It can be overwhelming trying to work out what is and isn’t healthy when it comes to feeding your kids as packaging and marketing can be very misleading. But as parents, we want to make sure our kids are getting all the nutrition they need for their growing bodies and to support optimal development of those curious little brains! In this article, I will provide you with some healthy alternatives to some common foods that often sneak their way into lunchboxes…
Biscuits / Cakes / Doughnuts
We all know foods like these are full of sugar and unhealthy fats, and being highly refined means that they really are devoid of nutrition. They might fill a hungry tummy, but in the long run they aren’t going to give your child sustained energy or building blocks for growth. Pre-packaged versions also tend to come with a range of undesirable preservatives and additives (how else can something that was made 6 months ago still be classed as ‘fresh’?)
A good way around this is to try making a few things from scratch, in bulk, and freezing them in individual portions. This keeps you in control of the ingredients and you can minimize any undesirable additions. Having a stockpile of ready-made snacks that you can easily pull out of the freezer also makes life so much easier (I still do this when I can with a husband and 3 teenagers coming and going all the time). Aim to make something every few days or so (or schedule a Sunday cooking sesh) to keep up a rotating stockpile of goodies. Here are a few ideas:
- Pikelets made with almond meal, mashed banana, egg, a little honey, vanilla, and cinnamon
- Healthy Muffins (try this Spiced Breakfast Muffin recipe)
- Banana bread made with almond or spelt flour
For a sweet treat at home, or as a dessert alternative, you could also try:
- Apple slices with nut butter
- A couple of fresh dates
Most seemingly healthy bars like this are cleverly packaged and marketed to make us think that they are a healthy option for a snack. Unfortunately many of these kinds of products can be almost one-quarter (or even one-third) sugar. Next time you are in the supermarket, check on the label for the sugar content per 100g – if it is 10g or over, then you are looking at quite a bit of sugar! And most of us have realized that the ‘star rating’ system is not all it is cracked up to be. Instead, try these easy homemade options:
- Homemade nibble mix – mix your own selection of things like sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), dried apricots, sultanas, quinoa puffs, hazelnuts etc
- Refined sugar-free Chocolate coconut slice
Although most cereals tell you they contain added nutrients like calcium, protein, iron, etc., they are sadly still high in sugar, salt, and other additives, and devoid of many nutrients that are lost in processing (which is why they have to add them back in!). The form of these nutrients are not always the easiest for little bodies to absorb, either. The real ‘iron man food’ is actually – real food! Try these options:
- Plain rolled oat porridge is a nutritious (not to mention economical) alternative to pre-packaged cereals. Try adding flavoursome ingredients like grated apple and spices, dates, banana, sultanas, or berries to change things up a bit. Add some coconut oil or grass-fed butter for added nutrition.
- Chia pudding. Chia is an excellent source of good fats, fibre, protein, and other nutrients.
- Bircher muesli, or ‘overnight oats’. These are nutritious alternatives and as it is soaked overnight, its so easy for little tummies to digest. There are some fantastic variations that you can find with a quick Google search too!
- Find some further healthy breakfast ideas here
Party Pies / Sausage Rolls / Chicken Nuggets / Hot Chips
All of these options are full of unhealthy fats, way too much salt, additives, and are usually made with poor quality meats. My husband always says they use the ‘floor scrapings’ (which I’m sure isn’t quite true, but may be a little too close for comfort). Try some of these alternatives for a much tastier, healthier option:
- Chicken drumsticks (marinated and baked are quite nice)
- Veggie frittata
- Homemade Turkey meatballs
- Roasted veggie chips (sweet potato, parsnip, etc. cut into chips & baked in the oven)
- Corn on the cob with a pinch of sea salt and grass-fed butter
Packet Chips / Crackers
Much like the hot version, packet chips (and other forms of crackers), are also full of damaging types of fats, salt, and additives. Try these instead:
- Homemade popcorn with pinch of sea salt and grass-fed butter
- Nibble mix (as above)
- Brown rice crackers or veggie sticks and dips like hummus, cottage cheese, or homemade guacamole
Lollies and Jelly
It’s obvious that lollies are full of sugar, but they also contain an array of artificial colours and flavours that can wreak havoc on kid’s bodies. Instead, try the following:
- Colourful fruit cut up. Drizzle with a little honey if added sweetness is required.
- Dried fruit. Mix with some raw nuts and seeds to lower the total sugar content and provide some protein, fibre, and good fats. If you can, avoid dried fruit that has preservatives (usually listed as sulphites) and sugar/vegetable oil added.
Most kids are eating way too much white bread these days, and while easy toppings like spreads or jam may be convenient on a busy morning, they aren’t going to be great for your child’s health in the long run. Cut down their white bread consumption and boost their nutrient intake with these healthy swaps:
- Wholegrain rice cakes with natural cheese and tomato
- A picking plate with natural cheese, chopped fruit and veg, raw nuts and seeds
- Rice, buckwheat, and quinoa ready-to-go pouches mixed with bone broth for flavour. Add tuna, veggies, or whatever else you like!
- Hard-boiled eggs
Ice Cream / Milkshakes / Flavoured Milk / Flavoured Yoghurt
These options are also full of sugar artificial flavours, colours and additives. Surprisingly, while many parents buy yoghurt thinking it is a healthy snack, the sugar content may be higher than you realise.
- For a healthy, dairy-free and added sugar-free alternative to ice cream, freeze some ripe bananas then blend frozen bananas until smooth. Serve immediately.
- Greek yoghurt (use coconut yoghurt if your child doesn’t tolerate dairy) with cinnamon, honey, banana, and/or sprinkle of chia seeds or hazelnuts
- Chia puddings
Soft Drinks / Juice / Cordials
It’s well known that these options contain large amounts of sugar, and kids often prefer them to be more concentrated than is ideal! In addition, they also often contain preservatives, flavours and colours. Instead, try filtered or sparkling water flavoured with some natural fruit juice, or fresh lemon and honey.