Supplying your children with nutrient-dense, minimally-processed food for daycare or school stretches the realm of credulity. We tend to go the “No man’s land” of the grocery store for these foods: the middle aisles. Supermarket scientists intentionally lay out the grid of a store to intentionally place the produce, dairy, and meat in separate sections so you will be forced to go through the middle aisles replete with high-processed, nutrient-stripped snack foods.
(My article on 4 Superfoods is a nice compendium to this article.)
Though most parents know these foods provide ample nutrient-lacking, high-carb foods, we tend to still purchase them. Why? Convenience and pleading children. Kids clamor for cookies, chips, crackers, and juice boxes since they taste good. So both parties are content, for the parents grab these foods because they are ready-made and the kids reinforce that decision by telling them how tasty it is.
The large majority of these processed foods are calorically-high and carbohydrate-laden. These foods do not satiate; therefore, in a few hours the blood sugar crashes and the kids clamor for food out of hunger. It is a never-ending cycle.
The key is to provide high-fat, low-carbohydrate laden snacks that boast both taste and satiety. Foods high in carbs do not fill you up. (Think of cereal or chips. We can eat an entire box/back of them.) However, foods high in fat fill you up! I will provide four (4):
Hummus is a paste side dish comprised of garbanzo (chick peas) beans and tahini (extracted from sesame seeds) It is to the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East as French fries are too us. (The rather ridiculous but funny Adam Sandler movie Don’t Mess with the Zohan, in which Sandler plays an Israeli spy, makes light of the ubiquity of hummus. In the movie, hummus is the cure-all for all maladies.)
On a side note, my father would bring hummus home when I was in high school. Upon first taste I thought it was disgusting. Like guacamole it can be difficult to get around the consistency. But like fungus on old bread, it grew on me to the point where I ingest hummus daily.
Hummus has grown in popularity in the U.S. in the last decade as the old paradigm of high-carb, low-fat has been thrown out the window. It is very low in carbohydrates yet provides a good source of protein and fat. Sabra, Pita Pal, and alike provide an ample array of flavors. Helping the matter is that hummus taste great! Personally, I introduced it to my children at 2-years-of-age and now they are hooked on it.
1. Eat it with carrots, celery, broccoli, or other vegetables. Pita chips are largely shams made out of processed flour and MSGs. If you must eat it with chips, opt for blue corn tortilla (more nutrient dense than yellow), preferably not fried in vegetable oil.
2. Speaking of vegetable oils, closely inspect the ingredient list and DON”T choose any that contain the industrial-grade, inflammatory-causing canola, corn, sunflower oils. Choose ones whose only oil is olive.
3. Hummus whose 2nd ingredient is water don’t lack taste. Make sure that after chickpeas (garbanzo beans) the 2nd ingredient is tahini.
4. Make your own! You will save tons of money in the long run and it isn’t too hard
5. Luckily, Pita Pal and other brands sell individual size hummus with chips or vegetables. Perfect for school. To save even more money, make your own, and send it to school in small glass containers. (Plastics should be avoided if possible.)
Who doesn’t like “the guac?” Well, certainly some people don’t appreciate its consistency and radioactive green color, but no one can dispute its savory taste and nutrition. Avocados are superfoods, high in the beneficial monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), fiber, and the panoply of vitamins. Numerous studies extol the benefits of MUFAs, the same fat found in olive oil. They help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides and increase the HDL (good) cholesterol. It is so high in fat that 77% of its calories come from it. As a result, it fills you up well. Sure you could slice some up and put them in a plastic bag for the kid’s to eat, but something tells me they were would prefer it diced up with onions, tomatoes, and other tasty items.
1. You do NOT need to purchase organic avocado. This savory fruit is not high on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual Dirty Dozen list of most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. Regular ones are fine.
2. Ideally make your own guacamole. Sample different ingredients until you find one to your liking. Some love to put in sour cream. Opt for unflavored Greek yogurt.
3. Several brands make pre-packaged snack-size guacamole. These are acceptable, but note they typically feature potassium-sorbate and/or other preservatives. Ideally make your own, and send it to school in small glass containers with blue corn chips.
Almond butter is the high-end German import car of nut butters. (Now, cashew and macadamia butters are the high-end Italian sports cars, but that is neither here nor there). Priced a few dollars more than peanut butter its health benefits offset the toll on the wallet.
Where is peanut butter? First, peanuts are not nuts; they are legumes. Aside from the food allergy issue, almonds, pistachios, Brazil nuts and alike are much more nutrient-dense and Paleo-aligned. Moreover, most commercially-sold peanut butters are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is a hidden transfat. Transfats are directly linked to all the cardiovascular disorders and cancer.
Each butter is better than the other in certain micronutrients, but I recommend almond butter due to its relatively lower cost compared to the “Italian sports cars” while still packing a punch. Almonds are high in MUFA fats, fiber, phytonutrients, and assortment of micronutrients. Most importantly, to your kids they are very filling and tasty.
1. Pure almond butter grinded from the nut might not be too palatable to children due to the lack of sugar. Purchase a pre-made almond butter with sugar or molasses in it.
2. Most almond butters don’t boast partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, but still be vigilant.
3. Nuts in general don’t absorb pesticides so no need exists to be organic.
4. Ideally serve it on celery or apples. Even on whole grain bread is fine given the incredible nutrition of almonds, any vehicle to get them to eat it is fine.
5. Several peanut butter brands sell individualized containers; but opt for the almond butter and put them in those trust small, glass containers.
The piece de resistance of low carb-high fat nutritious snacks: the egg! Or the “protein bomb” as I like to call them. The egg, like Charlie Sheen, received bad publicity for years due to Ansell Keyes and his pernicious influence on dietary science in the 1950’s. Even reading this you might be saying to yourself “Eggs, like bacon, are bad for you since they are high in saturated fats and cholesterol, which are linked to heart disease.”
As Yoda said, “You need to unlearn what you have learned.” I thought this as well as a child…in fact every American for the last 50 years thought this thanks to Mr. Keyes and his lackeys. To be clear, no study has ever existed connected the high consumption of dietary saturated fats and cholesterol with actual high cholesterol readings. High triglycerides levels are not connected to your bacon eating. Please read this article for more information regarding this matter.
Eggs are high in protein (7 grams), the “good fat” (5 grams), and choline, integral to cell membrane synthesis, and amino acids. Similar to the other foods, studies show they lower LDL cholesterol and incidences of heart disease.
We all love eggs. Not just give eggs for a school snack, but increase the morning consumption of them. Most breakfast foods are carb-laden, quasi-morning desserts (waffles, cereals, pancakes, toast, et al) which spike your insulin and generally contribute to inflammation and fat storage. They are also highly-processed and boast the food allergen, gluten.
Stick to high-fat breakfast foods of eggs, bacon, avocado, and lots of vegetables and low-glycemic fruits. Or don’t eat breakfast at all. I do but at dinner. I personally love them so much I eat 4 eggs nightly for my “brinner” (portmanteau of breakfast and dinner.)
1. Purchase free range chicken eggs. Be aware of the advertisement tricks on the cartons. Most hens are caged their entire existence subsisting on GMO feed and shot up with antibiotics. Ideally, buy organic, free range, but like almond butter, increasing your kid’s consumption of eggs supersedes the need for organic eggs.
2. If it is easier for you, boil all your eggs Sunday evening. Refrigerated hard-boiled eggs last up to 5-7 days with ease.
3. Make the eggs more palatable to your kid by sprinkling it with paprika or even dipping it in hummus. Be creative.
4. Eat the entire egg. The yolk is as nutritionally-dense as the whites. No more egg-beaters.
Expand the horizons
The beauty of these four foods is that are easy to pack (with a little creativity), super nutrient-dense, and quite filling. Also, as an ancillary benefit, it expands the palate of your children so they may try foods that are NOT standards of the unhealthy, yet convenient Standard American diet (SAD). Expose them to ethnic foods that use a myriad of zesty spices at an early age.
Who knows you might make them a lover of these foods for life…like my children. Try to incorporate these foods into their daily routine. You won’t regret it!
A. Gregory Luna
(I would appreciate your comments and insight below.)