I’ve written about family mealtime in the past, and have supported the idea of “eating together is better” since the late 1990s. Since we know sitting down to eat together supports the physical and emotional growth of children – but consumer data is showing that snacks are often making up 40-60% of people’s eating occasions – perhaps we should combine these thoughts?
How about letting go of all of the pressure to have more meals together during the week, and start a new tradition – Family Snack Time!
- Choose a time of the day to get your family together
- Plan an easy, healthy snack
- Involve the children in planning the snack
Pick the Best Times, on the Best Days
Life is busy when you are raising children. With different schools, different extracurricular activities, different work schedules, it can be challenging to all come together on the same time each day. Take a day off to think about everyone’s schedule and determine which days and times will work best for convening in the kitchen at home. This may be a Tuesday morning at 7am, or a Thursday night at 7pm. Maybe you can meet up every night at 7:30pm. Or maybe your teens have time alone at home from 3:30 to 5:00pm when they could prep their own healthy snack.
Whatever time or day, choose a few during the week, when the pressure of planning and preparing a meal is off, and you’ll simply have a great snack together.
Planning Better Snacks
While you may be worrying about meal time, and grocery shopping for it, don’t forget about snack planning. Consumer data suggests that eating patterns are changing. If half of Americans are snacking, with many replacing meals with snacks, it’s then important to make those snacks count. As snacks become more appealing as meal replacements, more healthy options come onto the market. Overall, consumers are choosing healthier packaged snacks, more fruits and vegetables, and smaller portions, than five years ago. This is good news!
The food industry uses consumer market surveys to decide which direction to go. I had the opportunity to sample a new snack created by iconic bean company Bush’s, who has decided to follow the snack trend with some healthy snacks of their own, including roasted chickpeas (A funny side note – years ago I wrote an article titled Beans are Good Food. It is one of my most successful posts to date). These low sugar, crunchy snacks offer up 5 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber per ounce.
Kids, We’re Having Snacks for Dinner
Families are busier than ever. Relinquish the pressure of family meal time by substituting healthy snacks instead. Make some weeknight “dinners” into snacks. Think of them as mini-meals. You still can sit together and enjoy them as a family, but in less time and with less stress. You can serve these at a dining table or on TV trays or the coffee table. The important thing is to prepare them and enjoy them together.
Involve the children in planning the snack using the following 3 guidelines: 1) It has to include a fruit or vegetable, 2) it has to be made from “real food” (yet potato chips aren’t a great choice), 3) it has to be the right size or amount. In addition to healthy packaged snacks, do continue with the trend to include fruits and vegetables for snack time. While some single-serving packaged foods clearly “look like” a snack, other packaged items can help keep things quick and available during your busy week. If you find that snacks fit into your diet better than meals here are some other convenient snack ideas that can turn a snack into a family meal:
- Plain Greek yogurt topped with flax seed granola and unsweetened canned peaches.
- Flavored tuna or salmon pouches. Adding herbs and spices to tried and true foods can make them more appealing and add variety to your eating experience. Let everyone choose a flavored pouch, and add a plate of raw veggies and whole grain crackers to the table to eat along with it.
- Nuts and nut bars. Look for bars that are low in sugar and contain nuts. Be careful however, some “nutrition bars” are really glorified candy bars.
- Sometimes you really want a chip right? Instead of regular potato chips, try some of the baked chips or a tortilla chip. Bush’s is launching a new Bean Chip that has similar calorie and fat numbers to tortilla chips, but with twice the protein and four times the fiber (and they taste great). Serve these along with a bean dip or salsa and some carrot sticks. Add a glass of milk or sparkling water.
- Sit down together, and enjoy bowl of cereal. You can’t beat the nutrition in a bowl of ready-to-eat cereal. Most are fortified with iron, vitamins and minerals, and many contain whole grains (a great source of fiber). Look for 3 grams of fiber or more, and 10 grams or less of sugar. Create a “cereal buffet bar” for dinner. Set out 3-4 types of healthy cereal. Include calcium and protein-rich low fat milk, and offer sliced bananas, fresh blueberries, or canned peaches for toppings and extra nutrition.
- Sit at the coffee table with Cheesy Toast. Top slices of bread with slices of cheese and toast in the toaster oven until the cheese melts. Cut them into triangles and serve these slices along with apple or pear slices and a glass of milk.
Bush Beans provided me with free samples of their new snack products, but did not pay for this post. My thoughts and opinions here are my own.