Jessica Hale, Single Mom of Two
Summer is upon us. That’s 10 weeks, more or less, that the kids are home and in my space at virtually every moment. In years past, I worked for the school district, so I also had summers off from work. I was with my children 24/7. Just when I thought “What’s for dinner?” was the most dreaded question I heard from my children, now the statement, “Mom, I’m hungry. What is there to eat?” makes me want to pull out my hair because I want to make sure they eat healthy.
Since my children are older and I have a regular job, they are able to fend for themselves and make their own meals. Now the challenge is to provide healthy choices they are willing to grab on their own. Of course the easy-go-to snacks are chips and microwaveable pizza pockets. Not the healthiest options.
Although it’s virtually impossible to get away from all processed foods, as a single, working mom, I do my best to provide as many easy and healthy options as I can so they reach for something with nutritional value for lunch – the primary meal they have while I’m gone during the day. But the truth is, kids like to graze and not have a traditional sit-down lunch. They like to be able to grab things and eat as they go, while saving all the heavy lifting for me when I come home. Here are the healthy grab-and-go items I have available for them.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
I try to keep plenty of ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables in the house. We are fortunate enough to live in California where we have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables all year long. The summer is special because stone fruits are at their best. Peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, and cherries are all stone fruits that are available during the summer months. Naturally sweet and easy to eat, they are a great addition to any lunch or snack during the day. Stone fruits are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber which aid in digestion and boost the immune system.
I also keep bananas, apples, pineapple, mangoes, papaya, kiwi fruit, strawberries, and grapes. All of these are fantastic options to keep in rotation, minimizing “food boredom” and allowing for the purchase of different options when they are on sale from week to week.
My vegetable choices are more limited, so I generally keep baby carrots, and cut up cucumbers and red bell peppers on hand. They are crunchy and are a healthy alternative to mindless chip eating, especially when paired with ranch dressing. I make my own mayonnaise in an effort to control sugar and other ingredients found in commercial mayonnaise. It’s fairly easy and can be made on the weekends. My personal favorite homemade mayonnaise is from a book called Well Fed, by Melissa Joulwan.
Crackers, Tortillas, Cheese, Salsa and Deli Meats
Any of you reading this who have children, and more than one child at that, understand how different their tastes run. My daughter loves spicy foods and has a more adventurous palette. My son could eat pizza or pasta three meals a day, seven days a week. To make matters worse, one day he loves something, and the next day he never wants to eat it again. One of the things he loves is those awful snack boxes that come with meat, cheese, crackers, and cookies.
Although they are really tempting to buy due to their convenience, these snack boxes are full of sodium and chemicals. And when not on sale, they are pricey. So, I buy whole-grain crackers, whole milk cheeses, and nitrate-free deli meats. I choose the sodium nitrate-free deli meats because sodium nitrate can lead to all sorts of health issues, including how we metabolize sugar in the gut, which can lead to diabetes. He can make his own snack box with better ingredients.
My daughter likes quesadillas and spicy salsa. I keep whole-grain tortillas on hand and sometimes I even make the salsa. But there are plenty of fresh and healthy options available at the grocery store. She likes to make them in the microwave because it’s fast, easy, and very little clean up. This cheese quesadilla recipe from Allrecipes.com is a perfect guide.
Something Other than Chips
I am not against chips, but my children will eat chips all day long if they are in the house. That is really why I minimize their availability. But, kids love crunch, so I keep pretzels, popcorn, and raw almonds available. My kids do not have nut allergies, but my niece has a severe allergic reaction to peanuts and tree nuts, so I do my best to keep a peanut-free house. But in your house, nuts can be a great and very healthy option to have on hand for kids to eat with their lunches or in between meals.
Yogurt is just plain good for you period. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and live probiotics, it is a powerhouse of nutrition. I choose Greek yogurt because it is easier to digest and has a higher protein content that other yogurts. Greek yogurt also contains vitamin B12. So if you are vegetarian, this is a great way to obtain this vitamin naturally.
One thing I have learned is that it is impossible to please both of my children all of the time. Food is a huge part of our lives; and it should be fun, easy, and painless. Like most things we are faced with, I find offering as many choices as possible helps alleviate craving and boredom when it comes to eating. Keep snacks fresh and colorful, and have a fantastic summer!