Healthy Snacking

I have a great friend who has been embarking on a Paleo/Primal/healthy diet for the last year and she’s been successful! She recently had a question I thought we could all benefit from:

“I am trying to incorporate healthier snacks for the kids.  Any suggestions? I would like to come up with some protein snacks…and a variety.  I can’t believe how many snacks for kids are loaded with carbs…it is quick and easy, but I do want to get out of that high calorie, unhealthy habit.”

Here’s what I suggest, but if you have any other helpful suggestions for her, leave them in the comments!

Kids do benefit from having some carbs for fuel in their diet, but we want to stay away from processed/refined/grain-based carbs and reach more for real, whole foods. One problem arises when switching from processed foods to whole food. The packaged foods are always filled with high amounts of salt/sugar/sweeteners/ to make them seem like they taste good. It makes our taste buds go crazy! It may take some time to transition from those highly salted/sweetened foods to whole foods. One way is just to add salt/sweetener to whatever it is you are making for them. Don’t worry, it’s not going to be near the amount the packaged foods would contain! But slowly decrease the amount of sweetener/salt you add to each dish. Our taste buds will adjust to the foods and we will get back to a normal amount of salt/sweetener, or won’t even feel we need any because we can enjoy the natural sweetness of a strawberry without adding sugar to it! Kids also seem to go through phases where they like a certain food, and then they hate it. So always experiment with what you offer them. The following advice about snacks applies not only to kids, but also to adults!

First of all, let’s get out of the habit of labeling meals. (Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner/Snacks) Those names seem to define what we eat more than they should. I just like to call them all meals: morning meal, midday meal, evening meal. And for some reason when I do that, it opens up the possibility of all different types of food. So, a snack should be treated just like any other meal–just maybe smaller since it’s in between bigger meals. Suddenly, you could have eggs in the evening, and steak in the morning!

So with that in mind, what about just making extra lunch and saving it for when you get hungry before your evening meal? Or, something I do: when I’m cleaning up from our evening meal, I often portion up the leftovers for another meal the next day. Sometimes there’s not quite enough to make a dish for a main meal, but I save it anyway with a “snack” in mind. For me, around 3pm, after my midday meal and before my evening workout (which is before my evening meal) I need something to fuel me. Often these small portions of leftovers are perfect! I love this because it doesn’t require me to plan another meal.

Secondly, we often don’t get enough healthy fats in our diet which really help with satiety. If fat is lacking in your meals you will need to snack more often. But, if you have a healthy amount of fat, you may find that you are not as hungry. You may find with kids, though, that they may like to graze instead of sitting down to 3 large meals per day. That’s ok because in the case of toddlers and small children, their tummies are a lot smaller than ours and it doesn’t take much to fill it up. But, it may not be long before they are hungry again, especially with active kids! So don’t restrict food from them if they are truly hungry, but don’t force them to eat a huge meal either:)

Thirdly, carbs tend to increase our appetites. A piece of fruit or sweet potato is going to make us feel hungry sooner than something containing protein and fat. That doesn’t mean you should stop eating those things, it just means be careful with them if you need to watch your total food intake.

Kids (and adults) have a mechanism that allows them to eat when they are hungry until they are full. When we mess with that by introducing processed/fake foods and flavors and chemicals, we mess that up and those foods can sometimes trick us into thinking we are still hungry. So after a while of being on a whole foods diet, our bodies should regulate to the point where we can know when we should stop eating. And I’ve noticed especially with kids that we tend to make them want to eat something because it’s time to eat but they just may not be hungry. So since they don’t want to eat what we offer them the first time, we think maybe they don’t like it. So we offer them something else until it tempts them enough to want to eat it. Instead of offering “kid” food, we should really just ask them if they are hungry first!

My 3 year old son will see a “treat” in the cabinet and tell me he wants that “treat.” Before I give it to him, I ask him if he’s hungry. Most of the time, he answers “no” and just forgets about it. Other times he says he is hungry and I’ll offer him something that will be more filling like protein and fat first, then he has that and is full and doesn’t remember the treat anymore. On other days, I have to bribe him with the “treat” to get him to eat the protein and fat and veggie meal when I know he’s actually hungry.

Fourthly, we need to think about having “convenience foods” around–prepped/cooked/ready to eat foods that we can grab just as easily as a packaged/processed/refined snack that’s not going to fuel us properly. These convenience foods need to include cooked meat and prepped veggies. In your pantry you also need to have cans of salmon, tuna, and any other canned fish you like for a super-easy and quick protein/fat combo.

On with the snacking:

You want to comprise your  smaller meals just like you do your larger ones. Make sure they contain protein, fat, and a veggie/fruit.

Some specific ideas are:

  •  A piece of fruit with nut butter and a piece of leftover meat.
  • A bowl of cut-up fruit or berries with full-fat coconut milk poured on top along with a piece of leftover meat.
  • Lettuce wraps: Get a piece of lettuce and add in some shredded chicken/steak/tuna/bacon/salmon/meat of choice, throw in shredded carrots/broccoli slaw/tomatoes/cucumber/veggies of choice and top with slices of avocado or a dollop of olive oil mayo or fat of choice. You can turn these into “tacos” and use salsa as well. The combinations are endless!
  • Tuna salad or chicken salad on a bed of lettuce.
  • Egg salad with carrot and celery sticks
  • Hard boiled eggs are a really great convenience food! Add a veggie and you’re good to go. Eggs are protein and fat in one!
  • Ham/turkey/beef slices with cherry tomatoes, carrots, artichoke hearts, and pecans
  • Cucumber “sandwiches”: Cucumber slices for the bread with meat slices in between, or a tuna salad or salmon salad in between with black olives
  • If you’re going to be traveling and you need a small meal that travels well, jerky, nuts, shredded coconut and dried fruit work really well.

Hope this will get you started and spark some ideas!

Best in health,

Danah

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