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Eating Healthy on the Go: Quick Foods Kids Will Love

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 25, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Hot, home cooked meals ... just the thought of hearty food brings backmemories of mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes or chicken noodle casserole. Butmany weight-conscious families are frequently on the go and eating meals in ahurry. Unfortunately for many American families, this translates into eatingpackaged and processed foods and doing the fast food drive-through more often.So how can your family focus on weight loss when you’re on the go?

When meals and snacks are prepared at home, parents can providenutrient-rich, whole foods and de-emphasize packaged and processed foods highin saturated fat and sodium and low in fiber. But most families today havesuper-busy schedules.  So how can you have the best of both worlds? With asmartly stocked kitchen and some new tips and ideas to try, your family canhave healthy and homemade meals and snacks AND eat on the run, too!

Good Nutrition: A Family Affair

Good nutrition is an activity the whole family can be involved in. If yourchildren are helping you cook and shop for a healthy, homemade meal or snack,they are more likely to want to try it and like it. Cooking is also a terrificalternative to television and video games. Some ideas to get your kids involvedinclude:

  • Kids love to cook, and they start showing an interest around the age of 2.Start them off with tasks like scrubbing vegetables clean with brush and somewater, tearing lettuce, snapping the ends off green beans, and dipping foodsinto dips or sauces. By age 3 they can usually begin pouring and hand mixing,shaking, and spreading. 4-year-olds can try to peel, roll, and mash food, while5-year-olds can begin to measure, cut with a plastic knife, and grate cheese orvegetables (using a square upright grater with supervision).
  • Many favorite foods, such as muffins, waffles, pancakes, and biscuits, canbe mixed with a spoon or whisk instead of using the electric mixer. This way,even younger children can help.
  • Have children learn to measure and pour by setting your ingredients andmeasuring cups on a jelly roll pan. The jelly roll pan catches any flying flouror splashing liquids, which is a breeze to clean compared to your floor andkitchen counter.
  • A great way to get children interested in eating fruits and vegetables isto let them help you in the produce section. Even little hands can pick outapples, oranges, pears, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, and corn on the cob,avocados, and more.
  • Take your child to your local farmer’s market so they can celebrate thefreshness and flavor of in-season fruits and vegetables.

The top health concerns for today’s youth are the rising rates of obesityand diabetes. Many nutrition experts would argue that this epidemic is fueled,at least in part, by the typical American diet, which relies heavily onprocessed and fast food. For American teens, the proportion of calories thatcome from fast food or restaurants tripled between the late 1970s and the late1990s to a whopping 19.3%, and this number continues to rise.

The fast food frenzy isn’t exactly promoting higher levels of health.According to data from a recent USDA survey, the higher the intake of fastfood, the less likely the teens were to meet recommendations for threenutrient-rich food groups: fruit, vegetables, and milk. The American DieteticAssociation has expressed concern about the inadequate intake of foods rich inimportant nutrients in children, such as calcium, fiber, folate, and potassium,and concern about the excessive intake of dietary fat and saturated fat.

How can your family enjoy meals on the go while avoiding drive-through fare?Try these quick and nutritious options when you’re in a hurry instead:

5 Quick Snacks on the Go

  • For older children, raw veggies (such as baby carrots, cauliflower orbroccoli florets, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, jicama sticks) are fun to eatand travel well in a plastic bowl or bag.
  • A colorful fruit salad is only a few chops away. Fruits just sitting in thefruit bowl or hiding in the crisper can be quickly cut up into bite size piecesand tossed together in a plastic bowl or bag, but don’t forget the fork!
  • A crunchy green salad can be tossed together in a couple of minutes usingbags of pre-washed romaine lettuce or spinach leaves and other foods you mighthave ready to go in your refrigerator and pantry. Toss in cherry tomatoes,shredded carrots, cheese cubes, sliced cucumber, dried fruit, or sunflowerseeds for color and variety. Just add your salad ingredients to a plastic bowlwith a lid, drizzle your desired dressing over the top, pop on the lid, andshake. It can be eaten in the car or on the sidelines at soccer games, and whenyour child is finished, just pop the lid on until it returns to your kitchensink.
  • Peanut butter makes snacking fun when it is paired with apples, bananas, orcelery or spread on a whole-wheat bagel or toasted whole-wheat Englishmuffin.
  • Turn yogurt into frozen yogurt by popping a couple cups or tubes of yogurtinto the freezer for easy grabbing.

 

5 Quick Meals on the Go

  • Five minutes is all you need for your child to make a bagel pizza usingwhole-wheat bagels cut in half, bottled pizza sauce, BBQ sauce or pesto,shredded reduced-fat cheese, and assorted toppings. Set the bagel half on apiece of foil, let your children assemble their personal pizza, and pop it intothe toaster for a couple minutes.
  • Make a bean burrito by spreading canned fat-free or vegetarian refriedbeans over a whole-grain flour tortilla and top with shredded cheese and salsa.Fold it up; place it on a paper towel or microwave-safe plate, and microwavefor a quick minute.
  • Make a sandwich wrap by spreading mustard, pesto, or light ranch sauce on awhole-grain flour tortilla. Layer with lean, thinly sliced meat such as turkeybreast, roast beef, or ham, then slices of cheese and thinly sliced vegetables(such as cucumbers, spinach leaves, or tomatoes). Roll the tortilla up, wrap itin a piece of foil or a paper towel, and it’s perfectly portable.
  • A green salad can become a meal by adding roasted or grilled chicken orsteak, beans or tofu, or cooked fish or shellfish.
  • Microwave nachos can be assembled on a microwave-safe dish or bowl bytopping a bed of lower-fat whole-grain tortilla chips with canned fat-free orvegetarian refried beans, shredded leftover chicken or lean grilled beef (ifdesired), shredded reduced-fat cheese, chopped tomatoes, and/or green onions.Microwave for one minute, then add salsa and fat-free or light sour cream asdesired.

 

Quick and Easy Recipes

Try these easy recipes for quick, healthy meals for your family.

Main Dish Recipes

Personal Pita Pizza

Ingredients:

1 whole wheat pita bread pocket (do not split open)

Sauce of choice (1 tablespoon pesto or BBQ sauce or 2 tablespoons pizzasauce)

1/3 cup shredded reduced-fat mozzarella cheese or a combination ofreduced-fat cheddar and mozzarella, firmly packed

Possible garden toppings: chopped green onion, sliced mushrooms, choppedbell peppers, chopped tomatoes, sliced zucchini, minced garlic

 

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees or toaster oven to 350 degrees. Place pitapocket on a piece of foil or toaster oven baking sheet.
  2. Spread sauce of choice over the top of the pita and sprinkle the shreddedcheese evenly over the top.  Add your desired garden toppings.
  3. Bake for about 8 minutes in a big oven or 4 to 6 minutes in a toaster oven(watch carefully so it doesn’t burn).

Yield: Makes one pita pizza

Nutritional Analysis per serving (using pizza sauce and 1/4 cup choppedassorted vegetables): 288 calories, 18 g protein, 40 g carbohydrate, 6.5 g fat,3.8 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 6 g fiber, 660 mg sodium. Calories fromfat: 20 percent.

 

Mini Corn Dog Muffins

To reduce the risk of choking for children under the age of 2, use finelychopped hot dogs instead of 1-inch pieces. These corn dog muffins can befrozen. For a quick dinner, just pop them into the microwave for a minute tothaw and warm up!

 

Ingredients:

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk (fat-free half-and-half can alsobe used)

1 large egg, higher omega-3 if available (1/4 cup egg substitute can beused)

1 tablespoon canola oil

Canola cooking spray

4 light or lower-fat frankfurters or meatless franks (such as light BallPark)

 

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray eight muffin cups generously with canolacooking spray. 
  2. In medium size bowl, combine the first five ingredients. Using a whisk,stir in the buttermilk, egg, and canola oil, mixing until smooth.
  3. Cut each hot dog into about 6 pieces (each about 1-inch long). Spoon ascant 1/4-cup of batter into each prepared muffin cup. Place 3 hot dog piecesinto each muffin cup.
  4. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until cooked through. Serve with mustard orcatsup for dipping if desired.

Yield: Makes 8 muffins

Nutritional Analysis per muffin: 156 calories, 6 g protein, 17 gcarbohydrate, 7 g fat, 2.2 g saturated fat, 37 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 343mg sodium. Calories from fat: 40 percent.

Snack Recipes

Blueberry & Yogurt Parfait

Ingredients:

1/2 cup plain nonfat or low-fat yogurt (vanilla yogurt can be used if asweeter yogurt is desired)

1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of ground cinnamon

1/4 cup frozen or fresh blueberries (substitute other fruit if desired)

1/4 cup high-fiber granola (such as Kashi Summer Berry Granola, Go LeanCrisp! Toasted Berry Crumble)

 

Preparation:

  1. In small bowl combine yogurt, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Gently stir inthe blueberries.
  2. Spoon half of the yogurt and fruit mixture into a plastic cup. Sprinkle 1/8cup of granola over the top.
  3. Spoon the remaining yogurt and fruit mixture into the cup and top with theremaining 1/8-cup of granola. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and keep inrefrigerator until ready to eat. Eat within a few hours if possible.

Yield: Makes 1 snack serving

Nutritional Analysis per serving (using Kashi Summer Berry Granola): 207calories, 10 g protein, 32 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 1.7 g saturated fat, 7 mgcholesterol, 4.5 g fiber, 161 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 22 percent.

 

Crunch & Munch Snack Mix

(Not recommended for children under the age of 2 because of the presence ofnuts and the risk of choking.)

 

Ingredients:

2 cups crunchy low-sugar, high-fiber breakfast cereal (such as Barbara’sBakery Cinnamon Puffins, Fiber One’s Caramel Delight, or Frosted Mini WheatCinnamon Streusel)

1/2 cup dried fruit of choice (such as cranberries, raisins, blueberries,cherries) or freeze dried fruit (such as strawberries and pineapple)

1/2 cup roasted unsalted or lightly salted nuts

 

Preparation:

  1. Set out four snack-size sealable bags or plastic containers.
  2. Spoon 1/2 cup of the cereal into each bag or container. Spoon 2 tablespoonseach of the dried fruit and nuts into each bag or container. Seal bags orplastic containers and shake gently to mix up the mixture.

Yield: Makes 4 snack servings (about 3/4 cup each)

Nutritional Analysis per serving (using Fiber One Caramel Delight, raisinsand almonds): 257 calories, 6 g protein, 38 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat, 0.7 gsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4.5 g fiber, 130 mg sodium. Calories from fat:35 percent.

Note: Each serving contains 2.5 grams polyunsaturated fat and 6.7 gramsmonounsaturated fat.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Journal of the American Dietetic Association, June 2008; vol 108: pp 1038-1047.

Preventive Medicine, 2002; vol 35: pp 107-113.

Journal of the American Dietetic Association, February 2009; vol 109: pp 226-235.

Nutritional analysis was performed using ESHA Research’s Food Processor SQL.

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