Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers: Airplanes

Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers

The boys and I on the planeTraveling with toddlers can be stressful under the best of conditions.  You don’t need to add worrying about food to your to-do list.  And yet, you cannot travel with your toddler(s) without some fuel for their energetic and growing bodies and minds!  Never fear, here are some ideas for healthy travel snacks for toddlers that you can easily grab and go!

My Story

Akiva at the Airport

Akiva is 3 years old now, which is 36 months, and he has already been on 48 flights. He’s been on road trips and traveled on cars, buses, boats, and bicycles.  He’s been in taxis, on ferries, and on vans and of course has traveled on foot and in a carrier.  He’s pretty well-traveled.

Akiva is also an eater.  He’s about average when it comes to food – he is neither a child without limits (I know some of those) nor is he a picky eater for whom one mouthful is a meal (I know some of those, too).  This makes him very good for experimenting on.  My child, my (healthy travel snack) guinea pig. 🙂

Kids Need Healthy Travel Snacks

Homemade healthy cookies are our favorite airplane travel snack

Homemade healthy cookies are our favorite airplane travel snack

As adults, most of us do not snack much during the day.  Our bodies simply do not require a constant stream of fuel to keep us going.  (Of course because I am writing about snacks, now I want one!)  But children have smaller stomachs and have a lot of energy, which uses up their fuel more quickly.  They need snacks to get them through the day.

Kids are also growing and learning constantly.  Every situation is an opportunity to learn.  Going through the airport scanner is an adventure.  Riding on a bus without needing to be in a car seat is like a holiday in Rome.  But all that learning means kids’ brains are burning through their calories, which means they are going to get hungry.

And you cannot rely on airlines or airports to be able to provide healthy food.  Yes, there may be a “vegan” or “vegetarian” option, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “healthy” option!  Even vegan or vegetarian meal options can come packed with sugar and salt, not to mention lots of unnecessary oil.  Airport restaurants are no better: Airport restaurants are designed for convenience and speed, not health.  There have been times when I have had to scour a dozen airport restaurants and shops just to be able to find some plain, uncut fresh fruit.  That said, in a pinch many airports today are now featuring juice bars.  Fresh juice can be good fuel but fruit juice also packs a whopping load of sugar.  (If you are getting fresh juice for your child, try if you can to get vegetable juice.)  Better are smoothie bars (smoothies contain whole fruit, which means the fiber in fruit, which slows and steadies fruit sugar absorption, is still being consumed).

Of course the temptation is out their to ply your kids with unhealthy travel snacks.  It is so easy to justify.  “They deserve something special for this special occasion,” or, “I need to give them something delicious to distract them/keep them quiet/make them stop screaming their heads off on the plane so the United stewardess doesn’t kick me off.”

But travel is exactly the time when your kids need healthy food the most.  They need balanced nutrition to help keep their hormones and emotions well-balanced.  They need the extra energy to be able to handle all the new experiences. They need extra fluids to help keep them hydrated on airplanes.  They need foods that will calm them and enable them to sleep whenever possible to alleviate the fatigue of travel and overstimulation. They do not need added processed sugars that will give them sugar highs and lows, and energy bursts and crashes they cannot control.  They do not need salty snacks or snacks high in sodium that will dehydrate them further.  And our of courtesy for the people who own and have to clean your conveyance, they do not need really messy snacks.  (Or courtesy for yourself – when I flew United and Akiva dropped some sandwich crumbs the stewardess made me pick them up.  Of course, United Airlines is evil incarnate and should never be flown, so this probably should not come as a surprise.)

(Also, a musical interlude because I can’t help myself) 

Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers When You Fly

There are lots of healthy and delicious snack options, even when you consider that flying has lots of requirements: You don’t want anything too heavy because you have to carry it, or too big because it will take up too much room you need for carrying other things (like diapers and iPad backup batteries).  You also don’t want anything too fragile that will be crushed into an inedible mush or will make a big mess.  And of course you can’t bring anything liquid above a certain size if you’re traveling in America.  With all those parameters in mind, consider these snack ideas:

  • Muffins – Muffins can be savory or sweet.  I often make savory muffins loaded up with fresh veggies like carrots or zucchini.  You can also add toppings/fillings to savory muffins – Vegemite, hummus, and tahini are our favorites.  Sweet muffins can be used as a yummy treat to distract kids without needing to give them a sugar rush.  I load mine up with fruit juice pulp – the extra fiber helps slow down sugar absorption and releases energy more smoothly, which is exactly what kids need!  You can also bulk up sweet muffins by spreading them with natural 100% peanut butter.  Muffins also hold their shape pretty well, even if they get a bit bumped around.
  • Oatmeal – If you need a good morning snack, oatmeal travels very well.  Snack sized servings should pass through security just fine (although I have never had a problem with food for my “baby”).  I make steel-cut oatmeal and load it up with chia and flax/linseeds, fresh and dried fruit, coconut oil, and make it creamy using rice milk.  Non-dairy oatmeal travels really well and with all the fruit in it, it tastes so great my kids never care if it’s hot or not.  (Some airlines will be happy to warm it for you though if you ask.)
  • Fresh Veggies & Dips – Fresh vegetables and dips are a great snack combination for kids.  Try cutting up celery, capsicum/bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, and carrots.  Kids can snack on these on their own or dipped in something like hummus, tahini, babaganoush, beetroot dip, or red pepper dip.  If you’re in America, though, you will have to bring just a small enough portion to be able to get through security.
  • Peanut Butter and… Anything! – Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I do bring peanut butter when I travel.  It’s a nutritious food with healthy fats and proteins that give kids good fuel.  It’s great as a dip or as a spread.  Of course you can make the traditional peanut butter sandwich or spread peanut butter on two crackers and slap them together.  But you can also spread peanut butter on all sorts of things.  Use peanut butter to fill celery logs (you can stick raisins in to give it some sweetness), or slice apples thinly and make peanut butter apple “sandwiches.”
  • Fresh Fruit – Fresh fruit is sweet, juicy, and nutritious.  Choose a travel-friendly fruit like apples or oranges as opposed to bananas, which squish easily.  You can also cut up fruits like apples, pears, and peaches and put them in a disposable or reusable plastic container.
  • Crackers – I make my own vegan gluten free crackers from vegetable pulp, but you can also buy some really healthy crackers as well.  Crackers give kids the chance to crunch on something and are easily eaten by them on their own, freeing you to tend to younger kids or just to relax a bit.  Veggie pulp crackers give kids extra fiber to help keep their digestive tracts running smoothly and conventional crackers made of grains and/or seeds give kids needed carbohydrates.
  • Cookies – I pack lots of healthy homemade cookies for a treat when we travel.  In our house, cookies are a special pre-naptime treat, so when the cookies come out my kids usually settle in for a rest right away.  I have a couple different kinds of cookies I make, one with oatmeal and fruit and the other with oats, whole wheat flour, fruit, and carrots.  Either way, I know my kids can have cookies guilt-free, with whole fruits and no added processed sugar.
  • Dried Fruit – Dried fruit is my secret weapon.  My kids think of dried fruit as candy, which a lot of it is.  Dates are sweeter than most candies you can buy and tamarind is more deliciously sour than sour candy. Drying fruit concentrates its sugar and flavors.  When my kids are crying out of control on the plane, dried fruit inevitably quiets them down.  It also keeps them chewing hard during takeoff and landing, when they need to chew to equalize the pressure in their ears.

Happy Travels!

I hope these snack ideas make it feel easier for you to travel by air with your toddler.  Healthy travel snacks don’t have to be hard to make or find, they don’t have to be complicated, and they can be toddler friendly.

Healthy Sweet Juice Pulp Muffins/Cupcakes

Healthy Sweet Juice Pulp Muffins/Cupcakes

Fruit Pulp Muffins

My husband has been doing a juice fast recently, leaving me with a massive amount of juice pulp.  Although most of the pulp has been vegetable pulp, he has provided me with some fruit pulp, which I’m excited to use.  There are so many ways to use fruit pulp!  Add it to oatmeal, mix it with yogurt, and even mix it into cookies.  Today, I decided to use some to make some sweet, fruity muffins.

Fruit pulp

What is the difference between a sweet muffin and a cupcake?  I kind of consider them to be very similar, but there are some differences.  Muffins, even sweet ones, are not too sweet, whereas cupcakes tend to be much sweeter.  Muffins are also more dense while cupcakes are a bit more fluffy.  I also tend to think that cupcakes come with icing on top, while muffins do not.  Therefore, this recipe is for muffins but I include instructions how to alter it to make it into cupcakes.

Ingredients in mixing bowl

These muffins are great for breakfast or as a snack.  They are only slightly sweet so they satisfy kids’ desire for a sweet flavor without giving a sugar rush.  (They do not contain processed sugar.)  The size of muffins is inherently a good serving size for sending in a school lunch.  Because they are made with whole wheat flour, they are actually a really healthy (and slightly sneaky) way to get kids to consume whole grains.  Because they are made with fruit pulp, they are not as sweet as if you made them with whole fruit – most of the fruit sugar goes out with the juice.  Yet, they still give the flavor of the fruit.  As a bonus, the fruit pulp is very high in fiber, which too many kids today don’t get enough of.  They don’t have too many ingredients and none of them are too hard to get ahold of (except possibly the juice pulp, if you are not juicing on your own).

Batter for fruit pulp muffins

The fruit used to make the pulp was a mix.  It was at least 50% strawberry, but also included a mix of grape, plum, and nectarine.  Really, any mix of fruit would work.  Of course it will change the flavor of your muffins dramatically, but that’s okay.  It means that every time you make this recipe it will be new and fun.

Sweet Fruity Muffins

This recipe makes approximately 2 dozen mini muffins and 6 regular size muffins.


1 cup fruit pulp (from juicing)
1 cup rice milk
1 free range egg
1 tbsp organic agave nectar (or honey)
1 cup self-raising whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking soda


  1. Preheat oven to 175 C/350 F forced fan setting (increase by 10-20 degrees C if not using fan force).
  2. Mix together wet ingredients.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Put in greased or lined muffin tins.  You can fill them to the top as these are muffins and don’t rise much.
  6. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool before serving.


  • To turn these muffins into cupcakes, do three things:
    1) Add 1-2 teaspoons baking powder (to give them the extra lift they need)
    2) Sweeten them extra with an additional 1-2 tbsp agave nectar
    3) Top them with healthy frosting or icing!
  • Add extra flavors for a new dimension.  A few drops of vanilla not only gives a nice vanilla flavor but also gives the sensation of increased sweetness.  Other essences work, too, such as almond extract or even rum extract.
  • Add spices.  Depending on what kind of juice pulp you’re using, you can pair it with certain spices that work well together.  For instance, if you are using pear or apple pulp, consider adding some cinnamon or nutmeg.  Grapes go well together with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves.  Strawberry and banana is surprisingly good with flavors like orange zest and Chinese five spice.

Fruit juice pulp mini muffins ready to go in the oven

These muffins were an absolute hit in our house.  It is almost worth it to make more juice just to get the pulp!  Enjoy – and let me know how yours turn out!

Fruit juice pulp muffin

(Raw) Vegan Gluten Free Pizza Crackers

(Raw) Vegan Gluten Free Pizza Crackers

Maybe it is because I am a child of the 80’s that I remember eating pizza-flavored crackers as I grew up. I’m probably thinking of the Combos Pizzeria Pretzel, pizza flavored bugles crackers, or the inimitable Combos Pepperoni Pizza Cracker, although the thought of pepperoni-flavored anything pretty much freaks me out now.  Still, I love pizza and it is probably one of my favorite foods.  So what could be better than a pizza-flavored snack?  A healthy pizza-flavored snack, of course!

Carrots, beets, and red capsicum/bell pepper cut up and ready to be juiced.

Carrots, beets, and red capsicum/bell pepper cut up and ready to be juiced.

So here it is, the ultimate snack of goodness that your kids will love because it tastes like pizza and that you will love because there is nothing that could even remotely be construed as unhealthy in it.  That’s right, they are vegan, gluten-free, raw (if you keep the temperature on your oven below 115 F/46 C), fat-free, and they are even kosher enough for the strictest of Passover-keeping Jews (and there is no diet more strict than that – they make gluten free and paleo look like wimps).  I am honestly convinced that this recipe is the snack recipe to end all snack recipes.  Because it is made of amazing.

Add spices to juice pulp to flavor it.  When the pulp is dehydrated, the flavor concentrates and makes these crackers FULL of flavor!

Add spices to juice pulp to flavor it. When the pulp is dehydrated, the flavor concentrates and makes these crackers FULL of flavor!

The key ingredient in this recipe is juice pulp, so you actually kind of get a two-for-one deal in this recipe.  Sure, you get a crunchy snack cracker that tastes like pizza, but you also get some super healthy (and yummy) juice to drink.  It really is an all-around winner.

Juice pulp and spice mix spread on a baking tray, ready to be dehydrated into crackers

Juice pulp and spice mix spread on a baking tray, ready to be dehydrated into crackers

Vegan Gluten-Free Pizza Crackers


4-5 packed cups juice pulp from red/orange veggies (I used carrots, beets, and red capsicum/bell pepper)
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 heaping tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
1 tsp rubbed oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt (I use pink himalayan salt)


  1. Juice your vegetables and discard the juice.  Just kidding! Drink the juice and keep the pulp to make these crackers.
  2. Mix all ingredients.  I recommend using your hands to ensure all ingredients are evenly distributed and to break up any clumps of pulp.
  3. Using the flat of your palm, press pulp mixture evenly onto 2 cookie trays lined with baking/wax paper.  Depending on how thick you want your crackers to be, this will fill 2 medium or 2 medium-large trays (or 1 giant tray).  Alternately, press into the trays provided with your dehydrator.
  4. If you are making thicker crackers, score the pulp with a knife so you can break the crackers apart easily later.
  5. Optionally sprinkle top of crackers with sea salt.
  6. Place the trays in your oven on the lowest setting.  I use 50 C fan forced, but keep it below 46 C if you are going for a raw option.  (Although this designation makes me confused, as it definitely gets above 46C in the Aussie outback on a regular basis, so I suppose nothing grown there could be considered raw… but I digress.)  Bake until crispy.  Times vary depending on your oven, settings, and thickness of the crackers.  I make mine quite thin and with fan force on it takes only 3 hours to fully dehydrate these crackers.  If you are doing thicker crackers, do not have fan force, or use a centrifugal juicer that does not get out as much juice as a masticating juicer, it may well take 5 hours to complete this.
  7. Break apart crackers and test.  If you made thicker crackers, break on the lines you scored.  If you made thinner crackers like I do, you will find they have shrunk and cracked on their own during the dehydrating process.  They won’t be perfect little squares, but who cares when they taste so good?!  If crackers are not crunchy and brittle, return to the oven and check again in 30-60 minutes.
  8. Enjoy crackers on their own or with toppings that pair well with pizza, like sliced olives, sun dried tomatoes, etc.  Store extra crackers in an airtight plastic container or ziplock bag.


  • Finely chop up “pizza” toppings and mix them in.  My favorite is olives but other toppings such as sun dried tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, roasted red bell peppers/capsicum, crumbled tofu, mushrooms, tempeh, or vegetarian meat substitutes.  Be sure not to overdo it with the “toppings” as you still want your crackers to be crackers!
  • Change the spices added.  These crackers really smell and taste like actual Italian pizza, but mixing in other flavors like basil won’t hurt.  Or change the spice mixture completely, swapping for instance with Mexican spice mix to make “taco” crackers.
The final juice pulp crackers have a nice reddish-orange color that suits their pizza flavor.  They're very high in fiber and also have lots of great nutrition.  Because they are so highly concentrated, they also have a delicious flavor - you will be really surprised!

The final juice pulp crackers have a nice reddish-orange color that suits their pizza flavor. They’re very high in fiber and also have lots of great nutrition. Because they are so highly concentrated, they also have a delicious flavor – you will be really surprised!

I hope your kids love these crackers as much as mine do!  I’ve actually had to restrict my older toddler from eating too many or he’ll eat the whole lot of them.  Of course, if you have a child who suffers from constipation, eating the whole lot of crackers might be a good move – these snacks will keep your kids very regular!  But given that most kids today do not enough enough fiber, these crunchy crackers are a really healthy addition to your kids’ diets.  In fact, even my “big kid” had been sneaking crackers from their box constantly – and he’s the one who’s supposed to be doing a juice fast!

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Today, Nestlé USA announced that it will remove artificial colors and flavors from all of its chocolate candies by the end of 2015.  This is in response to consumer concerns and a massive push to “go natural,” using highly processed animal, vegetable, and mineral sources for colors and flavors, rather than chemical compositions.  But don’t rush out to buy a bunch of candy bars for your kids – this move is NOT going to make their candy any healthier.

I am actually not convinced that the natural flavors and dyes will be any less unhealthy than the chemical version.  As with most foods, anything so excessively processed loses its nutritional benefits and can acquire unhealthy side effects.  Okay, so most of these ingredients have not been so thoroughly studied, but we have enough examples of other highly processed foods to go off of: fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice versus white sugar, whole grain fresh-ground wheat versus white flour, etc.  White sugar is also “all natural” but that doesn’t make it good for you.  So don’t let this deceptive advertising move distract you from the real issues at hand.

Nestlé USA is not the first company to embrace a move toward the more natural.  Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, eager to cash in on consumer concerns by advertising their products as “all natural.”  Recently, Arnott’s changed the formula of iconic Australian cookie Tim Tams to an “all natural” formula.  And while artificial colors and flavors are definitely linked to health concerns and child hyperactivity, removing them isn’t actually going to make these sweet treats any healthier.

Arnott's Tim Tams

The move to “all natural” has its pitfalls, too.  Take Arnott’s: Tim Tams now contain cochineal, a red dye made from crushed beetles.  This of course raises animal welfare concerns.  But more to the point: where Tim Tams used to be acceptable to people with dietary restrictions, now they are not.  Tim Tams are no longer vegetarian, vegan, and kosher.  They definitely contain dead animals.  But most consumers are unaware of changes like this, or they probably wouldn’t like it much.  Personally, eating cookies made with dead beetles sounds even less appealing than eating cookies colored with chemical dyes!

This has long been an issue in the kosher community.  In the United States, many foods come stamped with a certain icon to show that they are acceptable foods for those adhering to Jewish dietary laws. Many other people, such as those with food allergies or intolerances, vegetarians, and Muslims, also rely on kosher symbols to indicate that foods are safe for them to eat under their restrictions as well. However, the letter “K” is just a letter and cannot be trademarked.  Some companies stamp their products with the letter K to make it appear their products are kosher.  I will never forget the time I checked a Yoplait container’s ingredients list only to discover that cochineal (they list it as carmine) was an ingredient, showing me that their “K” was truly not kosher!  (Yoplait do still mark their containers with “KD” – kosher dairy – and list kosher gelatin as an ingredient; however, their use of this coloring renders their products neither kosher nor vegetarian – VERY SNEAKY!)  So sure foods might be more natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gross.

Nestlé’s switch to all-natural also won’t change the flavor or basic formula of favorite candies.  They are still going to be full of sugars and preservatives.  In its press release, Nestlé says:

“Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company and our commitment to remove artificial flavors and certified colors in our chocolate candy brands is an important milestone,” said Doreen Ida, president, Nestlé USA Confections & Snacks.

This made me simultaneously want to burst into hysterical laughter and cry piteously for the fate of humanity.  If Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company, our kids are all doomed to die premature deaths because of preventable diseases.  Fortunately, I think this is just BS spouted by the president, who gets a super-sized salary (the VP gets nearly half a million dollars a year in compensation and the CEO of Nestle SA gets over $11 million dollars a year, so who knows how much President Ida is getting) for saying things that make good, if ludicrous, media sound bytes.

Let’s take a look at one of the 75 iconic treats set to undergo an “all natural” makeover.  Here are the ingredients of the revised Butterfinger, showing for instance natural annatto coloring rather than a chemical combo of Red 40 and Yellow 5:


Annatto coloring comes last on the list and, quite frankly, if my kids were eating this, the food coloring would be the least of my concerns.  My biggest worry would be that corn syrup and sugar are the first two ingredients (with molasses also on the list) and that ingredient number four is hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  This is coming from “the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company.”  They are selling this garbage to our kids and presenting it as if, because of the natural flavors and annatto coloring, it is suddenly a healthy snack.  You have got to be kidding me.

Please, for the love of G-d and the health of the world’s children, do not give in to this ridiculous hype.  Sure, artificial flavors and colors are unhealthy, but do not allow yourself to become distracted from the fact that these are tiny, minor additives and the major ingredients of these foods are remaining incredibly unhealthy.  Giving your kids these candies will still be incredibly unhealthy and harmful to their health, no matter how natural their packaging says they are.

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the common sources of sugar in kids’ diets, but there was just too much to say, so here are the final three categories:

Problem: Bread

White bread is pretty much devoid of any good things for your child.  Sure, they might try to fortify it with vitamins, but they never fortify it with anything close to the amount of vitamins contained in whole wheat.  Plus, it is lacking in fiber.  And white carbohydrates like white flour and white rice break down directly into sugar in the body, and act like added, processed sugars.  And let’s not forget the biggest problem we’re discussing at the moment: added sugar.  You bet your processed white bread has plenty of added sugar.

But whole wheat bread is healthy, right? Not necessarily.  A lot of whole wheat breads are not 100% whole wheat and even those that are almost always have plenty of added sugar.  The fluffier and more tasty they are to kids, the more sugar content they are likely to have.

Don’t fool yourself that gluten free bread is any better.  A lot of gluten free breads are made with ingredients like white rice flour or potato starch – the same white carbohydrates that convert to sugar as white flour – and many do contain added, processed sugar, although it might come under different names.

Solution: Bake or Bakery

The best solution to the problem of not knowing what’s in your kids’ bread is to just bake it yourself.  Then you control all of the ingredients!  You can make it 100% whole wheat or rye and add healthy bonuses like seeds or even dried fruit.  Use honey or agave to feed the yeast (or make a sourdough loaf with wild yeast, which will happily feed on flour), and you don’t need much sweetener to feed the yeast because most yeast will happily eat some of the flour.  As a bonus, there are no preservatives or other added nasties in homemade bread.

Too busy to bake bread? Think again!! Buy a bread machine and you can make bread yourself in just minutes.  Most machines even have timers so you can put the ingredients in before you go to sleep and wake up to the smell of fresh bread for toast and sandwiches.  My favorite is the Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker, although I have heard rave reviews about the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker. (Breville also sells lower models you can pick up for under $100.)  So far we’ve been using our Breville bread machine for more than a decade and it’s still working brilliantly!

Of course, you can still buy bread.  You just have to be really selective about what you buy.  90% of the time I bake my own bread, but occasionally when I do buy bread, I buy direct from a bakery where I know the owners and I can trust their ingredients.  I usually buy whole grain rye or black Russian bread, which my toddler calls “chocolate bread.”  One brand that has really impressed me is Ezekiel Bread’s sprouted grain breads, like Food for Life, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, Original Sprouted, Organic. Sprouted grain breads offer a whole host of health benefits, including easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients, plus more antioxidants and vitamins than normal grains could give you. They also offer a Brown Rice Bread that is Dairy,Gluten & Yeast Free!

Problem: Spreads

Peanut butter, jelly, jam, marmalade, spreadable cheese, cream cheese, butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, salsa, pasta sauce, nutella, and marshmallow fluff are all common spreads for bread.  Of them, all except the cheeses and butter are full of sugar.  In fact, I’m pretty sure marshmallow fluff is actually made of sugar, and the worst sugar possible, at that! Holy high fructose corn syrup, Batman!

But most people are surprised to learn that spreads like peanut butter and nutella are chock full of sugar, salt, and oil.  Jelly, jam, and marmalade are usually 50% or more sugar.  Mayo, ketchup, relish, and store-bought salsas and pasta sauces often contain lots of sugar, even though they are “savory” foods.

The result is that you may think you are giving your child a healthy sandwich with peanut butter and jelly (protein and fruit, right?) but you are really giving them a huge dose of processed sugar!  And even though they are not full of sugar, spreadable cheeses, cream cheese, and butter are all huge sources of animal fats, proteins, and preservatives.  They may not be high in sugar, but they are still unhealthy.

But wait, what do I spread on my kid’s sandwich, then?!

Solution: Healthy Spreads

The best solution to the spread situation is to make them yourself.  I make my own ketchup, for instance.  Pasta sauce, salsa, and mayonnaise can all be made at home in a way that reduces or eliminates altogether added sugars.  (Although generally speaking, there’s really no healthy way to make mayo, you can make it healthier.)  By reading ingredients, you can also purchase some of these items in healthier form.  I actually love Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise and I have to admit that I am a die-hard Hellman’s Mayo addict (we all have our vices, don’t we?), so that’s really saying something!

Living in Australia as we do these days, I have become a huge fan of Vegemite.  I actually have no idea how parents in other countries survive without it.  What the heck do you make sandwiches with?!  Okay, the truth is that Vegemite can take some getting used to if you’re an adult trying it for the first time.  It’s not my favorite food, but I don’t mind a Vegemite sandwich now and then… but my kids!  When we ran out of Vegemite two days ago, my toddler had a full-blown tantrum because he wanted a Vegemite sandwich so badly.  So yes, kids love it, especially if they eat it from a young age.  It is quite high in salt, so spread it very thin (my kids especially love it on veggie muffins), and it will give kids a huge dose of healthy B vitamins (which my vegetarian kids especially need).

Tehina, hummus, guacamole, babaganoush, and mustard are some other great spreads to consider.  Make them yourself and you don’t need to worry about preservatives or additives.  If you’re buying them, check the ingredients carefully to ensure nothing silly like mayo or straight up sugar has been mixed in.  Busy parents need not worry: Tehina paste can be easily mixed up into a spread in small quantities in a minute or two.  (Plus, it is an amazing source of non-dairy calcium!)  Guacamole can be as simple as spreading mashed avocado on bread and sprinkling a tiny bit of lemon juice on top.  Hummus and guacamole can both be made in advance and frozen in small containers.  Their consistency might be slightly affected but if you mix them up and spread them on bread, nobody will ever be able to tell.  This makes it easy to whip up a big batch and rotate through various spreads for variety.  Babaganoush is a roasted or grilled eggplant spread that also freezes nicely.  For the healthiest and most delicious option, ensure you are using a tehina-based Israeli babaganoush recipe.  Olive tapenade, when homemade, can also be a delicious sandwich or wrap spread.  Olives are very salty, but they also provide a lot of health benefits, ranging from their high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients to their heart-healthy oil to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Finally, there are the nut butters.  There is no reason why peanut butter needs to be so unhealthy!  Why they add oil to a nut that’s already rich in oil is beyond me.  And peanuts have a natural sweetness that needs no enhancement.  Choose a pure peanut butter with no added sugar, salt, or oil.  The ingredients list should only have ONE item: Peanuts.  No preservatives, stabilizers, or anything else.  Yes, it will separate, but mix back in the oil and you’ll be looking at a peanut butter that’s healthier than the garbage they market to kids these days.

Want some variety of flavors and nutrients?  Experiment with other nut butters.  Cashew butter is delicious and naturally sweet.  Macadamia nuts make a rich, oily butter.  Walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds all offer very different health benefits that make peanut butter look wimpy.  Boost your kids’ nutrient intake by changing the types of nut butters you use.  Going nut-free for school? Try coconut butter as a spread.  The health benefits of coconuts are the latest rage, so go ahead, jump on the bandwagon!  Afraid your kids will stage a riot if you cut out their chocolatey nutella spread?  Replace it with a raw cacao spread sweetened with organic agave nectar.

Problem: Sugary Cereals

Most parents have no idea how much sugar is in their kids’ cereals.  When I pointed out to a friend that the second ingredient in “healthy” cereals like Cheerios or Rice Krispies (Rice Bubbles in Australia) is sugar, she was shocked.  She thought her kids were getting healthy cereals but they were getting sugar in their cereals.  To make matters worse, most parents allow their kids to sprinkle some sugar on top of these “bland,” “healthy” cereals, which compounds the problem.

And those are the healthy cereals!  Indeed, a lot of cereals marketed to a health-conscious or dieting subset are either full of sweeteners or are full of fake substitutes (which have their own health implications – but that’s a post for another day!).

Most cereals marketed to kids today are overflowing with sugar.  Parents might know a cereal is sugary, but do you know just how sugary?  I just picked one out of thin air (first one that came to mind – I didn’t go hunting for the worst offender).  Gluten-free vitamin-fortified Fruity Pebbles are 33% sugar.  33%!!!!!!!!  Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? I really hope not.  (And as if that’s not bad enough, Post Foods encourages you to use this cereal to make “treats” using 1 box of cereal, 6 cups of marshmallows, and 1/2 stick of butter. That’s 336 grams of sugar per recipe.)

Fruity Pebbles Nutrition Facts

9 grams out of every 27 gram serving is sugar. That’s 1/3 of the volume of the cereal composed of sugar. 33%!

Personally, I think marketing cereals like this to kids is positively criminal.  Yes, many parents do not know how much garbage they are feeding their kids, but with so much marketing and so little free time, it is unfair to place all the blame on the parents.  I hope the executives of these companies suffer terrible insomnia from their incessant guilt over slowly killing an entire generation of children.


Solution: Healthy Breakfast Alternatives

There are healthy cereals out there, but goodness are they hard to find.  Even the organic health-food cereals are generally full of sugar.  It’s positively shameful.  My favorite cereal is Vita-Brits. It’s like the popular Australian breakfast cereal Weet-Bix but without the added sugar. I have no idea how you could get this cereal in the United States.  It is entirely possible that it is impossible to buy a cereal with no added sugar in America.  If you find a commercially available cereal with no added sugar in the United States, PLEASE post in comments!

Of course, there are other healthy breakfast alternatives.  Kids won’t die without cereal.  I think cereal is mostly a convenience food for parents.  But if you must give your child cereal, consider giving them a sugar-free muesli instead. Familia Swiss Muesli Cereal, for example, has no added sugar.  Neither does Alpen Cereal.   You can also make your own muesli.  That way you can add your own unique mix of grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.  You can also include yummy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, fresh chopped fruits, or even a sprinkling of agave nectar if your child still has a real sweet tooth.

Another great breakfast option is oatmeal.  You can make oatmeal on the stovetop really easily, in the microwave oven, or even overnight in the crock pot.  Add fresh banana to make it creamy and sweet, and mix in any types of fresh or dried fruit you like to make it sweet but still healthy.  You can also add chopped nuts and seeds, spices, or even fruit pulp from juicing.


Unfortunately, sugar really is in almost every food we buy commercially today.  It is a preservative, so companies have a strong incentive to use it liberally, as they can keep their products on the shelves longer with more sugar in them. This is why canned foods are often high in sugar and salt (I once had a woman get very annoyed with me one time when, after examining every canned food on the shelf, I could not find a single one with no sugar in it, and I then exclaimed in exasperation on how these vegetables were actually really unhealthy… meanwhile, she was trying to explain to her kids that vegetables in cans are good to eat. Oops? I somehow don’t feel guilty.).  Try buying snap-frozen veggies instead of canned ones, and boil up dry beans instead of just draining canned ones.

At the end of the day, almost every product on our grocery store shelves has sugar in it.  And it’s not just because it’s a preservative, but also because it’s a taste that has developed.  It’s an addiction we can’t kick – and the companies don’t want us to.  The reality is that if we want to inspire healthy kids, we have to let our voices be heard.  Buy the sugar-free products when they are available and make them at home when they are not.  Write to companies directly and tell them that we want more sugar-free options – and by “sugar-free” we do not mean “synthetic sweeteners!”  Write to our representatives in government and tell them we want a line included on all nutrition labels to show how much added sugar is in the food, so companies’ dirty tricks will be revealed for all interested consumers to see.

These are the changes we need to make to change our kids’ health and change their lives.

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 1)

Added sugar is dangerous for our kids.  It can make them less intelligent and affects their behavior.  It affects their health and is implicated in diseases as diverse as obesity and heart disease.  It’s addictive, so it’s not an easy habit to break. If you are like me and want to help your kids avoid sugar and its many pitfalls and health dangers, you need to know what foods to avoid feeding your kids.  What are some of the most common sources of sugar in kids’ diets?

It’s not the occasional candy or dessert that are the dangers to our kids.  It is easy to vilify these sweet treats because they stand out in our minds as being very sweet.  Some kids do eat a lot of sweets and obviously it is good to avoid candies, cakes, and cookies as much as possible (unless you make a healthy version, of course!).  If your kids are eating lots of these things, start by reducing and eventually eliminating them.

But with the average child under age 12 eating 49 pounds of sugar per year (that’s over 22 kg!)*, it’s not just candies and cakes that our doing our kids in.  The average 1-3 year old is eating 12 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is an insane amount for a body so small.  Hopefully our toddlers are not regularly eating candies!  So where is this huge amount of sugar coming from?

Problem: Soft Drinks & Juices

One of the biggest culprits in our children’s diets is soft drinks. Whether it’s soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks, or even vitamin water, it’s loaded with sugar.[i] In fact, sugary soft drinks are the largest source of added sugar in the average American child’s diet.[ii] Americans on average consume nearly twice as much soda as people in any other country.[iii] Nearly half of us drink soda every single day, and of those of us who do, we drink more than 2 glasses per day.[iv] And among our children the percentage is even higher – nearly 60% of American high school students are drinking soda or another sugary soft drink every single day.[v]

And even if we don’t give our child soda, we’re still giving them sugar. We think we’re doing the right thing by giving them “healthy” vitamin water, but it’s full of sugar, too. Iced tea (unless it’s homemade) is also full of sugar.

Even fruit juice is full of sugar. Many fruit drinks only contain a small percentage of fruit juice. And often, even if a juice advertises itself as 100% juice, it’s still got added sugar, just in the form of concentrated juice added to it.

Try this experiment: Get some oranges and squeeze them into a glass. Now fill a second glass with the packaged orange juice you usually give your kids. You’ll notice that the freshly squeezed juice is thinner and less opaque. If you taste it, it won’t seem as sweet. That’s because it’s not as concentrated as the kind you buy in the store. So you see, even 100% fruit juice is not necessarily healthy.

Solution: Water, Iced Tea, & Fresh Juice

The solution to this problem is easy: Replace all soft drinks with bottled water, home-brewed teas (white tea, green tea, and herbal teas are all great options), or fresh fruit and vegetable juices.  Juicing fruit and vegetables fresh at home can be a big effort for time-crushed parents, but if you use a masticating (cold-press) slow juicer you can do all your juicing for the week in one go on the weekend.  And if your child has a specific health issue you’re working to overcome, such as liver problems caused by an unhealthy diet, juicing can be a great way to detox.  Buy a re-usable plastic juice box and send it to school with your child full of fresh, homemade juice and you’ll cut the added sugar from their diet and give a boost to the amount of vitamins and minerals they’re consuming.

Problem: Snacks

Another big sugar culprit is the granola bar. I remember loving granola bars as a kid, especially the ones with chocolate chips in them! I also remember trying to trade food with my friends to get my hands on their “Nature’s Valley” granola bars. I didn’t want them because they were healthy. I wanted them because they were sweet! Almost any granola bar or energy bar is high in sugar. You think you are giving your child a healthy snack, but you’re really giving them a dose of sugar.

Many snacks kids take to school have this same problem.  Applesauce is often full of added sugar, as are fruit cups.  Fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups are also really high in sugar.  You may think you’re giving your child a healthy snack, but you’re really just giving them a dose of sugar.

Even a snack like cheese and cracks is fraught with dangers of the sugary kind.  Firstly, cheese is high in fat, especially if it’s highly processed like Cheez-Whiz is. It might come as not surprise that a snack like Ritz crackers are not so healthy, what with their white flour, sugar, butter, and salt content.  But what about healthy crackers like Wheat Thins?  Did you know Wheat Thins contain not one but three different types of sugar in their ingredients list?  And that’s not even considering  how much fat and salt they contain.  Most pretzels are no better.  They are usually made with white flour and covered in lots of salt.  Most are low in added sugar, but still, beware!

A lot of parents also give their kids snacks like muffins or other pastries.  On so many occasions, I have seen kids at the playground eating muffins that contain more sugar than my entire family eats in a day.  The same is true of other common baked goods.  (Bread-based pastries like bagels and English muffins should be considered bread goods – come back tomorrow to see my treatment of breads.)  Did you know that one Sara Lee blueberry muffin contains 32 grams of sugar?! That’s almost as much as their double chocolate chunk muffins, which contain 39 grams of sugar.  Even one bran muffin (which you would think should be healthy) contains 24 grams of sugar!

Solution: Homemade Snacks, Fresh Fruit, & Healthy Crackers

Bake your own healthy granola bars using whole grain rolled oats, nuts (if your school allows), seeds (we love chia and sesame seeds), and dried fruit.  Sweeten them with mashed banana and (if absolutely necessary as you wean your child off sweet tastes) agave nectar or honey.  (Forgive me, but I have a minor obsession with raw organic agave nectar!)  Busy parents: Get your kids involved in making them! This is a great after-school or weekend activity and can really help inspire healthy kids.  Plus, you can always bake a huge batch and freeze them because homemade granola bars keep really well in the freezer and you can pull one out per day for lunches.  Because you make them yourself, they are customizable, too – omit ingredients your kids dislike and include things your kids need – for example, add protein powder to turn them into protein bars for kids who do a lot of sports and exercise! (Also, I have an amazing recipe I will share with you all soon, so please stay posted!)

You can also make your own muffins and pastries with no sweeteners at all.  Sweeten muffins using fresh fruit, like mashed bananas, or make savory muffins with shredded or pureed vegetables like zucchini, pumpkin, sweet potato, or carrots.  I have a recipe for you that I’ll share soon!

As far as other snacks go, fresh fruit is always a classic.  Send a whole fruit or cut it up.  Buy healthier crackers (Mary’s Gone Crackers Original Organic Crackers are my favorite! And they come in a variety of flavors.), even if that means starting to read ingredients lists and labels.  You can also purchase dried fruits, which most kids love, or even Freeze Dried Fruit, which is crispy and nutritious.  There are also a lot of fruit leather brands out there now that are 100% fruit.  You can also make your own fruit leather (think of it as a healthy fruit roll-up) by pureeing fruit and then dehydrating it on a tray in your oven or dehydrator.

To Be Continued…

There is more to come, so come back tomorrow to see the second half of this list.  There is a lot of hidden sugar in food, and the sad thing is that is hiding in the foods we least expect.  But with dedication we can uncover a lot of these sources and remove them from our kids’ diets, replacing them with healthy alternatives.

*USDA Economic Research Service

[i] Malik VS, Popkin BM, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease risk. Circulation. 2010;121:1356-64

[ii] Reedy J, Krebs-Smith SM. Dietary sources of energy, solid fats, and added sugars among children and adolescents in the United States. Journal of the American Dietetic Association2010;110(10):1477–1484.

[iii] Euromonitor Global Market Information Database, available at

[iv] Gallup’s Consumption Habits poll, July 2012, available at

[v] United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Beverage Consumption Among High School Students—United States, 2010. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The Health Benefits of Strawberries

The Health Benefits of Strawberries

When I was a kid, I loved strawberries.  We used to go strawberry picking and come home with buckets of them, which my mom would store in ziplock bags in the freezer so we could snack on them throughout the year.  I remember fondly all the strawberry treats my mom would make after such outings.

Today, my children are no different.  They love strawberries and both boys will happily eat them fresh for an entire meal.  As a bonus, I can get them to eat almost anything if it has strawberries in it.  That my hubby came home with punnets upon punnets of fresh summer strawberries yesterday was a boon to all of us.  The best part is that not only do my kids love them, but they’re so incredibly healthy I’m happy for them to eat as many as they want!

So, what’s so great about strawberries?  Here are my top 10 reasons for loving them:

10. Immunity 

Did you know that just one cup of strawberries gives you over 100 mg of vitamin C?  That’s right, one cup of strawberries is enough to give you your whole recommended daily value!  Vitamin C is most famous for boosting your immune system, but did you know that it also helps with things like removing toxins from your body?  And as an antioxidant, it can help prevent oxidation damage to your cells that could later cause cancer and other diseases.

9. Lower Inflammation

Inflammation can occur anywhere in the body and strawberries act to counteract it wherever it occurs.   Inflammation causes lots of health problems, including arthritis.  That’s because strawberries decrease the amount of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood.  One study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that by eating just 16 strawberries per week, one can lower the amount of CRP in one’s bloodstream.  The high amount of fiber in strawberries can also help clear out intestines, resolving problems like constipation and diverticulitis, which is an inflammation of the intestines.

8. Build Strong Bones

The way dairy promotion boards advertise you’d think calcium is the only thing kids need to build strong bones (you’d also think milk is the only way to get it; that’s a post for another day!).  But to build a strong skeleton, kids need lots of other vitamins and minerals, too.  Strawberries contain three of these: magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K, which is especially likely to be deficient in breastfed infants.  Counteract this by giving kids foods high in vitamin K, like strawberries.

7. Promote Good Eye Health

Most of us cannot imagine life without the power of sight.  Did you know that you can lower your risk of macular degeneration by eating just three servings of fruit a day?  That’s only a cup and a half of strawberries!  The vitamin C in strawberries also helps protect our cornea and retina, and decreases the risk of developing cataracts.

6. Fight Cancer

Strawberries contain lots of antioxidants.  Most of us are familiar with vitamin C, but did you know strawberries also contain lutein and zeathancins? Antioxidants prevent oxidation from doing the damage to our cells that can later lead to cancer forming.  Strawberries also contain a phytochemical called ellagic acid that can suppress cancer growth.  One study showed, for instance, that taking strawberry powder as a supplement can help prevent oesophageal cancer.*

5. Improve Memory

Can strawberries make you smarter? Well, they can certainly improve your short term memory! According to a study published in The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, strawberries contain anthocyanins in their red coloring, which can improve short term memory by 100% in just 8 weeks.

4. Lose Weight

Are you looking to lose weight? Try burning up some of that stored fat you’ve got!  Strawberries can actually help with this.  According to The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, those anthocyanins I just mentioned can also help keep you slim.  In animal studies, animals with anthocyanins in their diet gained 24% less weight than animals who were fed a standard diet.  The nitrate compound strawberries contain also helps, by increasing blood flow and oxygen, which helps promote weight loss. And another thing: although strawberries are sweet, they are low in calories, too! One half-cup serving of sweet strawberries contains half your daily recommended value of vitamin C but only 28 calories, no fat, and no sodium.  They are high in fiber, too, which helps make you feel more full.  If you were looking for the perfect diet snack food, you’ve just found it.  Maintaining a healthy weight not only will help you look and feel better, but it will also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

3. Look Younger

The power of the vitamin C in strawberries simply cannot be emphasized enough.  It’s an important component of collagen, which helps keep skin elastic and youthful.  But that’s not all strawberries have to offer.  The ellagic acid I mentioned above also prevents both collagen destruction and inflammatory response – two of the main causes we get wrinkles as we age.  Strawberries also contain biotin, which we need to build strong nails and hair.

2. Heart Healthy

Help prevent cardiovascular disease  by eating strawberries.  Flavonoids, which give strawberries that mouth-watering flavor and tempting red color, as well as the ellagic acid I’ve been touting, are what is known as phytochemicals.  They help prevent heart disease by counteracting low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol, which is the bad cholesterol that causes plaque to build up in arteries, later causing heart attacks and strokes.  The antioxidant power of strawberries also comes into play by not only reducing blood lipids, but also by reducing oxidative damage, which can help prevent not only heart disease, but diabetes as well.**  (Incidentally, strawberries also help protect against diabetes because of their high fibre, which slows absorption of sugars implicated in type 2 diabetes.)  But the heart benefits of strawberries don’t stop there!  They also contain potassium which helps regulate blood pressure and can even help reduce high blood pressure by acting to balance the effects of sodium, which is found in almost every processed food today.  With kids being exposed to more sodium than ever, strawberries are the most delicious way I can think of to help protect kids’ hearts.

1. Pre-natal Health

Women today who are looking to conceive, who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding will want to make sure they are consuming enough folic acid.  Folic acid is essential for your baby to form a healthy brain, skull, and spinal cord.  Strawberries are a good source of folic acid and as such can help prevent certain birth defects, like spina bifida.

But in the end, perhaps the biggest selling point of strawberries is just that they taste great.  Those delicious, refreshing, sweet, bite-sized morsels of healthy energy are their own best advertisement.

*Chen T, Yan F, et. al, Randomized phase II trial of lyophilized strawberries in patients with dysplastic precancerous lesions of the esophagus. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2012 Jan;5(1):41-50. doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-11-0469. Epub 2011 Dec 1.

**Jenkins DJ, Nguyen TH, et. al., The effect of strawberries in a cholesterol-lowering dietary portfolio, Metabolism. 2008 Dec;57(12):1636-44. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.07.018.

Reusable Pouches: Great for Cheap, Healthy Snacking!

Reusable Pouches: Great for Cheap, Healthy Snacking!

Recently I bought my kids (or possibly myself) a new present.  Reusable pouches!

Pouches of pureed fruit, vegetables, and yogurt abound in the stores now.  They are so much better than the traditional jars of baby food or cups of applesauce because they create no mess, they are easy to just toss in a purse or bag on the go, and they don’t require a spoon.  The biggest problems I have with the store-bought ones are that they are quite expensive and I can’t control the ingredients.  The fact that they create a lot of garbage into our landfills also bothers me.

Little Green Pouch with ways to fill it

Reusable pouches accomplish the same benefits but without any of those pesky downsides.  The only difficult thing for some mums to consider is the added amount of time they add to your day.  After all, you have to create something to fill them with, fill them, and wash them.  But really, I don’t think this creates all that much extra work.  If you buy ones that are dishwasher safe (like the Little Green Pouch I bought) they won’t really create extra work for you.  And you can always fill them with something easy like extra smoothie.  Really, tossing an extra banana and handful of strawberries in your blender in the morning won’t take you more than a few seconds.  Plus, filling the pouches (if you get the right kind, like the Little Green Pouch) is really easy.  Fill them with a spoon, a funnel, or a small pitcher. Whatever is easiest for you.  The best part is that if you have extra you can fill the pouches and then store them in the freezer until you need them.

Little Green Pouch full and empty, with the yogurt and pureed fruit I put inside

Yesterday I tried them out for the first time.  Firstly, they are very easy to fill.  I filled some using a spoon so I could make a mix of homemade plain yogurt and pureed fruit.  My mom filled some with just pureed fruit by pouring it in from the glass jars I use to store extra smoothie.

Akiva drinking from his Little Green Pouch

I rarely buy the pre-made pouches in the store, so my toddler already recognizes them as a special treat.  So when I offered him one for the first time, I’m pretty sure he would have eaten it no matter what it contained, so excited he was.   In fact, I couldn’t stop him from sucking on it even long enough to tell me if he liked it.  I guess that’s a good review!  (When he was done, he asked if he could eat his brother’s!)

In the process of filling the Little Green Pouch

I’ve also tried washing one in the dishwasher and it came out perfectly clean.  They will last better and longer with hand washing, but I am a sucker for convenience and doing dishes is at the top of my list of things I’d rather avoid doing.

The Little Green Pouch

I also filled some with pureed fruit and popped them in the freezer, where they are happily awaiting future use.

I give the Little Green Pouch a big thumbs up and I’m looking forward to using them all the time!

Packing a Healthy Lunch (for a trip to the zoo!)

Packing a Healthy Lunch (for a trip to the zoo!)

We’re going to the zoo today!  My parents are visiting, so there will be 3 generations going to see the animals.  I can’t wait!  Our kids love seeing the animals and at our local zoo they are really well cared for.

But what to pack for lunch? Of course the kids will have breakfast before they go, but then they need morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack. (And probably another snack or two in there! My kids are good eaters.) We’re planning on doing a beach day later this week, too, so I’ll be packing a couple of meals for big outings this week. What to pack?

The most important thing is, of course, for it to be healthy! But I also want a few treats thrown in to make this zoo day with the grandparents even more fun (and also to have on hand in case I need to bribe them to behave or quiet them down – parenting tactics I’ll admit to using!).  So I need a good balance between healthy and tasty.

The first order of business is lunch. For my main course for the kids, I’ll turn to the trusty sandwich. Sandwiches are quite possibly the best on-the-go meal for kids (although banana-oat pancakes come in a close second!).  For my boys I’ve selected a whole grain black Russian bread.  I’ll admit it’s not homemade, but some day I will master the art of making it at home and I’ll tell you all about it!  I’ve decided on peanut butter sandwiches using 100% pure organic peanut butter.  I don’t want to use jam or jelly, as they are almost always full of sugar.  When I figure out a way to make one sugar-free, I’ll post that, too! Until then, my boys don’t mind a plain peanut butter sandwich, especially when it’s on black bread.  My toddler calls it “chocolate bread,” bless his heart!

If you're making a sandwich, be sure to pick the healthiest whole-grain bread you can find - choose one your kids enjoy. Today there are seemingly infinite options.  Then pick a healthy filling.  100% pure organic nut butter is great. Make sure the peanut butter you're using has only one ingredient: peanuts! Kids do not need salt, sugar, or oil added to their peanut butter. If your kids are allergic to peanuts, try almond butter. If they're allergic to nuts, consider a filling like coconut butter. Or, if you have Aussie kids like I do, Vegemite!

If you’re making a sandwich, be sure to pick the healthiest whole-grain bread you can find – choose one your kids enjoy. Today there are seemingly infinite options. Then pick a healthy filling. 100% pure organic nut butter is great. Make sure the peanut butter you’re using has only one ingredient: peanuts! Kids do not need salt, sugar, or oil added to their peanut butter. If your kids are allergic to peanuts, try almond butter. If they’re allergic to nuts, consider a filling like coconut butter. Or, if you have Aussie kids like I do, Vegemite!

With the sandwich out of the way, I had to consider a side dish and some snacks. Of course, fruit!  I keep a couple of apple slicer/corers handy so there’s always a (clean) one around when I’m looking for it.  Apples and pears can be sliced into easy-to-hold slices and with a sprinkle of lemon juice won’t brown. Apples are hard enough they won’t smush even in a ziplock bag, but softer fruits like pears need to go in a box or snack cup.  We use Munchkin Snack Catchers, Snack Cups, which, at just $6 for two of them, are worth far more to me than I paid for them.  I find them perfect for small, bite-sized fruits and veggies like berries or grape tomatoes.  Or for grapes. This weekend, I happened to get my hands on some gorgeous grapes, so dark they look almost black.  Just think of all the antioxidants they contain! And, best of all, my kids love them. Today’s snack is definitely going to be grapes.

Midnight black grapes

Now, I just have to fill out the rest of my snacking repertoire! In case the kids are extra hungry at lunch, I added some cheese omelet.  Omelets travel well and are delicious cold. They can also be cut into easy sizes for kids to hold and munch on.   Because we’re vegetarian and I don’t really like nuts (a taste I am slowly trying to acquire) we do tend to eat quite a lot of eggs as a main protein. I also put in some French toast, made with homemade raisin bread. That’s a treat! Instead of sweetening it as some people do, my mom adds a drop of pure vanilla essence, which has the effect of making it taste sweeter without actually being sweetened.  The raisins also add an element of sweetness.  For more special treats (and backup bribery), I also included some whole wheat sesame rings, 100% pure fruit leather, and a mozzarella stick.  Our kids get very little dairy but they love it, so for each of them half a cheese stick would be a fantastic treat.

A healthy kids' lunch for our trip to the zoo

Voila! A healthy lunch with lots of healthy snacks for eating all day long.  My kids will have plenty of energy and will be happy as can be. Now, I’m off to the zoo!