So What’s Your 7-Year-Old Bringing For Snack?

In Monday’s rant, “Why Are We Poisoning Our Children?” about how we are feeding our children neon-green high-fructose-corn-syrup crunchies instead of food, I promised to share my rules for eating food and feeding your kids food.

There’s nothing revolutionary or even original about my suggestions. It’s mostly common sense.

Rule #1: Michael Pollan says it best: “If it comes from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.”

What does that mean?

Eat a baked potato, leave the potato chips at the grocery store.

Blueberries = good. Cereal with blueberry flavorings? Leave it on the shelf.

“But my kids love Qrafty Q Blueberry Cereal!”

Kids love playing with goose poop, squeezing the life out of baby chicks, and jumping into the water that’s over their heads even though they don’t know how to swim.

The new watch dog site, Food Identity Theft, inspected the labels Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffin Mix and found that there were no blueberries in it at all. “You can look forward to some blueberry puree in Kellogg’s Special K Blueberry Cereal,” they write in this post, “but everything else is artificial: ‘blueberry flavored clusters,’ and ‘blueberry flavored bits,’ along with artificial colors (red #40 lake, blue #2 lake) to give it a realistic blueberry look.”

Rule #2: Choose whole grains over refined grains: Eat brown rice, whole grain pasta, and whole grains breads.

If you want the long explanation about why, read this article I wrote in Pregnancy Magazine, “Wheat? Whole Wheat? What?!” about the differences, and why whole grains are better.

“But they take too long to cook!”

Stick brown rice in the blender for two minutes until it is ground into a flour, stir the flour into approximately 1.5 times the amount of water (like oatmeal), and simmer on the stove for ten minutes, adding water if necessary (if it’s too liquidy, cook with the lid off). Rice mush is what we call this and it’s a huge favorite in our house.

Total time for whole grain rice mush = 12 minutes.

Total time for white rice = 15.

I rest my case.

“But my family doesn’t like whole wheat pasta!”

That’s cause you’re buying the wrong brand. Experiment until you find a brand you all do like.

I make a killer lasagna with whole wheat pasta and invite whole-grain skeptics over to dinner. After they’ve tried it and say they love it, I tell them it’s made with the verboten noodles. They. Are. Shocked. Then they ask for seconds.

Rule #3: Don’t buy anything that says it is “enriched” or “fortified”: All that means is that the original nutrients were taken out of it in the bleaching process and then synthetic chemicals were put in.

In other words, “enriched” is a code word for unhealthy or bad for you. Only in America.

Rule #4: Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow.

Make a rainbow on your dinner plate. This is fun to do with kids (though my 7-year-old candy lover was disappointed the Spider Man taffy he got from a birthday party didn’t count for blue.)

The rainbow we made for an appetizer recently:

Strawberries for red
Carrots for orange
Pineapple for yellow
Kale for green (kale’s not my favorite food but my kids like to eat it off the stalk, like popsicles. It’s super healthy!)
Blueberries for blue (even though they’re purple)
Purple skinned plums for indigo

Rule #5: Don’t buy anything with ingredients you can neither identify or pronounce. If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably not food.

Once you start reading ingredients, you’ll be surprised to find out just how much non-food your family has been eating.

In Inverness a few weeks ago my uncle bought “parmesan cheese.” I read the label. It included “desiccated cellulose” as an anti-caking agent.

Translation: sawdust.

My uncle was so disgusted he composted the “cheese.”

Rule #6: Stop the sugar. High fructose corn syrup and refined sugar do little more than hurt your metabolism, pre-dispose you to diabetes, and make you fat.

“But my kids only eat food if I heap sugar on it!”

This is a hard habit to break.

Sugar for dessert every once in awhile is fine.

But sugared cereals, sugar on grapefruit, sugary granola bars for mealtimes are not!

Give them three healthy options for breakfast, none of them sweet.

If they eat nothing, they weren’t hungry.

When they’re hungry, they’ll eat.

I promise.

Yogurt squeezes with as high a sugar content as ice cream aren’t food. They’re dessert. Gummy sharks made from unpronounceable ingredients aren’t food either. They’re trash.

Rule #7: Kids need healthy fats: We think if the label says low fat that means it’s healthy. But fat is brain food. Kids need whole fats! (like milk and butter). They also need healthy fats in nuts and fish. Omega 3 fatty acids = good for health. They don’t need fast food laden with trans fats and partially hydrogenated fats (Remember Rule #5? If you can’t pronounce it or identify it, don’t feed it to your kids.)

For more than you’d ever want to know about this, check out the Weston A. Price Foundation. Their motto? “They’re happy because they eat butter.” You can find a local chapter of fat-loving, good-looking, slim, health-food fanatics in your area!

Kid-friendly choices for school snacks:
Apple slices and organic cheese
An apple
An orange (for Alisa, who hates to wrap things!) or quartered oranges
Carrot sticks
Celery sticks with organic cream cheese or peanut butter or almond butter, raisins on the side for kids who like them
Kale on the stalk
A cucumber! Or cucumber sticks
Green beans — crunchy and portable. Fun to eat!
Almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, pistachio nuts
Hardboiled eggs
Cream cheese sandwich on whole grain bread
Dried mango or other dried fruits (Alisa, another good, no-wrapping-needed choice.)
Whole plain yogurt (preferably organic) with berries or other fruit mixed in
Seaweed! My kids love dried nori.
Baked yam
Any leftovers from a healthy dinner the night before
Norwegian flat bread

Salty pretzels made with white flour aren’t food (they’re empty calories). Cheez-its … need I say more?

Phew, that was a long post. If you made it this far, thanks for reading!

What rules have I forgotten? What tricks do you use in your house to get healthy, nutritious, real food into your children, your partner, and yourself?

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Categories: food.


  1. Holly

    If 3-year-old Elie had her way, she’d eat an entire head of steamed broccoli w/ kosher salt and lemon juice for dinner — and a whole box of Finding Nemo fruit snacks for dessert. She’s a study in contrasts!!

  2. Hummus and carrot sticks are one favorite snack around here. Hummus and anything really. I also buy locally made beef jerky for one of my kids that’s a protein craver.

  3. You forgot to mention all those veggies should be organic, especially the celery. Good news today: The Environmental Working Group will do a survey of 10,000 foods early to mid 2012 and rate their safety, just as they did for cosmetics with the database Skindeep. I wrote to ask that they be sure to indicate which foods contain GMOS.

  4. I think it’s unrealistic for some families to provide completely sugar-free snacks at school. I give my kids fresh fruit and vegetables each day. But their peers have lots of junk, and I don’t want them to feel totally deprived. They each get one or two small sweet treats a day – but it might be a homemade muffin or homemade ice cream (Our new passion.) Both are still treats, but I know what’s in them.

    I love Michael Pollan’s junk food rule, too: Eat as much junk food as you can make. We bake! We cut the sugar in muffins and quick breads, we use gluten-free whole grain flours, we add flax seed, quinoa flakes, and we use healthy oils, like grapeseed and coconut. We throw a few chocolate chips in there, too. I think the key is: knowing what you’re eating.
    Shari Becker recently posted…Imperfection is OrganicMy Profile

  5. Natalie

    As a companion to #5, when buying packaged food, don’t buy it if it contains ingredients that wouldn’t be in it if you made it from scratch. We don’t buy jarred pasta sauces very often, but recently when making a pesto selection, we examined the labels of the two or three brands on the shelf. One contained all kinds of things that aren’t in pesto – various sugars and preservatives. We chose the one with basil, oil, pinenuts, Parmesan and salt. So many packaged foods contain sugar when that’s not an ingredient you would use if you made it.

  6. I could actually not agree more with this article, however I would say that I know some families who are parented by a single mom, and who can’t afford, and/or doesn’t have the money to buy such health foods. Also they may not have time to pack their kids a healthy lunch or snack every day. Cutting up the fruits and veggies takes a lot more time then reaching into the cupboard for those fruit loops every morning.

    Another thing I would say, is that it becomes much harder for parents to control what their kids eat once their teen has their own money and freedom to buy junkfoods without parent permission.

  7. Caitlin

    Healthy snacks— are good things! I have kids that I take care of everyday and their mom and I only give them healthy food, besides the occasional treat 🙂 I also appreciated Lucy’s thoughtful comment above.

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