As we cautiously step into warmer weather and routines that are reminiscent of life before March 2020, our schedules are getting busier and life is getting back to a full sprint. This time of year always brings with it excited kids, long days at ballparks and soccer fields, and moms planning all the details for upcoming summer road trips and memories. One of the most nagging, ever-present questions for all moms, whether it’s during a road trip, at sports tournaments, or on those long, pool-filled days is: “Mom, can I have a snack?” This question is harmless in and of itself, but have kids individually ask you at different times every single hour and it’s enough to make any calm mom feel on edge. I’m a Registered Dietitian, family nutrition expert, military spouse, and mom of 3 busy kids. I’ve learned a few tricks from my combination of professional knowledge and learn on the fly mom experiences. Here are a few shortcuts to help you plan snacks for your family that are easy to assemble and fill their bellies for more than 15 seconds.
Generally, follow this pattern: Favorite food + Fruit/ Veggie + Fill you up food.
- Favorite food. Always start here. With busy kids, a cluttered schedule, and a family on the move, always start with food that will be a hit. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting with a fruit snack, chips, popcorn, or ballpark hotdog, the “what” doesn’t matter. Just start with something you know they’ll eat without a fight and set yourself up for a “W.”
- Fruit or veggie. Once you’ve picked a favorite snack, add a fruit or veggie that they’ll like that is grab and go ready. The days that the family is on the go are not the time to choose “conflict foods,” i.e. foods the kids will refuse or fight you about. If your kids like squeeze applesauce pouches, then applesauce it is! Other great options include fruit slices, berries, clementines, bananas, fruit cups, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, snack peppers, broccoli & ranch. Keep in mind whether or not you’re using a fridge/ cooler or if you need shelf-stable options (like fruit cups & cherry tomatoes). Get creative here and save yourself some time and brain space: have them ready to go. I don’t mean buy whole carrots and do the whole peel & chopping thing, though you totally can. This is the time to either buy ready-to-eat produce or prep it ahead of time. Throw on a favorite show to catch up on, bring the cutting board into the living room, and get everything ready to go in individual containers. Reusable, silicone bags are a gold standard, but the reality is you’re probably looking at single-use, disposable bags here. Pick whatever option best aligns with your family’s values and move forward with confidence.
- Fill you up food. I generally recommend at least one of these three belly fillers: protein, fiber, and natural fat.
- Protein: This is going to help fill bellies, repair tired muscles, and build strong bones. Easy-to-grab options include hummus cups, cheese sticks, Greek yogurt, milk, lunchmeat, hard-boiled eggs, edamame, and protein bars. Try to choose options with at least 5g of protein per serving.
- Fiber: Fiber is important to keep waste moving through our bodies, a great source of vitamins and minerals, and an easy way to keep growing bodies feeling fuller, for longer. Fruits and vegetables are typically high in fiber, but other options include whole wheat crackers, popcorn, whole-wheat pretzels, breakfast bars, oatmeal, tortillas, breakfast cereal, etc. Look for at least 3g fiber per serving on the Nutrition Facts Label.
- Natural fat. I hate using the term “healthy,” so instead we’ll go with “natural fat.” The goal here is a fat that’s naturally part of the food (think dairy, nuts, avocados, etc.) instead of added (think fried chips, French fries, etc.). Fat is going to slow down digestion, so make sure this isn’t the only “fill you up” food you choose. Diets heavy in fat are likely to lead to multiple long-term health problems, not to mention leave you with sluggish bellies on busy days- no thanks. Easy options here include cheese, nuts, nut butter, chips & guacamole.
Remember, no matter how you’re feeding your family on the go, you want to have a combination of low-stress foods and foods that Mom wants them to eat. Follow this pattern the majority of the time, but don’t be afraid to spring for ice cream for dinner sometimes. The most important part of feeding our families is finding the time to pause, gather around the food, and enjoy the few minutes together in the same place. Be intentional about when you’re entering into meal conflict, and when you want to just soak in the fleeting days of living out of a van that smells like soccer shoes, sunscreen, and pool chlorine.
Heather Campbell, RD, founder of Glory Nutrition, is a Registered Dietitian, mom of 3, military spouse, and a family and child nutrition expert with over a decade of experience in the field. You can learn much more from Heather on her website.