During the school year, you’ve got feeding your kids down to a science. Whether your habits involve school breakfasts, packed lunchboxes or afternoon snacks, you know exactly what you’re doing. It’s a well-honed system, right?
But then summer hits.
And all of those habits get tossed out the window. Whether you’re a working parent struggling to feed your kids on a typical schedule while you juggle your workload and home life, or a stay-at-home parent who can’t seem to keep the pantry stocked as the kids mount an ongoing offensive for more snacks, it’s tough. And sometimes, it seems like no one’s winning.
Take a deep breath, mom or dad.
You can assuage those constant snack demands without breaking the bank or expending more effort than necessary. But to do that, you need a collection of quick and easy summertime snack ideas to see you through each day.
Lucky for you, we’ve got you covered.
The best munchies are the ones that appeal to your kids while also delivering plenty of health benefits. Here are six tasty ideas to get you started.
Second Breakfast: Whole Wheat Muffins
We know the phrase “whole wheat muffins” sounds about as exciting as brushing your teeth, but hear us out.
If your kids are begging for more food shortly after breakfast, you’re not alone. Over summer break, children seem to develop a second stomach just for breakfast foods. You can prepare for this inevitability by keeping a supply of healthy muffins in the freezer. And those muffins need not be boring.
There are three keys to a healthy muffin recipe:
- Use whole grain flour, like 100% whole wheat or oat flour.
- Keep the sugar content low and the fats on the better-for-you end of the fat spectrum.
- Include a heaping handful of fruit.
Tastes Better From Scratch offers a recipe for Healthy Applesauce Oat Muffins that fit the bill and may please even picky eaters. These muffins are made with rolled oats and whole wheat flour. With applesauce and raisins, they include two types of fruit. And baking with applesauce means that you don’t need to use too much sugar or oil.
There’s a bit of cinnamon in the recipe, too, and you could also sprinkle more on top. Research links cinnamon to improvements in blood sugar and cholesterol. Plus, there’s evidence that cinnamon may help with appetite suppression. That’s music to the ears of any parent who’s tired of the constant “Snack, please!” chorus.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your whole grain muffins, either. Mix up the mix-ins, try different types of nutritious flours or fats, and offer various nut butter spreads to go with them for added protein.
Salty: Flavored Popcorn
There’s something about the combination of salt and crunch that kids just can’t resist. Potato chips are a favorite, but they’re anything but healthy. Plus, kids can inhale a few dollars’ worth of chips in a matter of minutes.
When your kids crave a crunchy, salty snack, opt for air-popped popcorn instead. A whole grain treat, popcorn is loaded with fiber. It’s also rich in antioxidants and is great at filling kids up. (And maybe best of all, it’s cheap!)
What you don’t want to do is overload your kids’ popcorn with excess butter and salt. These common additions can outweigh the health benefits.
You don’t have to serve it plain, though. Mom Junction suggests 10 popcorn varieties that keep the butter and salt to a minimum without compromising on flavor. Varieties include Peanut Butter and Jelly Popcorn, Garlic Oil and Parmesan Popcorn, and Coconut and Almond Popcorn, among others.
One word of caution: popcorn can be a choking hazard, particularly for toddlers and babies. Health experts advise that kids should be at least 4 years old before trying this snack.
Hearty: Meat and Cheese Rollups
On days when your children are busy splashing in the pool, it can be challenging to get them to sit down for a midday meal. Even still, you need to load them up with enough calories to hold them over until dinner. Hearty finger foods that they can grab on the go may be the solution to your summertime lunch woes.
A meat and cheese snack will give kids the protein they need for getting through the day. To make easy-to-eat rollups, chop low-fat string cheese sticks in half. Then, wrap a slice of lunch meat around each cheese stick.
Worried about relying too heavily on the deli counter? Look for better varieties. Cleveland Clinic recommends selecting lunch meat that’s nitrate-free and low in sodium. They also suggest opting for varieties that are low in fat, such as turkey, chicken or lean ham.
If you want to round out the nutritional profile of this snacky meal, consider these Apple Cheese Wraps from Weelicious. The recipe calls for slices of cheese instead of sticks, and it adds a sliver of apple to each rollup. Coating each apple in lemon juice prevents browning so you can prepare this snack ahead of time.
Frozen: Banana “Nice Cream”
There’s no doubt that kids love the jingle of an ice cream truck, but its frozen novelties aren’t the healthiest.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to replicate the consistency of ice cream with frozen bananas, a treat that’s sometimes called “nice cream.” Just puree a few frozen bananas in a food processor with your add-ins of choice for a summer treat that kids can’t resist.
Pro tip? Make sure you let the fruit get nice and ripe before you freeze it.
Chocolate Covered Katie offers step-by-step instructions as well as 10 variations on the basic recipe if you’re looking for new inspiration.
Not only is banana soft serve lower in fat and sugar than regular ice cream, but it also offers a healthy dose of nutrients. You may know this fruit for its high potassium content. Other key benefits include fiber, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.
Pre-Dinner Munching: Veggies & Dip
You’re in the middle of dinner prep, but your kids are starving right now. Sound familiar?
The last thing you want is for them to fill up on junk, but you don’t have time to stop and prepare a healthy treat. In anticipation of their inevitable pre-dinner whining, keep healthy veggies and dip ready for self service.
Kid-friendly raw vegetables include: baby carrots, pepper strips, cucumber slices and celery sticks. Your crew might also like broccoli florets, zucchini spears or quartered radishes.
Have these veggies washed, cut and stored in the refrigerator so your kids can grab a handful whenever hunger pains strike. Since vegetables are incredibly nutritious and typically low calorie, you won’t mind too much if your children fill up before the main course.
Opt for dips that pack a nutritional punch, too. Super Healthy Kids has a veggie dip recipe that will keep in the refrigerator for four days and uses Greek yogurt as the base. Compared to sour cream, Greek yogurt contains fewer calories, less fat and more protein.
For an even healthier dip, offer homemade salsa. This condiment is loaded with veggie power, and it’s a great way to use up a bumper crop of homegrown tomatoes. Mind over Munch offers a mild salsa recipe that’s just right for sharing with kids.
Bedtime: Cherry Smoothie
Summer schedules can wreak havoc on your kids’ sleep routines. With evening swims, baseball games, firefly catching and fireworks displays, it’s easy to get into the habit of staying up too late night after night.
Eventually, though, your kids are going to hit a wall. Turning in early one evening may help them reset.
Unfortunately, overly tired kids often have a hard time winding down for the sleep they so desperately need. A rest-inducing smoothie could be the magic potion they need to lull them toward dreamland.
Cherries and walnuts both contain the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. Walnuts also provide tryptophan, the amino acid that’s famously associated with post-dinner Thanksgiving naps. Milk provides additional tryptophan, and its calcium content encourages muscle relaxation.
Finally, remember to keep your kids hydrated this summer. Children can easily confuse the signs of thirst with hunger pains. If they’re not draining their water bottles, they may come begging for even more snacks than normal. Well-hydrated kids will feel better and keep their eating in check, too.