The word itself gets you excited, no? I think we all perk up imagining grabbing exactly what we want, to eat anywhere we want. Another pleasure field, the charcuterie board or a wedding buffet. The freedom of picking and choosing exactly what I want to nosh on, with no formal dinner time rules or table manners is near orgasmic. Me, just sitting on my kitchen counter, nibbling on a few things in peace, thrills me beyond belief.
I am not alone in this.
We all love to graze. Kids included. So why are we expecting kids to sit patiently at dinner time and eat their vegetables. It’s ludicrous. Most of us are letting our kids eat empty, nutrient lacking carbs and added sugar throughout the day, waiting for the pinnacle dinner time meal to erase all the bad habits. If you are waiting until dinner to get in all their vegetable requirements for the day (2 cups are ideal), you failed. You and your kids don’t need dinner time to be a stressful event. We need it to be about family, communication, and sitting down for a break and a light nourishing meal as the day comes to an end.
So what do we do? We have fast paced mornings, and school, and after school activities, and work, and life and so on. First of all, the treadmill is always on. It doesn’t stop, so we’ve all got to do the best we can with what we’ve got. And there are better times to present them with vegetable.
Let’s get into it:
Our bodies are trained to feel hungry every 3-4 hours. Most young kids eat lunch approximately around 11:30 at school. So, by 3:30 they need real, whole, nutrient dense food. They don’t need packaged chips and cookies. We need to be pumping them full of fruits, vegetables, fiber and protein after school when they’re most ravenous and ready and willing to gorge. They are more willing to eat and fill up on the real foods when their bodies are telling them to stock up.
But for some reason, were conditioned to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and believe we need to “hold them off” until dinner time. But guess what, according to Cindy Stimart, an educator and nationally-certified expert in pediatric speech-language & feeding, kids are less likely to try new foods later in the day.
Wonder why your kids say,” I’m not hungry” at dinner time? It’s not only that you filled them up on crackers after school. Eating late in the evening is linked to weight gain, obesity, cancer, and makes us not sleep as well. Our kids are smart and not only have better imaginations and laugh more, hey intuitively know eating late isn’t great. The goal is to finish eating dinner at least 2-3 hours before bed. As adults, that seems unrealistic with our schedules, and we’re prioritizing other things over dinner time. So, if you can’t make that earlier window work, then focus on small, lighter meals for “dinnertime”, and think of the afterschool snack as a more substantial meal-- not an excuse to power through cheddar bunnies (guilty as charged).
As mentioned above, snacks and wood boards pilled with an array of items gets us all excited and more willing to try a piece of something new. After school when they’re hungry, try to have a board or (travel container works too) of those aforementioned cheddar bunnies, sure, but also load it up with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Familiar and unfamiliar. They’re more open once they’re home, and free to eat while playing outside or after soccer practice, dance class, and even during the unpleasant spelling homework. Even celery has made its way into my children’s mouth. It’s true.
Here are some healthy, filling snack ideas to put onto a board for your living room, front porch, pack it up for a roadside picnic, or wherever it works for you and your schedule.
*Reminder: you ideally want snacks/meals to have 4 parts: vegetable (this is normally where we’re lacking and need to focus), fresh fruit, fiber (whole grain cracker/pita, beans, nuts,), and protein (nuts, seeds, cheese, beans)
Packaged Kale Chips or Beet Chips like these from Rhythm Super Foods.
Plantain chips like these & celery and blanched broccoli that I keep in the fridge so it stays crisp.
Larabar with greens like these.
Olives like these packages.
Natierra Freeze Dried Peas— you can find them here.
Enjoy Life Seed & Fruit snack packs here with some cucumbers
Made in Nature Figgy Pop Balls here.
Organic string cheese & carrots, and seed crackers.
Cucumber with organic cream cheese in a sandwich, tortilla wrap, or sandwich.
Whole grain pita chips or organic honey wheat crackers like these, and raw vegetables (carrots, cucumber, red peppers, snap peas, beet chips, and so on) with a clean hummus brand. We like organic hummus from Trader Joes or Majestic Garlic.
Roasted russet and sweet potato fries with guacamole.
Smoothies with spinach, frozen cauliflower and high protein seeds like hemp — don’t hide the vegetables, let them know it’s in there.
Roasted broccoli or brussels sprouts with honey mustard dip.
No Bake Nut/Seed Bars- Just mix and keep them in the fridge (or freezer).
English Muffin Pizzas with red peppers, mushrooms, olives.
Roasted Chickpeas and fresh fruit.
Look, weekday schedules are full and each of us has our own challenges, but try to take advantage of when your kids are really hungry, relaxed, and feel like eating. You’ll be surprised how much they will actually try and eat. Also, keeping dinnertime peaceful, and not a nightly feast filled with pressure and food bribery will be a better for everyone.
Jenny is a writer, cooking coach, and host of Cliffs Notes Kitchen, where she shows how simple, bite-sized shifts with minimal effort, can create lasting changes in your health. You can find more of her articles here.