Getting your kids to eat healthy food can be a challenge, particularly in the summer.
It is more fun to squeeze in a dip at the beach before the kids’ soccer game than go home and slave in the kitchen to make dinner. Busy schedules can make it tempting to pull up to the drive-thru to fill those grumpy, hungry kids in the backseat.
After swimming the other day, my son broke down in the change room where the acoustics accentuated his roaring, wailing display of unhappiness. Out of the trusty cooler came two small reusable containers: a choice of cut cantaloupe or cheese and crackers. Both were immediately devoured. With a chuckle, one of the fathers in the change room leaned over and said, “Ah! He was ‘hangry’.”
Food affects children in a profound way. Low blood sugar can cause a child to misbehave or become ‘hangry’. Feeding them helps. However, be wary of what you feed them as the wrong food can have negative effects. When researchers at the University of California replaced the water of laboratory rats with a fructose syrup drink that is similar to soda pop, the rats were slower to complete their maze. When their brains were dissected it was apparent the sugar had disrupted synapses, which affected the ability of the brain to form memories.
Many studies have also found food affects mood. Fatty foods cause feelings of sluggishness and depression. Keeping kids fed can be a challenge when on the go, making a vending machine, drive-thru or other fast food a tempting solution for parents.
With a few tricks and some pre-planning, you can prevent having to endure ‘hangry’ behavior while feeding your kids food that promotes a happy mood.
Step 1: Equipment
Accomplishing any task is easier with the right equipment. Start with a cooler that’s the right size, durability and weight to meet your needs. Insulated Sippy cups are helpful at keeping your little one’s drinks cool in the summer heat. You can find insulated cups for older kids at sporting good stores. Most importantly stock up on lots of small, fun reusable containers – kids love eating little snacks that fit in their hands. Also, cutting foods into bite-sized pieces may keep your kids from fighting with each other, says research from Cornell University.
Step 2: Pre-Plan for a Fast Escape
Family summer fun is at its best when food is keeping your kids happy. With your trusty cooler, Sippy cups and little containers you can keep the kids happy and avoid “hangry” behaviour. When you have a few minutes in the kitchen (after dinner or on weekends) fill a large number of small reusable containers with bite-sized pieces of fruit, vegetables (bell peppers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, sugar snap peas, cucumbers) or cheese and store in the fridge for quick access. Do the same with crackers, nuts or dried fruit and store in the pantry. Before heading out the door, grab a handful of pre-filled containers, toss them in your cooler, fill up Sippy cups with ice and water and you’re off. It’s healthy food ready to go in two minutes!
Other easy foods to fill your containers include peeled hard-boiled eggs, hummus, and rinsed canned beans. (Beans? They are fun finger foods packed with fiber, protein and minerals). Don’t forget about nature’s most convenient on-the-go foods like apples, nectarines, pears and peaches -- simply wash and wrap in a napkin and you’re off.
Because We Are Not Perfect
Feeding your kids well is always a parents’ ultimate goal, but we are not perfect. Gaps in a child’s nutrition can occur for many reasons: picky eaters, dietary restrictions, high levels of activity or unhealthy on-the-go eating. As such, a multivitamin designed with kid’s unique needs in mind may be helpful. Fish oil supplements are great for kids who don’t get lots of omega-3s in their food. Vitamin D is helpful when kid’s experience cloudy or cold weather. If your kids scrunch their nose in disgust at dairy foods, broccoli and almonds, calcium supplements can fill this nutritional gap.
Best Choices at the Drive-Thru
Despite our best efforts, moments arise where kids are hungry and the cooler is empty. Carrying around a few pre-packaged snacks in your car or purse can be helpful. Some of the healthiest pre-packaged foods include unsalted nuts, squeezable applesauce packs, whole-wheat fig cookies and raisin boxes. But, if you absolutely have to hit the drive-thru try to avoid sugary drinks and choose food items closest to those you’d make at home, such as a whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese, salad, chili or a ham sandwich.