Treat Yourself to a Mini-Meal

With two kids under five, being caught without a pre-planned snack is dangerous. It’s vital to avoid having hungry kids, a hangry mom, and an unsuitable snack.

Growing children clearly need to eat every few hours, and some of us adults also fare better with more frequent, smaller meals. If you experience a mid-afternoon lull, inability to focus, physical exhaustion and cravings for sugar, chocolate or caffeine, these symptoms are telling you that your blood sugar is low. Your body and brain need a boost. You think you want a brownie or a second latte to energize your cells. 

Better to think about snacks as mini-meals. Snacks in lunch bags, gym bags and backpacks should be as well balanced as breakfast, lunch and dinner, complete with plenty of nutrients.

Pre-packaged and prepared snacks typically lack beneficial nutrients and are loaded with refined carbohydrates, such as white flours and sugars, which spike blood sugar, elevate cholesterol, and turn to fat when eaten in excess. We all know these items – shelf-stable candy, baked goods, and such.

A “well balanced” snack is a smallish portion that contains carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and/or grains, plus quality proteins and essential fats to stabilize the carbs. One of my all time, versatile favorites is hummus and veggies. The hummus can be made traditionally with extra virgin olive oil (fat), tahini and garbanzo beans (proteins), or varied with black or cannellini beans. Veggies (carbohydrates) to dip could be as simple as carrots, celery and tomatoes, or as exotic as feta, olives and roasted asparagus.

Kids love dipping, so hummus and veggies are great for them, too, especially when they help make the hummus and choose their dipper veggies. This colorful combo stabilizes blood sugar, regulates metabolism and sustains us for longer periods of time. And, trust me, veggies are cheaper than potato chips.

Ants-on-a-log is another timeless well-balanced snack, including protein and fats (nut butter) with carbohydrate (celery and raisins). Try replacing logs with “stumps” (sliced bananas) and ants with “bugs” (dried berries).

Stock a snack drawer accessible to kids; include only several, parent-approved foods. When your little one asks for a snack out of her drawer, you’re likely to say yes, while giving her a sense of power.

As for yourself, you may visualize snacks in advance. For example, before you enter a coffee shop, picture yourself purchasing exactly what you know your body needs, like scrambled eggs with veggies and a regular coffee, vs. arriving at the counter and, impulsively, ordering an extra-large, sugary beverage with whipped cream and a muffin. Sometimes the latter is okay! Every day, however, this is a metabolism disaster.

Another benefit to high-quality, nutrient-dense snacks is flexibility with main meals. When you’ve snacked on several colorful, whole foods during the day, no need to pack ten servings of fruits and vegetables into every dinner. Caution: do not allow snacks within two hours of a main meal. Opt for water, instead; or prepare the next meal earlier than usual. 

Kids are fickle, picky and volatile, so when you’ve chosen well-balanced meals and snacks for them throughout the day, it’s no big deal when they refuse to eat their dinner. They’ve consumed plenty of “grow” foods already – you may relax, forego bribes to eat two more Brussels sprouts, and have no need to create a separate, cheese quesadilla. Your kids will survive the night. 

If rethinking snacks is new for you, aim for one simple, mini-meal this week. Soon, you will find that consuming healthy, whole foods in lieu of cheap and easy “treats” is truly treating yourself well.