Healthy Choices for Kids – Tips & Snack Recipes

healthy choices With Every Kid Healthy™ week coming up (April 22-26) and the Y’s Healthy Kids Day® (April 30th), we recognize the importance of encouraging students to make healthy choices and understand nutrition. A great way to do this is through cooking classes and introducing healthy snacks that kids can try and even make. Chef Rita Neal from Growing Great Schools has shared some great recipes and tips on how to help students eat healthier.

As a professionally trained chef one of my greatest joys is being in the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes. Over the past several months I have been focusing most of my experimentation on recipes that appeal to kids. Five years ago a group of parents and I helped start a nonprofit called Growing Great Schools (GGS). Its mission is to create a culture of wellness by connecting food, health and the environment. GGS is committed to transforming schools and communities. Like “Every Kid Healthy™ – a national movement to make all schools healthier places”, one of the ways Growing Great Schools does this is by offering getCOOKing, a program that teaches kids and teens how to cook. In addition, getCOOKing focuses on where food actually comes from, why it’s important to eat local, seasonal foods and food traditions.

When my young students come to class at the end of their school day they are anxious to get started and especially to get tasting. Lunch is a distant memory at that point and they are hungry. It makes it highly likely that they will taste whatever we are cooking, whether it is brussel sprout salad or black bean tacos. I am also the mother of two school aged girls, which gives me ample cred to go on for hours about the hunger they report upon seeing them after school. Their first words to me, whether meeting in the car, at the ball field or off the bus, are “I’m starving!” I have retired my speech about how they are not even near starving, that starving is severe malnourishment, that they are merely hungry. By then they are HANGRY… oops…wrong move, you do not want females 11 and/or 14 years old hangry. That is serious.

I have learned that it is in everyone’s best interest to keep things in the refrigerator or freezer to pull out with little or no preparation needed. My normal go to is: apple slices, red pepper slices, carrot sticks, celery sticks, sliced cheese (cheddar), clementines, edamamae (always in pods) frozen, nuts, pistachios and cashews are favorites in our house, the banana goes in and out of favor, strawberries and mangos are always a hit. Variety is key, tastes change due to the season, mood swings and other unseen forces. The above list is what I think of as “fast food.” There are times when something more substantial is necessary. I have a few tried and true recipes that have passed muster not only on my kiddos but also with the kids that have taken my getCOOKing classes. One favorite is the seedy Granola bar. I use mostly nut free ingredients due to nut allergies in but since my kiddos are not nut sensitive we go with the peanut butter option. These are sweet, chewy, packed with flavor, kids universally love them, and they are filling, have protein, fat, fiber, & minerals. I like to use pumpkin seeds (pepitas) for their outstanding nutrition, lower price and, no need to chop! Another great feature of these is they do not need baking! So fast and easy.

Granola Barshealthy choices children

  • 1 cup packed pitted prunes
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup sun nut butter or peanut butter
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  1. Process prunes in a food processor until it forms a dough like ball on the side of processor.
  2. You may toast the oats for 10 minutes in a 325F oven, this step is not mandatory but I like the flavor.
  3. Warm honey and peanut butter.
  4. Place prunes, oats, honey & peanut butter mixture, pumpkin seeds, vanilla and cinnamon into a large bowl. Mix everything together making sure the prune mixture gets distributed, I find that the best way to do this is with my hands.
  5. Transfer to an 8×8 dish and press down firmly until uniformly flattened. Cover and let set in the refrigerator or freezer if in a hurry for about 15-20 minutes. I like to cut and wrap individual bars and store in fridge or freezer for ready to go snacking.

Kids love to dip veggies and what better way to have our kids eat veggies than complimented by some dip made of beans. Beans are so under appreciated and such a nutritional rock star! The pairing of veggies and a tasty white bean dip makes my heart sing! Once again this recipe has brought a room of 15 children to a quiet stand still after serving! Try serving with an unusual vegetable such as jicama or purple carrots to really make it interesting. I also bake corn tortillas until crisp and serve with the bean dip.

White Bean Hummus

  • 1 can white beans or 13/4 cup cooked beans
  • 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoons chopped garlic
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or more to taste
  1. Drain and rinse white beans. Place all the ingredients in a blender, food processor or use a stick blender.
  2. Blend all ingredients until very smooth, taste and add salt or pepper to taste.

There are times, mainly in the dead of summer that I will indulge the kiddos with some frozen treat. We may do smoothies but if the bananas that I bought have gone out of fashion I may just peel, cut, dip and freeze. These are the biggest hit of all!

Frozen Banana slices

  • 2 bananas
  • 1 1/2 oz chocolate
  • 1/4 cup chopped salted peanuts or any nuts you have on hand (optional)
  1. Peel bananas and cut into 4-5 chunks depending on the size desired
  2. Bring a few inches of water to a boil in a small pot
  3. Place chocolate in a bowl that is large enough to fit over a small pot without touching the water, melt chocolate over the simmering water until almost all melted
  4. Remove the bowl with chocolate from the pot and stir until smooth.
  5. Have the nuts (if using) chopped and in a small bowl
  6. Dip about 1/2 of the slice of banana into the melted chocolate then in the peanuts.

Place on a plate or sheet pan and place in the freezer. When frozen I will place into a freezer bag and these keep for a month.

With opportunities like getCOOKing, we can help students change their eating habits and promote healthy choices. Growing Great Schools is also part of the Chefs Move to Schools program, so they can educate students with cooking demonstrations and tastings and create healthier lunch menus.

Check out the cooking classes offered by Growing Great Schools, right here in Connecticut!

Learn more about Action For Healthy Kids’ Every Kid Healthy™ and the YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day®!

About Growing Great Schools:

healthy choices studentsGrowing Great Schools inspires communities to create a culture of wellness by connecting food, health and the environment. The vision of Growing Great Schools is to empower students and their families to become active participants in their nutritional and physical health, while caring for the planet. We aim to live in a world that is free of food insecurity by creating opportunities for families to connect to sustainable food sources. Growing Great Schools seeks to ensure that all students have access to local, healthy food, and food education, sustainable gardening, and physical activity. We emphasize the connections between food, physical literacy and social/emotional wellness as a part of thriving community.

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