple Quinoa Breakfast Muffins Perfect for Busy Mornings

2. Lentils

With 9 grams of protein in every 1/2 cup, lentils are one of the best meatless protein-rich foods for kids.

Since they’re also high in fiber, they keep blood sugar levels steady and are super filling.

Use lentils to make a vegetarian chili, lentil soup or meatless burgers.

Try this recipe: Lentil-Chickpea Veggie Burgers With Avocado Green Harissa

3. Eggs

In March, a new study came out, once again suggesting that eating eggs is linked to heart disease and premature death.

But experts say—and I agree—there’s no need to avoid them.

With nearly 30 grams of protein in one large egg, plus several key nutrients like potassium, vitamin D, B vitamins, lutein and omega-3 fatty acids, eggs are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

Scrambled for breakfast, in a quiche or frittata for lunch, or hard-boiled for snacks when you’re on the go, eggs are a food you can always find a place for in your kid’s diet.

Try this recipe: Egg and Bacon Muffin Cups

4. Pumpkin seeds

With more than 5 grams of protein in one ounce, plus magnesium and zinc, pumpkin seeds are a great addition to your kid’s diet.

Pumpkin seeds also contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that converts to serotonin, a chemical in the brain that’s responsible for sleep and a happy mood.

Add pumpkin seeds to breads and muffins, on top of yogurt or in homemade granola.

Try this recipe: Vegan Pumpkin Seed Pesto Pasta

5. Green peas

Serve them in meals or as a snack, these little green gems are also a perfect first food for babies.

With 5 grams of protein in a 1/2 cup, peas are also a good source of vitamins A, B6, C, K, folate and magnesium.

Try this recipe: Best Ever and Kid-Friendly Easy Split Pea Soup

6. Chia seeds

Chia seeds are a superfood and high in protein: 1 ounce has more than 4 grams.

They’re also a great source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and phosphorous.

Add chia seeds to smoothies, pancake batter, overnight oats, and breads and muffins.

Try this recipe: Overnight Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding

7. Chickpeas

All beans are excellent sources of protein, but chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) in particular, stand out. With nearly 9 grams of protein in one cup, chickpeas also high in fiber and folate.

Pair chickpeas with brown rice, add them to salads or make your own hummus.

Try this recipe: Roasted Chickpea Snack

8. Peanut butter

The quintessential kid-friendly food, peanut butter is packed with protein: two tablespoons has 8 grams—plus filling fiber and healthy fats.

Top toast with peanut butter, add it into breakfast smoothies or mix with Greek yogurt for a healthy dip.

Try this recipe: Peanut Butter Oatmeal Energy Balls

9. Tempeh

Made with fermented soybeans, tempeh is an excellent source of protein: one ounce has 5 grams.

Tempeh is also high in calcium—a good thing if your kids don’t drink milk or you’re avoiding dairy—and rich in probiotics, the healthy bacteria that strengthen your kid’s immune system

Although tempeh is a great swap for meat in almost any dish, it shouldn’t be a regular food in your kid’s diet.

Since high amounts of soy in a child’s diet is linked to a Kawasaki disease, a serious autoimmune condition that can cause damage to the heart, experts say babies under 1 should avoid consuming foods with soy and older kids should consume soy in moderation.

Try this: Easy Baked BBQ Tempeh

What are some of your kid’s favorite meatless protein-rich foods?  Let me know in the comments!

[VIDEO] 6 Reasons Your Kid Won’t Eat At Meals

[VIDEO] 6 Reasons Your Kid Won’t Eat At Meals

Although there are some kids who will eat anything you put in front of them no matter how new or exotic, all kids at some point will snub a vegetable, turn their noses up at what’s being served or flat out refuse to eat dinner.

As a parent, it’s incredibly frustrating to spend time cooking dinner only to hear “ew!” “yuck!” or “I’m not eating that!”

Take heed, mama.

It’s normal for kids not to eat meals from time to time. Sometimes they’re legitimately not hungry or they really may not like what you’re serving—kids have their own food preferences just like we do.

If your kids consistently push food around their plates, take 2 bites and declare, I’m done, or it seems like they’re never hungry no matter how hard you try, there are some possible reasons for their behaviors. Here are 6.

Short on time? Learn the top 3 most common reasons in this quick video.

1. Too many snacks

If your kid won’t eat at meals, it’s possible that he’s filling up on too many snacks throughout the day.

In fact, according to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids eat snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers and candy.

Although there’s no hard and fast rule about how often kids should snack, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day—healthy snacks that give them the nutrition they need.

If you cut back on the amount of snacks but you still find that your kid isn’t eating meals, consider making snacks smaller, adjusting the time between meals and snacks, or eliminating snack all together.

Also, instead of allowing kids to graze all day, have structured snack times and try to avoid snacks in the stroller or in the car when kids are more likely to eat mindlessly and overeat.

2. Pressure tactics

We all want our kids to eat enough and we worry when they won’t eat, but putting pressure on kids can create power struggles and make your kids less likely to eat their meals.

Instead of begging, pleading and negotiating, take a step back and be patient.

Let your kids decide if they want to eat, what they want to eat (among the choices you provide) and how much.

In order for kids to feel empowered to make their own choices, they need plenty of opportunities to touch, smell and taste their food and develop their own food preferences instead of being forced to eat something you think they should have.

3. Food ruts

Serving the same foods over and over can keep your family on track with healthy eating and help you get meals on the table in a pinch, but when the habit turns into a food rut, kids will be less likely to eat at meals.

I’ll admit: I’m totally guilty of this.

To make my life easier and encourage my kids to eat healthy, my husband and I pack lentils almost every day for lunch, serve salmon most Mondays and make eggs almost everyday for breakfast.

Lately, I’ve realized that although my kids actually like eating the foods we serve, they’re probably bored—and I was right.

To my surprise however, they didn’t want pizza or chicken nuggets—mixing up lunch a bit with a sandwich with salmon salad was just fine.

When you can carve out some time, try a new recipe, a different cooking method or cook with a new spice to change things up a bit. Or, transform old standby meals, so instead of roasted chicken, make chicken roll ups, chicken soup or chicken enchiladas, for example.

4. Changes in appetite

Just because it’s meal time, doesn’t mean your kid will be hungry.

Toddlers in particular can be really fussy eaters and more interested in playing than eating too.

After the first birthday, a child’s growth isn’t as rapid as it was during the first year of life. Although they continue to grow at a slow, steady rate and they’re moving a lot more, their appetites may slow down making them not as hungry at meals as they once were.

As long as your child’s growth trends are progressing at a healthy rate, you shouldn’t worry.

However, if your child’s lack of appetite seems extreme, it’s always a good idea to talk to the pediatrician to rule out a medical condition or another issue.

5. Portions are too large

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned when it comes to feeding my kids is that kids aren’t adults and they don’t need as much food as we do.

Kids shouldn’t be expected to clean their plates—like adults, they should eat until they’re no longer hungry, instead of eating until they’re full.

You may also be surprised what a healthy portion is. For toddlers, the AAP says one serving of vegetables is equal to one tablespoon for each year of age, for example.

For more specific recommendations, check out Super Healthy Kids’ My Plate Guide to Portion Sizes.

6. Too much milk, juice and sugary drinks

If your kid won’t eat at meals, it’s important to take a look at what he’s drinking.

Although milk is a good source of calcium and protein, filling up on too much can prevent him from being hungry for real food at meal time.

The AAP recommends 2 cups of milk for kids between 1 and 8-years-old and 3 cups for kids between 9 and 18-years-old.

Sipping on juice can also displace calories in your child’s diet.

According to the new AAP guidelines for fruit juice in kids’ diets, kids under age 1 shouldn’t drink juice.

For toddlers between 1 and 3, juice should be limited to 4 ounces a day; children ages 4-6 should have no more than 4 to 6 ounces; and children ages 7-18 should limit juice to 8 ounces—if you’re going to serve it.

All kids should avoid soda, sugar-sweetened drinks and energy drinks.

Although the AAP says sports drinks can be helpful for young kids who are engaged in prolonged, vigorous sports, they’re usually unnecessary and plain H2O is just fine.

Do you have a kid who won’t eat at meals? What have you found that helps? Let me know in the comments section! 

10 High-Fiber Foods Kids Will Love

10 High-Fiber Foods Kids Will Love

Fiber is something all kids need in their diets but most aren’t getting enough from foods like fruits and vegetables and those with whole grains.

In fact, 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and 39 percent don’t eat any whole grains.

If you’re trying to get your kids to eat more fiber-rich foods, the good news is that you don’t have to resort to gritty bran cereal, sneak vegetables into their meals or force them to drink a fiber supplement.

With plenty of opportunities to taste and explore new fiber-rich foods, kids can grow to accept—and even crave them.

These 10 picks are healthy, delicious and super-easy to incorporate into any meal or serve as snacks.

1. Apples

When you think of high-fiber foods, apples are usually the first to come to mind.

With more than 4 grams of fiber in one medium apple, they’re also a great source of vitamin C, and have quercetin, an antioxidant that may improve cognitive function, a March 2017 mice study in the journal Behavioral Brain Research suggests.

2. Chia seeds

With a whopping 10.6 grams of fiber in every ounce, chia seeds are a standout when it comes to fiber-rich foods for kids.

Chia seeds are also high in protein, a good source of calcium, and the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show support cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, prevent chronic disease, and support brain health.

A word of caution: due to the risk of an obstruction in the esophagus, avoid feeding chia seeds to little ones.

3. Raspberries

All types of berries are high in fiber, but with more than 6 grams of fiber in a 1/2 cup, raspberries are one of the best.

Raspberries are also loaded with antioxidants and rich in vitamins C, K, and magnesium, and they’re low glycemic so they won’t spike your kid’s blood sugar.

4. Avocado

Avocado is a superfood for kids, thanks to almost 2 grams of fiber in every ounce. 

Avocado also has 20 vitamins and minerals, healthy fats, and lutein and zeaxanthin, or carotenoids, found in the eyes that can improve memory and processing speed, one study found.

5. Figs

Real figs (not the cookie kind!) are one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

A 1/2 cup of raw figs contain nearly 3 grams of fiber while the same portion of dried figs have more than 9 grams.

Figs are also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin K.

6. Popcorn

If you’re looking for a crunchy kids’ snack with some fiber, serve up some popcorn.

A cup of popcorn has more than 1 gram of fiber, which isn’t a ton but it’s much better than a bag of chips for example, and it’s a whole grain. Unlike refined carbohydrates, whole grain carbohydrates keep blood sugar steady and help stave off hunger.

7. Rolled oats

With 6 grams of filling fiber in a 1/2 cup, rolled oats are a good source of whole grains as well as iron, selenium and manganese.

When buying rolled oats or oatmeal, always read labels and compare brands because the amount of fiber can vary.

8. Almonds

With nearly 3 grams of fiber in one ounce, almonds are fiber-rich and filling.

Almonds are also a great source of protein and iron, and make for a quick and easy kids’ snack.

9. Sweet potatoes

With more than 3 grams of fiber in a 1/2 cup,  sweet potatoes are one of the best high-fiber foods to feed your kids.

Sweet potatoes are also loaded with antioxidants and lend themselves to almost any meal.

10. Beans

You can’t go wrong with beans, which are high in both fiber and protein, and an excellent source of folate, zinc, iron and magnesium. They’re also rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant that fights inflammation.

Navy beans and small white beans are some of the highest in fiber—more than 9 grams in a 1/2 cup.

7 Ways to Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

7 Ways to Get Your Kids To Eat a Healthy Breakfast

You’ve heard the old saying, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when it comes to our kids, most don’t eat it.

According to an August 2017 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, only about one-third of kids eat breakfast every day, 17 percent never eat breakfast and the rest only eat breakfast a fews days a week.

If your kid doesn’t like to eat first thing in the morning, doesn’t have time for breakfast or doesn’t like what you’re serving, don’t give up.

Here, learn some simple strategies to get your kids to eat a healthy breakfast every day.

1. Make breakfast family time

If you’re rushed in the morning to get your kids out the door and they’re feeling the pressure, they may feel too anxious to eat breakfast.

Instead of stressing out, carve out enough time for breakfast, even if it means the beds don’t get made or the dishes are left in the sink.

You can also make breakfast an opportunity to spend some quality time as a family together, especially if you don’t eat dinner as a family.

Read a Bible verse, ask your kids what they’re grateful for, or talk about your plans for the weekend. 

2. Don’t eat a late dinner

After-school activities can make it tough to eat dinner on time, but if your kids are eating dinner late, they may not be hungry for breakfast.

Try to feed your kids before you head out to activities and discourage after-dinner snacking so they’ll have an appetite come morning.

3. Do some easy meal prep

If there’s no time to make breakfast in the morning, make it ahead of time.

Set aside individual re-sealable bags of fruits and veggies for smoothies, make overnight oats or parfaits in mason jars, boil a batch of hard-boiled eggs, or make a frittata, egg casserole, or egg “muffins” at the beginning of the week or the night before. 

4. Let them decide

Cereal and toast are easy options for breakfast but if your kid is more likely to eat leftovers for breakfast, then go with it.

Pair a protein with veggies or a piece of fruit, serve soup, or mix leftover rice with coconut milk, nuts, cinnamon and a drizzle of honey to break out of the breakfast rut.

Another way to give kids choices is to make something easy like oatmeal, and then let your kid choose the spices, nuts, seeds, and fresh or dried fruit.

5. Wake up earlier

Little kids are up early anyway, but if your kids are older and they like to sleep in until the last possible minute, they probably don’t eat breakfast because there’s no time.

An easy fix? Try moving their bedtime back a half an hour or so until they can wake up in time.

6. Take the lead

No surprise here, but only 47 percent of adults in the U.S. eat breakfast every day, according to a 2015 survey by Instantly.

Although you may think mornings are hectic enough, carving out time to eat a healthy breakfast may encourage your kids to do the same.

7. Serve a morning snack

If your kid isn’t a breakfast eater, stick to small bites.

Serve 4 or 6 ounces of a green smoothie, apple slices with almond butter, mini muffins, energy bites or raw vegetables with hummus.

What are some of your tricks to get your kids to eat a healthy breakfast? Let me know in the comments.

7 Nutrition Mistakes All Parents Make

7 Nutrition Mistakes All Parents Make

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links from Amazon Associates. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

We all want our kids to eat healthy, but between food marketing, brands that tout health claims and some outdated advice from experts, deciding what to feed your kids and what to avoid can be challenging.

Although most of us are well intentioned and try our best to offer healthy foods, there are still some common nutrition mistakes all parents make that can affect kids’ health now, and well into the future. Here are 7.

Nutrition mistake #1: Serving only “breakfast foods” for breakfast

Let’s face it: if you have young kids, mornings are stressful.

I get it.

Most mornings, I’m up at 5am to pray, read a devotional and enjoy a cup of coffee—and quiet—before my kids get up.

Once they’re awake however, it’s always a mad rush to feed them breakfast, get them ready and on the bus.

Cereal and toast are definitely easy and quick options for breakfast, but serving the same ‘ol breakfast foods every day can be a missed opportunity to get nutrition into your kid’s diet. Not to mention—it can get boring.

If you think out of the [breakfast] box and offer new types of foods, kids can also become healthier, more adventurous eaters.

Since lunch and dinner may be the only time kids are offered vegetables, breakfast is another chance to get them into your kid’s diet. The more you offer vegetables, the more likely your kid will be to eat them.

It’s not necessary to re-invent the wheel every day, but try to change things up a few times a week. Add leftover veggies to scrambled eggs, make chia seed or pumpkin pudding the night before, pull together a bean burrito or serve baked tempeh instead of toast, for example. 

 

 

 

Nutrition mistake #2: Filling up on processed snacks

 

We must recognize that our kids are growing—physically, mentally and emotionally—and what we feed them should be real, whole foods packed with nutrition to fuel that growth.

Bags of crackers, chips, cookies and other snack foods are easy to throw in a lunch box or pack when you’re on the go.

But processed snacks are usually made with refined carbohydrates and are high in sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients. They also lack the protein, fiber and vitamins and minerals kids need.

Do your best to avoid processed foods and instead, stick to whole foods for snacks. For ideas, check out my blog post, Healthy Kids’ Snacks 101: When, What and How Much

 

 

 

Nutrition mistake #3: Thinking all yogurt is healthy

 

 

Yogurt is an excellent source of protein, which promotes satiety and can prevent weight gain. It’s also a great source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamin B12 as well as probiotics, the healthy bacteria that boost kids’ gut health and strengthens their immune systems.

Yet many yogurts, those that are marketed to kids or otherwise, are also sneaky sources of sugar.

Yogurts with pretzels, candy and crushed cookies are obvious sources, but those that are blended with fruit can also be high in sugar.

Read labels carefully and stick to brands with less than 11 grams of sugar, according to nutritionist Joy Bauer.

Siggi’s is one of my favorites for kids. Or serve plain Greek yogurt and add fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness and fiber.

 

 

Nutrition mistake #4: Missing sneaky sources of sugar

 

 

You already know to limit foods that are obvious sources of sugar like candy, cookies and ice cream, but sugar is sneaky and can hide behind at least 61 different names like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.

Foods like dried fruit, canned fruit and fruit cups, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, ketchup, juice, sports drinks, granola, instant oatmeal and cereal can all be sneaky sources of sugar.

 

 

Nutrition mistake #5: Avoiding all types of fat

 

 

Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the U.S. and as a result, parents are consistently told to limit the amount of fat in their kids’ diets and serve low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat, for example.

Although experts say trans fats and some saturated fats should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods like fish, avocado, nuts and seeds and olive oil are all essential to kids health.

 

 

Nutrition mistake #6: Labeling foods “good” or “bad”

 

 

Labeling foods “good” or “bad” can turn mealtime into a power struggle and make your kid want the poor choices even more.

Teaching kids about healthy eating includes teaching balance. So although there are healthier choices, it’s OK to indulge in sweets and junk food.

When food is off limits, it can also create the same unhealthy eating habits many adults struggle with down the line.

Instead, talk to your children about making healthy choices and why they matter. For example, choosing celery sticks with almond butter will give your kid the energy she needs for sports while a bag of crackers will cause her to crash.

 

 

Nutrition mistake #7: Cutting carbs

 

 

Low carb diets like keto are all the rage for people looking to lose weight, but cutting some carbohydrates from a kid’s diet is a nutrition mistake. Check out my blog post, Is Keto Safe For Kids?

Refined carbohydrates like those found in white breads, pastas and rice and processed foods should be limited because they break down into simple sugars easily, cause blood sugar levels to spike and don’t satiate hunger—which might be one of the reasons your kid is always hungry.

Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, provide kids with the energy they need and support their muscle growth and brain development. They also take longer to break down, which keeps blood sugar levels steady.

Complex carbs are also high in fiber which satisfy hunger and prevent constipation.

Offer a variety of foods with complex carbohydrates including vegetables like pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes, fruits like berries, apples and pears, beans and legumes and whole grains like brown rice and quinoa which are also high in B vitamins, magnesium and iron.

5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

5 Foods With Healthy Fats Kids Will Love

The long-standing myth that eating fat causes high cholesterol, heart disease and weight gain has been debunked and we now know that healthy fats are essential to our health and our kids.

Fats are a vital source of energy for our kids and help satisfy their hunger. Fats are essential for healthy cell membranes, they support kids’ brains and the growth and development of their nervous systems, and help their bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins like  A, D, E, and K. Fat are also necessary to make hormones and immune cells and they help regulate inflammation and metabolism.   

While experts agree it’s the trans fats and some saturated fats that should be avoided, foods with healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are beneficial.

Here are 5 foods with healthy fats you should consider getting in your kid’s diet.

1. Avocado

Avocado is a super-food because the polyunsaturated fats are vital for brain growth and development during pregnancy and for babies and children.

Avocado also packs in a ton of nutrition without a lot of calories.

A good source of fiber, avocado also has 20 vitamins and minerals including vitamins B5, B6, C, E, K, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium.

Avocado also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, which are carotenoids or plant pigments, found in the eyes that can improve memory and processes speed, one study found.

Add avocado to salads, make avocado toast or an avocado chocolate pudding.

2. Chia seeds

An excellent source of protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are by far one of the healthiest foods you can feed your kids.

In fact, chia seeds are the highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show support cardiovascular health, lower inflammation, prevent chronic disease, and support brain health.

Add chia seeds to smoothies, mix them into oatmeal, incorporate them into your favorite baking recipes or make a chia seed pudding.

A word of caution: young children shouldn’t eat chia seeds because of the risk of  an obstruction in the esophagus.

3. Walnuts

The only nut with a significant source of  alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, walnuts are a great way to get healthy fats in your kid’s diet.

An excellent source of magnesium and phosphorus, one ounce of walnuts also have 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber which will satisfy your kid’s hunger and give him plenty of fuel during the day.

Walnuts make for an easy, healthy snack, or add them to salads, savory meals or mix them into breads, muffins and other baked goods.

4. Olives

Most of the healthy fats in olives (a fruit), are oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat, but they also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Olives are also a good source of vitamin e, selenium and zinc.

Add olives to salads, pasta or rice dishes or make an olive tapenade kids can snack on before dinner.

5. Sunflower Seeds

An ounce of sunflower seeds has 14 grams of fat, including omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats.

Sunflower seeds are also rich in vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that protects cells from the damage of free radicals, as well as magnesium and selenium.

Add sunflower seeds to salads, on top of yogurt or make your own healthy trail mix.

Healthy Kids’ Snacks 101: When, What and How Much

Healthy Kids’ Snacks 101: When, What and How Much

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links from Amazon Associates. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

In the U.S., our kids snack all the time.

Kids eat snacks at daycare, pre-school, mom’s groups and on playdates.

They snack in their strollers, in the car, on the playground and after sports.

At school, young kids have a mid-morning or afternoon snack.

At my kids’ elementary school, some parents pack lunch along with several snacks like “veggie” sticks, crackers, pretzels and fruit-flavored gummies.

Starting in the first grade, kids can also buy “snack,” in the cafeteria. About 15 minutes after purchasing their lunch, they’re called up to get cookies, ice cream and chips.

Of course, there are also after-school snacks and after-dinner snacks.

Snacking is often seen as a healthy habit because it balances blood sugar, staves off hunger and prevents overeating, but it’s often used to keep kids occupied and happy.

Plus, experts say kids are snacking too much—a trend that’s responsible for the one-third of children who are overweight or obese.   

According to a March 2010 study in Health Affairs, kids reach for snacks 3 times a day and consume up to 600 calories from foods like chips, crackers and candy. What’s more, the largest increase in snacking over the years is among kids between ages 2 and 6, the same study found.

So you may have wondered, like I did, do kids need snacks in the first place? And if so, what is a healthy snack and how often should kids snack? Here, answers to those questions and more.

Do kids need snacks?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), snacks are not only an opportunity to support your child’s diet, but they can make it even healthier.

Most kids don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables every day anyway, but snack time can be a way to pack in more.

Snacks also give kids plenty of opportunities to learn what they like to eat—

and what they don’t—and chances to choose healthy foods and eventually become adventurous eaters.

Some experts however, challenge whether kids even need snacks in the first place.

“When I was a child no one snacked mid-morning and we all survived just fine. I don’t even remember being especially hungry. In other words, snacking is a philosophy. It’s an approach to eating. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not a necessity,” Dina Rose, PhD, author of It’s Not About The Broccoli says in this blog post.

Another drawback to non-stop snacking is that kids are less likely to be hungry when mealtime rolls around. If they’re snacking on junk food, it can displace calories from healthy foods which they’re more likely to get at meals. 

What is a healthy snack?

Surprisingly, there’s actually no static definition of a snack. Research shows it can be defined according to the time of day, type of food, amount of food, and location of where the food is consumed.

Generally speaking however, a kids’ snack is a small amount of food that satisfies hunger between meals and a way to add nutrition and increase fruit and vegetable intake in their diets.

With so many snack food labels calling attention to health claims like all-natural, organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, high in fiber, made with real fruit, no sugar added and sugar-free, it can be difficult to choose a healthy snack for your kids.

Although it’s not always realistic to avoid processed foods, snacks in bags, boxes and packages are usually high in sugar, sodium and artificial ingredients, and low in fiber and protein and overall poor sources of nutrition.

A good rule of thumb: stick to whole foods and nutrient-dense options. Some good choices include:

  • Fruits and vegetables (fresh or frozen)
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Edamame
  • Beans and legumes
  • Hummus, bean dip or guacamole
  • Avocado
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Popcorn
  • Green smoothies (homemade, otherwise read labels)
  • Homemade, low-sugar muffins, energy bites and other baked goods.

How often should kids snack?

Just as there’s no clear-cut definition of a snack, there’s no hard and fast rule about when and how many times a day kids should have snacks.

“A good rule of thumb is to offer snacks a few hours after one meal ends and about 1-2 hours before the next meal begins,” Jo Ellen Shields, MED, RD, LD, co-author of Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens, said in this article.

The AAP suggests toddlers need 2 to 3 snacks a day, while pre-schoolers need 1 to 2 snacks per day to get the nutrition they need.

According to Jill Castle, RDN, in addition to 3 meals a day, school-aged kids need 1 to 2 snacks a day and teens need one snack a day unless they’re athletes or having a growth spurt.

When offering snacks, you should also pay attention to portion sizes so the snack doesn’t turn into a meal.

How do you handle snack time? And how many snacks a day does your kid eat? Let me know in the comments!

5 Healthy Types of Fish For Kids (& How to Make Them Delicious)

5 Healthy Types of Fish For Kids (& How to Make Them Delicious)

If you’ve tried to feed your kids fish, chances are their reactions—yuck! and gross!—and the mealtime battle that ensued was enough of a reason to never offer it again. 

There’s no getting around that fish is right up there with other offensive foods like Brussels sprouts and beans, but if you can get your kids to take a few bites, they’ll get a ton of nutrition into their diets.

Packed with protein, low in saturated fat, and rich in micronutrients, perhaps the biggest benefit of eating fish are the omega-3 fatty acids which support kids’ brain health and memory.

According to a December 2017 study out of the University of Pennsylvania, kids who eat seafood at least once a week have higher IQ scores—4 points higher on average—than kids who eat fish less frequently or not at all.

Studies also show that omega-3’s may prevent anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

In fact, an October 2011 study in the Journal of the American Academy and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has a small, but significant, effect on improving attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.

Of course, there’s always the concern of mercury in fish, which types of fish are safe for kids and how many servings are best.

Before introducing fish and shellfish to your child, be sure to check in with your pediatrician because of the risk of food allergies.

Although all types of fish are packed with nutrition, there are some that you might consider focusing on.

These 5 healthy types of fish for kids are high in vitamins and minerals, excellent sources of protein and healthy fats and low in mercury.

1. Tuna fish

Thanks to its mild flavor and aroma, tuna is perhaps one of the easiest types of fish to get your kid to eat.

Tuna is an excellent source of protein: an ounce has more than 8 grams. Tuna fish is also a good source of vitamin B12, phosphorus, niacin and selenium.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), canned light tuna (solid or chunk, including skipjack) is a “best choice” for kids.

White albacore and yellow fish are both considered a “good” choice, but because they’re higher in mercury, stick to one serving a week.

Serve tuna in a sandwich, lettuce wrap or in a green salad.

2. Salmon

To get dinner on the table almost every night, I tend to stick to the basics and serve many of the same meals.

Since it’s so easy and fast, salmon has become my go-to meal on Monday when we’re off to the races of a busy week.

Salmon is an excellent source of protein and a good source of niacin, vitamins B6 and B12 and selenium.

It’s also versatile enough to serve at any meal, not only dinner. Serve leftover salmon on toast for breakfast or make an omelet. Canned salmon also works well in a sandwich or a lettuce wrap for lunch.

3. Anchovies

My kids love anchovies as much as I do and actually fight over who gets more when we crack open a can.

Although anchovies are definitely a type of food anyone—including adults—either love or hate, they’re one of the healthiest types of fish for kids.

A good source of protein, anchovies are also rich in iron, niacin, selenium, magnesium and phosphorus.

An ounce of anchovies provide 7 percent of the daily value for calcium, which helps build strong, healthy bones and teeth.

Since they can be an acquired taste and are high in sodium, try adding small amounts to pizza, pasta and rice dishes, and chopped salads.

4. Sardines

Sardines are another type of fish my kids started to eat regularly after they saw me eating them and asked to have a taste.

A good source of protein, calcium, vitamins B12 and D, phosphorus and selenium, sardines are less pungent that anchovies but still packed with plenty of nutrition.

Fresh or canned, you can grill or sauté sardines, add a small amount of mayonnaise just like you would with tuna fish or add them to pasta and rice dishes.

5. Scallops

With a mild and slightly sweet flavor and soft, buttery texture, scallops are another healthy type of fish that kids may be more likely to try.

Scallops are an excellent source of protein, phosphorus and selenium and a good source of vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and copper. Scallops are also a good source of zinc, which supports a healthy immune system.

Kids like bite-sized foods and since scallops are so small, try serving them as an appetizer or paired with a dipping sauce.

8 Easy Ways To Cut Sugar From Your Kid’s Breakfast

8 Easy Ways To Cut Sugar From Your Kid’s Breakfast

Experts say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but when it comes to the foods kids are eating—things like cereal, muffins, pastries and sweet extras like jam, juice and sweet spreads—most make up a good portion of the sugar in their diets. 

In fact, according to a 2017 survey by Public Health England, an executive health agency, children get half of their daily allowance of sugar at breakfast.

What’s more, 84 percent of parents surveyed thought the foods they fed their kids were healthy.

When it comes to serving up a healthy, low-sugar breakfast, there are plenty of options if you plan ahead and think creatively.

Here, learn the types of foods to focus on, those to avoid and ways to cut sugar from your kid’s breakfast.

1. Read labels


When purchasing cereal and other breakfast foods, the best thing you can do is read labels and compare brands.

So-called healthy cereals that post claims like “a good source of fiber,” “gluten-free,” and “made with real fruit,” can be just as high in sugar as kid-friendly cereals that have bright, artificial colors and marshmallows, for example.

As the new Nutrition Facts labels continue to be rolled out, it will be easier to decipher labels and understand how much natural and added sugars are in the foods you buy.

Need more tips about what to look for and what to avoid in breakfast cereals? Check out my blog post, How to Pick a Healthy Cereal for Your Kids.


2. Pick protein


When you think breakfast, toast, waffles, pancakes and bagels usually come to mind.

If you’re looking for ways to cut sugar from your kid’s diet however, think about high-protein options which will also satisfy their hunger until lunch.

Serve hard boiled eggs or a frittata which can be made ahead of time and save you time in the morning, or incorporate leftover vegetables into a hash with eggs. You can also think out of the traditional breakfast box altogether and serve high-protein options like beans, tempeh or tofu.

Add a healthy fat like avocado and you have a low-sugar, filling breakfast.


3. Serve dessert for breakfast


Keep breakfast interesting by serving dessert—seriously! Think low-sugar pudding, breakfast cookies and baked oatmeals.

Superfood Triple Berry Chia Pudding from Skinnytaste.com and Paleo Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding from AgainstAllGrain.com are two recipes I like.

4. Make your own parfaits


Yogurt can be a healthy breakfast option for kids, but most yogurts, whether they’re marketed to kids or adults, are loaded with sugar.

To cut sugar from your kid’s breakfast, read labels carefully for hidden sugars like fruit juice, cane sugar, sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.

A safe bet is to stick to plain yogurt or plain Greek yogurt, and add fresh or frozen berries, vanilla extract and nuts, seeds or a low-sugar granola for healthy breakfast that’s high in fiber and protein.

If you’re tight on time however, there are some healthy, low-sugar yogurts. I like Siggi’s or plant-based yogurts like Lavva.

For more tips about what to look for in yogurt, check out my blog post How to Pick a Healthy Kids’ Yogurt.


5. Make over muffins

 

Muffins may seem like a healthy breakfast especially those made with fruit and vegetables and topped with nuts, but most muffins are sugar bombs.

For healthier options, look for recipes for low-sugar muffins or egg muffins you can make yourself.


6. Nix the juice

 

Orange juice, apple juice and organic fruit juice boxes are marketed to parents as a healthy option, but they’re also significant sources of sugar.

In fact, a 3.5 ounce cup of apple juice—about one serving for kids—has 9 grams of sugar

If you still want to offer your kids juice, try making green juices with 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent juice. Also, watch portion sizes—4 to 6 ounces is fine.


7. Swap jam and jelly for whole fruit

 

Jam, jelly and fruit preserves seem like a healthy breakfast option—they’re made with fruit after all—but they’re actually highly concentrated sources of sugar.

Although store-bought options are fine when you’re in a rush, a better idea is to serve whole fruit: sliced, smashed or blended.

Whole fruit is also a great swap for honey and maple syrup.


8. Make a green smoothie

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 9 in 10 kids don’t eat enough vegetables.

Although it definitely takes a change in mindset, serving vegetables for breakfast is a great way to get more in your kid’s diet.

Although I don’t suggest you make smoothies to sneak vegetables, they can be an easy way to serve vegetables for breakfast and a low-sugar option.

On Sunday or the night before, set aside individual portions of green leafy vegetables and fruit, then add a protein source like almond butter and a healthy fat like chia seeds or flaxseeds and you have a healthy, low-sugar breakfast.

10 Ways To Get More Plant-Based Foods To Your Kid’s Diet

10 Ways To Get More Plant-Based Foods To Your Kid’s Diet

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links in this blog post are affiliate links from Amazon Associates. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. I recommend these products either because I use them or because companies that make them are trustworthy and useful.

Whether your family are vegetarians, vegans, pegans or full-fledged meat eaters, getting more plant-based foods into your kid’s diet is one of the best things you can do for their health.

Plant-based foods are packed with the nutrition kids need for their growth and development.

Most plant-based foods also have filling fiber to satisfy their hunger and prevent constipation.

Recent studies show plant-based diets are also linked with a lower risk of type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and obesity.

When you have picky eaters however, getting them to eat more vegetables, plant-based proteins and different types of grains can seem impossible.

With a few tips and tricks however, you can add more plant-based foods to your kid’s diet. Here are 10.

1. Start small

If your kids already don’t love beans, you’re probably not going to get them to eat black-bean soup, no matter how different it may look.   

Instead, start out by introducing small—even minuscule—amounts like a teaspoon of peas they can munch on before dinner when they’re most likely to be hungry.


2. Blend it up


Every morning, I make this really easy smoothie for my kids and I in my Vitamix: one cup of almond milk, 2 cups of spinach, 2 stalks of celery, one banana, and 1 tablespoon of chia seeds.

I like green smoothies for kids, not as a way to sneak vegetables, but to get a bunch of vegetables and other plant-based foods into one meal.

Making smoothies with your kids is also a great way to teach them about healthy eating. When kids pick what goes into smoothies and have a hand in making it, they feel empowered and excited to try what they made.

 

3. Take advantage of snack time


Kids love their snacks but most kids snack up to three times a day on foods like chips, cookies and other junk food, which nets a whopping 600 calories, a March 2010 study in the journal Health Affairs found.

If snack time is when your kid is hungry and most likely to eat, use it as an opportunity to get more plant-based foods into his diet.

Serve cut veggies with a bean dip or hummus, fruit with a nut butter, chia seed pudding, a muffin with almond flour and flaxseeds, or homemade trail mix with nuts, seeds and raisins.

 

 

4. Put fruits and vegetables in plain sight


Kids will eat what’s visible and accessible so keep healthy options front and center.

Keep a fruit bowl filled with easy options like bananas, apples and pears.

Also, when you get home from the grocery store, wash and cut up fruits and veggie and store them in glass containers in the refrigerator. Most grocery stores also have grab and go containers of fruits and vegetables that are already washed and cut up, making healthy eating a no-brainer.

 

 

5. Serve frozen fruit for dessert

 

Frozen fruit is a great way to get more plant-based foods into your kid’s diet and it may pack more nutrition than fresh. In fact, a June 2017 study in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis found in some cases frozen produce is more nutritious than fresh that’s been stored in the refrigerator for 5 days.

Serve frozen fruit straight out of the package for snack time or add it to smoothies, yogurt parfaits or overnight oats. You can also blend it up with some almond or coconut milk for a delicious dessert.


6. Re-think recipes


When you do your meal planning, think about ways to swap meat for plant-based foods. Try zoodles, bean burgers, veggie burgers, black bean soup, vegetarian chili, or an egg “fried” rice with edamame.

 

 

7. Try new whole-grains


Most kids will eat pasta and rice but those with whole grains are the best. Whole grains provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Some whole grains like quinoa, (a seed), provides both protein and fiber.

Make meals interesting by switching up the grains you serve. Instead of brown rice, experiment with new types like farro, teff and millet.


8. Make “fries” and “chips”


There are so many ways to transform plant-based foods into foods kids already love like fries and chips.
Carrots can be sliced thin and roasted in the oven. Check out this recipe for carrot chips on Weelicious.

Or try kale chips, jicama and parsnip “fries,” or roasted chickpeas.


9. Make a vegetable hash

 

 

Kids may not eat leftover vegetables for breakfast but if they like hash browns, try substituting grated veggies like squash, zucchini, carrots, sweet potatoes or parsnips into a hash and serve them with eggs.

 

 

10. Think finger foods

 

Kids love finger foods and when you serve plant-based foods, there are plenty of options.

Offer small pieces of fruits and vegetables, beans, lentils, edamame, small cubes of tofu or tempeh, nuts, seeds, and avocado.

How I Got My Kids To Eat Everything

How I Got My Kids To Eat Everything

When I tell people that my kids devour salads, love lentils, and ask for anchovies, they’re shocked.

During the holidays, at family parties and get-togethers with friends, when other parents are worrying what their kids will eat—and if they’ll eat—my husband and I never give it a second thought.

Our kids not only eat just like we do, but they’re little foodies who crave healthy food.

What may surprise you is that we don’t bribe them with dessert, negotiate meals or force them to eat.

They’re not easygoing kids who go with the flow either—it’s actually quite the contrary.

While it’s true that most kids, especially toddlers, are picky eaters, and they have their own food preferences and food aversions, it’s totally possible to raise kids who like to eat healthy.

Here’s how we did it and you can too.

Make homemade baby food

It’s rare that we ask my daughters if they want to try new foods. Rather, they have a natural curiosity and interest in doing so.

One of the reasons I think that’s the case is because I made homemade baby food for them.

Although store-bought baby food is easy and convenient especially when you’re on the go, we can’t expect our kids to prefer real food if we start out by feeding them food that looks and  smells anything but.

When you make your own baby food, you control the ingredients and can offer a wide variety of flavors and textures which helps kids develop their own preference for healthy foods. 

Stick with it

Parents often tell me how they’ve tried cooking with their kids, serving new vegetables, or making green smoothies, but nothing they did changed their kids’ picky eating habits.

Although there were definitely occasions where we’d offer a new food and my kids were willing to try it immediately, getting them to eat everything took a concerted effort at every meal, every day.

As parents, we always want a quick, easy fix, but a one-time effort isn’t going to transform your kids into foodies overnight.

Whether it’s potty training, getting your kids to sleep through the night or changing an annoying behavior, everything takes time, effort and consistency.

Keep meals interesting

I’ve found that eating the same foods every day has been key for me to lose the baby weight and maintain it.

Although this also makes meal planning easier for my family, I often fell into the same pattern with my kids and I realized there were so many more foods they could try.

So I decided to switch it up a bit.

When I’d bring my kids to the grocery store and they’d spot dragon fruit, star fruit or something they had never tried before, I’d buy it for us all to enjoy at home.

My husband, who also sensed our food rut, would cook new types of fish and vegetables and add new types of spices to our meals.

Although we never forced our kids to eat, we always encouraged them to have a taste of what was being served so they’d have opportunities to figure out which foods they liked and which ones they didn’t.

Cook meals together

Cooking with my kids has proven to be one of the best ways to get them to eat healthy.

Kids want to be just like their parents and my daughters were always excited to learn how to peel and chop produce, mix ingredients, stir on the stovetop and use the oven.

When kids help to prepare meals, they feel empowered and proud and are more likely to eat what’s being served.

Forget the kids’ table

When we had dinner with our extended family, were invited to a friend’s house, or attended a party or celebration, my kids always ate with the adults, unless of course, the host had a kids’ table set up for them.

I never brought a separate meal for them and we didn’t ask the host to prepare something different. They could eat what was served—or not—but that was the only option.

Don’t order off the kids’ menu

Most kids’ menus at restaurants are all the same: hot dogs, chicken fingers, burgers and fries.

It’s rare that you’ll find salads, green leafy vegetables or roasted salmon, for example.

When we went out to eat, we’d usually order an entree my daughters could split, modify an item such as adding broccoli to pizza, or order appetizers and salads we all could share.

4 Reasons Your Kid Is Always Hungry

4 Reasons Your Kid Is Always Hungry

My daughters love to eat and almost alway ask for seconds or something extra, like a piece of fruit after dinner.

Since obesity, high cholesterol, type-2 diabetes and heart disease all run on both sides of the family, and because I’m also an emotional eater, I often worry that they eat too much.

At the same time, I’m very careful about what I say to my kids about food and try not to make it an issue.

Most kids like to snack but if they’re not torching major calories on the field, you might be wondering why your kid is always hungry or asks for something to eat after he ate just an hour ago.

It’s always a good idea to check in with your kid’s pediatrician since an increase in appetite can be a sign of type-2 diabetes, digestive conditions and thyroid dysfunction, to name a few.

If everything is normal however, here are some possible reasons your kid is always hungry.

1. A lack of nutrient-dense foods

My daughter often complains that her school lunch—usually lentils, veggies and a piece of fruit—isn’t enough. 

She wants more choices like the other kids have, but I try to explain that the foods they’re eating, things like white bread, “veggie” sticks and “fruit” gummies aren’t nutritious or filling.

Most of the kid-friendly foods like granola bars, pretzels, and fish-shaped crackers are made with refined carbohydrates that kids burn through quickly and don’t have the fiber and protein kids need to feel satiated.

At each meal, aim for whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, clean sources of protein and healthy fats.

Healthy snacks should be made up of both protein and fiber, like celery and hummus or an apple with almond butter.

2. Dehydration and thirst

According to an August 2015 study in The American Journal of Public Health, more than 50 percent of children and teens don’t drink enough water each day.

If kids aren’t hydrated, it can also affect their mood, brain function and athletic performance, and lead to headaches, dizziness and constipation.

Since being dehydrated can often be mistaken for hunger, it’s always a good idea to offer water before offering a snack.

Encourage your kids to drink water first thing in the morning too, when they’re most likely to be dehydrated, and sip throughout the day.

Drinking water before a meal can also prevent them from overeating or asking for something to eat.

Stick with water instead of juice which is high in empty calories and sugar, spikes blood sugar and may encourage cravings for other sugary fare.

If plain water is hard for your kids to swallow however, add sliced cucumbers or strawberries for some flavor.

Young kids in particular, usually have to be reminded to drink up and sometimes a new sippy cup or water bottle is the key to get them to drink up.

3. Growth spurts

When it seems like your kid is always hungry no matter how healthy the food is or how often he eats, he may be having a growth spurt.

According to KidsHealth.org, kids grow about 2 1/2 inches per year until they become teenagers. Growth spurts also happen between ages 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys.

Interestingly, they grow more during the spring time than at any other time of year.

Instead of processed, packaged foods, support your kid’s growth with nutrient-dense, whole foods as much as possible.

4. Boredom

On the weekends or on snow days when there’s no school, your kids will probably ask, “can I have a snack,” several times a day.

When my kids ask for snacks just a few hours after eating lunch, it’s usually because they’re bored. 

I try to explain that eating isn’t an activity and food is fuel.

Another ongoing conversation we have is about recognizing their hunger cues. I explain that when you’re hungry, your stomach growls and we eat to not feel hungry, instead of eating until we feel full. 

Having a schedule of meals and snacks with some flexibility throughout the day can help ensure your kid is actually hungry and eating enough each time.

If your kid still asks for a snack but you think he’s actually bored, telling him to wait until the next meal or snack time time teaches him that it’s ok to be hungry—a lesson even adults need.

Is your kid hungry all the time? What strategies have worked for you? Leave me a comment.