Healthy Snacks for Kids

Let’s Move Pittsburgh hosted their first ever Symposium on November 7, 2013 at Phipps Conservatory. The title was “Making the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice.” I really liked that title because so much research shows that when you give children choices at the grocery store, during preparation and during meals – and those choices are healthy choices – kids will choose good-for-them-food.

I also learned from Let’s Move that the USDA is rolling out a new Smart Snacks in Schools program.
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Healthy Snacks for Kids

I started thinking about places where I could increase healthy choices for my children, and our wonderful community soccer program came to mind. My boys have played soccer for about two years and I always cringe when they ask to buy Hugs at the snack bar after games.

So I started asking people about alternatives at the Symposium.

“Instead of Hugs, give the kids their water bottles at the beginning of the season and get them filled up at the snack bar,” suggested Jesse Sharrard, Food Safety and Nutrition Manager from Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

I loved that idea because water is so important for young athletes and getting rid of those Hugs would reduce litter on the soccer fields.

But I know the soccer league relies on snack bar sales to fund a lot of the program. And if the snack bar has candy for sale, the kids will ask for that.  So I asked parents on Facebook what healthy snacks their children would actually buy.

Here are some of their answers:

  • Squeeze applesauce
  • Peanut Butter and apples
  • Fig Newtons
  • Carrots and celery sticks
  • Kid-styled Luna Bars
  • Pirates Booty
  • Frozen Go-Gurts
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Bananas, Oranges, Apples
  • Yogurt-covered Raisins

So what are your thoughts? What healthy snacks would your kids buy at school or at concession stands?

How to Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

how to get kids to eat vegetables

Give kids a choice

The secret

The secret to getting kids to eat vegetables is really quite simple. Give them the choice. Before you click away saying, “My kid would choose not to eat them,” hear me out. I didn’t say give them the choice whether or not to eat vegetables. Give them the choice of which vegetables and fruits.

There is real scientific evidence to back this up, but let me begin anecdotally. The photo above is from our Pittsburgh-area elementary school cafeteria. How does our school get kids to eat vegetables and fruits? They offer a choice.

And when my boys buy lunch, which is about once a week, I tell them they need to choose a fruit and a vegetable, but it’s up to them what to choose. I offer them a choice.

My second son, who is a bit picky, usually sticks with applesauce and carrots.

My oldest son almost always chooses grapes and the crunchy vegetable mix of cucumbers, celery and carrots. Choices within choices.

The science

Now for the scientific evidence. This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concludes that offering kids a variety of vegetables and fruit and letting them choose which ones to eat led to them eating more fruits and vegetables!

The researchers observed that “children chose some pieces in 94% of snacks with variety and in 70% of snacks without variety” and “Providing a variety of vegetables and fruit as a snack led to increased consumption of both food types in a childcare facility. Serving a variety of vegetables or fruit as a snack could help preschool children meet recommended intakes.”

Think about your own eating habits. I am sure you prefer to have more than a little choice in the matter. We all love some control over what we eat. So if you are looking for ways to get kids to eat vegetables and fruits, offer a choice.

Have you given your kids choice in their foods? Has it helped? 

 

 

 

Kids Lunch Box Ideas (by kids)

Do you frequently look for kids lunch box ideas? Do your food choices differ from what your kids would choose?

For a school assignment my six-year-old had to draw what he would pack in his lunch box if he were in charge:

kids lunch box ideas

A pretty healthy lunch!

When he explained his drawing, I was pleasantly surprised. He ‘packed’ a Nutella sandwich, rice cake, square pretzels, a green apple and a water bottle.

I love these lunch box ideas.

My husband and I enjoy the convenience of the school lunch but I prefer to have a little more input on what my boys eat, at least until I can really can an understanding of how healthy our school district’s lunches are. I’m learning more from Let’s Move Pittsburgh about how to understand what is offered by our school’s food services program.

But for now, I want our boys to pack more often than they buy. After seeing this drawing, I feel like my effort to teach them about healthy food choices is having some good results. I like that when they are told to make their own choices, the choices include at least one fruit! That’s not too bad! I feel like I can give my boys some input on their lunches and I can continue to present them with good options.

I’m hopeful that we are building healthy kids lunch box ideas!

Fun Family Dinners at Skinny Pete’s in Pittsburgh

Join us for the first of many fun family dinners at Skinny Pete’s (click on Events) in Pittsburgh on Monday evening, September 16, 2013 starting at 5:30pm. Parents get to enjoy a peaceful meal while their children are happily engaged in creating a  a self-portrait flatbread from healthy, fresh, local ingredients!

We know the more that children encounter fresh foods, the more they are involved with cooking and selecting the ingredients of their meal, the more likely they are to try something good that’s good for them!

All kids also get a copy of My Food Notebook to record what foods they tried.

Fun family dinners aren’t just a dream – they are happening right here in Pittsburgh! Join us!

Fun Family Dinners this September!

fun family dinners Pittsburgh

Enjoy a great meal with the family!

Fun Food for Your Picky Preschooler

I know it’s tough to to the parent of a picky preschooler. They are not at the age when you can reason with them and their tastes change so quickly, it can feel so frustrating. But there’s another way to approach the challenge: make it fun.

I was so lucky to visit a Bright Horizons class this summer and bring one of my Tasting Party workshops. There was more than one picky preschooler in attendance. I was bringing some new foods to them to try so we decided to make it fun. Making pizza on a stick all by themselves was a delightful adventure. Take a look at these brave little faces!

picky preschooler

Do it yourself – it tastes better!

 

 

 

Fun for these kids means hands-on and the opportunity to examine the food options as much as possible before tasting it.They looked closely at the food, smelled it, touched it and then finally nibbled and tried! More than one child tried tomatoes for the first time. Not everybody liked them but they were giggling and chatting and no one whined! Can you imagine that kind of dinner?

picky preschooler

No one can resist food on a stick

Recipe for Success: Best Brain Food for College Success

Understanding the importance of brain food is not rocket science. Enough research has proven the value of breakfast and a balanced diet not just for kids but for adults, too. I do believe what we eat can impact our total well-being. If you want your kids to do well in school and if you want to get through work or a workout without feeling like a total zombie, then you must pay attention to what you put in your mouth.

So when Nicole from The Best Colleges contacted me about this infographic and asked me to review it, I happily agreed. And I felt that her advice was useful not just for college students but for anyone looking to do their best.

I was dismayed to read about the amount of fast food college students eat but relieved that coffee and dark chocolate (in moderation) can boost memory and reduce stress.

Since my own children are still in elementary and preschool, I control most of what they eat and include a lot of brain food. But parents of college students have to trust their children will adopt or continue good habits. I remember reasonably healthy options offered in my college dining hall, but when I moved off-campus and had to cook for myself an unhealthy amount of pepperoni Hot Pockets entered the picture. And what about campuses in big cities that might be in food deserts?

Did your nutrition get worse when you were in college? Does anyone know of colleges including farmer’s markets or increasing fresh produce options in campus eateries?

 

freshman 15, brain food

Boost Your Brain!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trying New Foods

Not everyone likes trying new foods. It’s funny that while my husband and I will be adventurous about our eating out and about and restaurants, we often exchange nervous looks when our CSA serves up a vegetable that neither of us are used to using.

Enter the red cabbage.

red cabbage

Nothing scary here

It’s actually quite beautiful when you look at it up close. I did a tiny bit of reading and found a simple recipe that I could make without too many opportunities for mistakes. For me, trying new foods needs to be simple.

red cabbage detail

A work of food art

The recipe is simple. Chop the cabbage. Add some lemon juice and warm up some chicken or vegetable broth. Cover and steam the cabbage for about 5 minutes. When it’s done you can add garlic, salt and pepper, ginger, sesame…all kinds of flavors. So easy my three year old helped me cook it.

cooking red cabbage

The color of this cabbage was exciting for my son.


If you’re looking for ways to add color to dinner and interested in trying new foods, this isn’t a bad choice. The flavor is mild and it’s not too hard to clean or chop. Apparently the lemon juice keeps the cabbage from turning blue while cooking.

trying new foods warm

Trying new foods – Some like it hot!

The Taste Test

The real test came when the steamed cabbage appeared on the dinner table. We don’t pretend to our kids that we like every food we serve for dinner. We think it’s important that they see us actually trying new foods. We want them to know we understand how they feel when they’re encountering something new and that’s it’s tricky for us, too.

kid trying new foods

Trying new foods is easy for some people

We had salmon, pasta and sauce and red cabbage for dinner tonight. My three year old eagerly scooped some on his plate because he helped cook the cabbage. My husband and I tried it and found it to be mild and possibly improved by the addition of some zinger flavors like ginger or even soy sauce. My picky eater chose not to try it today (but that doesn’t mean he won’t later). My oldest took a tiny taste then grabbed a bigger bowl to enjoy a larger portion!

 

 

Tricks For Picky Eaters – Why they don’t work

tricks for picky eaters may not work

Me and my picky eater enjoying an honest meal

Parents, if there is one piece advice I wish you would follow it’s this: Tricks for picky eaters don’t work.

My picky eater recently discovered he likes fresh spinach with ranch dressing. He won’t take it cooked on pizza or mixed in with pasta, but if I set aside a few fresh leaves on his plate and he’ll chomp it down. Another entry in his copy of My Food Notebook! This kid usually avoids salads and fresh vegetables with a passion, so this was a huge victory for healthy eating.

But when we ran out of fresh spinach and our CSA sent us Romaine lettuce, we were faced with a dilemma.

Do we put the Romaine on his plate and tell him it’s spinach?

That’s when I realized: Tricks for picky eaters are not worth it.

Setting aside the dishonesty for a moment, just do the math.

He already likes spinach. If he likes Romaine, too, that’s 1+1 = 2 new fresh healthy foods to enjoy!

He already likes spinach. If we tell him the Romaine is spinach and he decides he doesn’t like it, that’s 1-1 = 0. We’ve just lost a food.

Honesty is the best policy. And you know what? He tried the Romaine because it looked like spinach, and he gave it a so-so rating. That’s better than a no!

Hidden Vegetables

Some parents hide vegetables in recipes in order to get their children to eat healthy, nutritious foods. I’m not throwing stones here, Moms and Dads. I’ve done it. I’m just saying that the payoffs for a kid understanding that they actually like healthy foods are big.

Imagine the bliss of seeing your child voluntarily eat fresh fruits and vegetables! Don’t trick your picky eater into eating them, help them find a way to enjoy them.

There are plenty of posts about tricks for picky eaters, but I’d rather help my kids learn ways to try new things. I believe it will help them when they are at school, at friend’s homes, at restaurants and more.

Simple ways to help picky eaters:

  • Prepare the vegetable in a variety of ways.
  • Ask the child to help you select the vegetable.
  • Involve your child in cutting, cooking and serving the vegetable.
  • Celebrate each time they try a new vegetable – don’t punish them for not trying it.

 

Skinny Pete’s Kitchen growing among family friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh

Farm to Family Skinny Pete's

Pittsburgh families deserve delicious food!

Who’s hungry? Join me at Skinny Pete’s in Avalon for Farm to Family, a fantastic new option and from one of the truly family friendly restaurants in Pittsburgh. Parents, grandparents and kids can come together to enjoy a special meal in a relaxed fun atmosphere.

Kids get to create their own meal while adults can take a breather and enjoy fresh farm-to-table offerings from Skinny Pete’s. Kids also get their own copy of My Food Notebook to record the foods they’ve tried.

We need more opportunities for families to enjoy delicious food in a family-friendly setting – and Skinny Pete’s is making it happen. Even if you can’t stay for dinner each meal is available for carry out.  Make your reservations today and stay connected with Skinny Pete’s on Facebook.