Finding healthy snacks for the kids can sometimes feel like a job within itself, especially if you have a picky eater. Some parents think that buying healthy snacks means spending more money. I know it is so easy to fall in to the trap of letting the kids just settle in with a yummy bag of Cheetos. They are healthy right? Each morsel contains some niacin, whatever that is. That’s what I used to tell myself when I was pregnant and had the munchies.
Now, as a busy mom of two elementary school children who would be thrilled if they could snack on Cheetos and chips all day, I have taken it upon myself to try to instill some healthy eating habits. I’m not a health food nut by any means, it’s just that I’ve found if I take a few minutes to think about what I buy before I hit the grocery store I can save money and provide my kids with the healthy snacks they deserve.
Okay, I admit it. Sometimes I have my own secret stash. You know, that hidden box in the pantry for the occasional moment when I need a little pick-me-up. But in all honesty, when it comes to your kids, who don’t control where you shop and what you buy, it is up to you to help them make healthy choices about what they eat. Remember that when you go shopping, you have control.
Here are a few tips to help you save some money and turn your little junk food junkies into healthy snack eating kids.
1) Don’t buy junk food! Yes, that may contradict what I said before about my secret stash, but if the kids don’t see the unhealthy snacks, they can’t eat them. I haven’t purchased Cheetos or potato chips in a few years, and no one here is asking for them. Really!
2) Keep fruits visible. A few months ago I purchased an assortment of apples, oranges, mangos and bananas. I had the kids peel off the stickers, and I washed the fruit and put it in a gigantic bowl on my counter. Now, whenever they are hungry I see them glimpse over at the bowl. Yes, Mom scores a point!
3) Clean out the pantry. Before you run out and buy healthy snacks, take a look at what you have. You may have a few things in there that need immediate disposal…like last year’s Halloween candy. It’s also exciting to find something that the kids might enjoy that you forgot about. Last week when my son had a friend over, I took a few handfuls of peanuts and put them in a bowl on the table without saying a word. A few minutes later, they were sitting there cracking the shells having a grand ol’ time.
4) Don’t make it obvious. Buy veggies, fruits and other healthy snacks and serve them to your kids without ever asking them if they want to eat it. Unless you have a real picky eater on your hands, your kids will typically eat what you serve them if there aren’t a lot of unhealthy alternatives around. If I cut up cucumbers and put them on a plate with ranch dressing, my kids will just gravitate toward the plate and begin snacking away. I then look over and ask “Oh, do you want carrots too?” Mom scores again!
5) Try to find fun ways to serve the food. Some of the simplest things bring great pleasure to your kids, and they don’t cost much money. I am afraid we forget that all too often. I was reminded the other day when my son was digging in our pantry because he said he wanted to get some ants and raisins. I wasn’t sure what he was talking about until he told me about a snack his friend brought in for lunch. It was ants on a log: celery, peanut butter and raisins. My 5-year-old son was actually looking for the ingredients to make a healthy snack. One more point for Mom!
6) Take your kids grocery shopping with you. Yes, I know it can get crazy at times; however, by bringing the kids with you, you may actually save by buying them items they will eat. While you are there, take your kids into the produce section and let them help pick out the healthy fruits and vegetables that they will eat. Don’t hurry this up. Even if they are older, have them walk slowly down the store isles and talk about the yummy things they can make with you. You will also get to know them better if they talk about their likes and dislikes. Maybe they even have a suggestion for a meal they tried at a friend’s house that you can make together.
7) Cook with your kids. Yes, get them involved in everything you make as often as you can. My kids would jump out of the chair if I said, “Who wants to make a smoothie?” It’s not really about the good tasting smoothie; it’s about the pouring of the milk, the berries and ice and blending it all up. Sometimes we do simple things like put a banana on a stick and freeze it or make hot air popcorn and they love it. Not to mention that my kids’ friends think I am the coolest because they have never seen a hot air popcorn popper.
8) Let your kids get their own snacks. Yep, that’s right. Let them get into that pantry or refrigerator and go at it. Make sure snacks are on lower shelves for little ones. If you filled it with healthier options for your kids, why worry? I never heard anyone complain that their child ate too much granola, have you? And if they get to pick their own snack, they have learned how to make a choice on their own about the food they eat.
Helping your kids make healthy eating choices isn’t as difficult or costly as it seems. Sometimes just taking time out to make it available for them is all that you need. Involve them as much as possible in the process, and pretty soon they will be making healthy choices on their own.
Kara Ferraro is a publisher and freelance writer with two elementary aged children. She is always looking for clever, budget friendly activities to do with her family and ways to save money and make healthy choices.