7 tips for helping children eat healthy snacks

Are cookies and milk the only after-school snack your kids will eat? Here are some ideas for encouraging healthier foods and alternatives to sweet treats.

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  • Growing up, nothing was better than arriving home from school and smelling freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. We would race to the kitchen and swipe as many as we could before being ushered outside to play. But cookies weren't the only treat offered to us. My siblings and I learned to love fresh raspberries, garden tomatoes and celery sticks, too!

  • If you want to encourage your children to eat healthier snacks on a regular basis, here are some tips to try:

  • 1. Grow a garden

  • Planting, tending and harvesting food from your own garden is a surefire way to try new foods. One year, we planted tomatillo plants and had fresh tomatillo sauce all summer. Sending children out to the garden to snip fresh herbs for potato salad or pizza, pick lettuce for tossed salad, or pull tomatoes off the vine for sandwiches are great ways to try what you've grown and help kids take ownership of their hard work.

  • 2. Presentation is everything

  • Sure, a bag of carrots is great, but pulling them out of the bag, chopping, and serving them on a plate makes them more fun to eat! Get a favorite mug for hot soup. Serve apples in a red bowl. Make food appealing!

  • 3. Start cooking

  • Many adults eat out because they just don't know how to cook. Don't let your kids fall into this trap. Show them the basics of chopping, sauteing and grilling. Let them experiment with different spices. Go through recipe books, or get on the Internet, then help them choose a new recipe to try during the week.

  • 4. Make your own menu

  • Along with cooking, let your kids help you come up with menus. They may want burgers for dinner, but they can also decide on the side dish to go with those burgers. Teach them about carbohydrates, proteins and fats and the need for balance in meals. Read food labels, talk about portion sizes and encourage healthy alternatives to processed food. Walk through the produce section of any grocery store and find a new fruit or vegetable to try alongside your regular snacks.

  • 5. Practice manners

  • There are times when we all get served something we just don't like. That's OK! Teach kids the importance of trying new things, being complimentary to the chef, and how to politely say, "No, thank you."

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  • 6. Look to your family tree for new foods

  • Find a few special foods from your ancestors' homeland and make them for your family. One of our sons developed a love for poffertjes — delicious Dutch popover pancakes — while visiting relatives in the Netherlands. Use holiday traditions to make a special treat by serving foods not normally used in your everyday cooking.

  • 7. Have fun!

  • For younger children, serve snacks in their favorite color. If they are learning about the number two, encourage them to take two bites of everything. Our older boys love making creative smoothies and throwing in different fruits and protein powders each time. Make snack-time fun!

  • Snacking on cookies, candy and chips is taking the easy way out. By encouraging your kids to experience the huge array of different foods available to them, you're opening up their eyes, and especially their taste buds, to a whole new world. This week, pick a healthy food your kids have never tried and serve it to them as a snack.

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Ann Hoole has been married for over 20 years to a great guy and is the mother of four boys. 

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