Children can eat healthy while on-the-go

By Lt. Col. Karen Hawkins, Registered Dietitian, U.S. Army Public Health CommandJuly 1, 2013

Is eating on-the-go now the norm for your family? Busy family schedules often lead to fast foods and convenience foods. Unfortunately, these food and beverage choices are often not the healthiest and may cause children to eat too many calories. In addition, many of these on-the-go food choices may not provide important nutrients children need for good health. Too many calories, especially when coupled with inactivity, contribute to our nation's growing trend in childhood obesity. Obesity affects approximately one out of five children and adolescents in the United States--triple the rate from just one generation ago.

Finding easy, creative ways to add more fruits and vegetables in place of other foods may be important in reducing risk for child and youth obesity. One study on fruit consumption showed that higher fruit consumption is linked with a lower body mass index in both adults and children. Another study suggests that people who eat more low-calorie and nutrient dense foods such as fruits and vegetables have a healthier body mass index. An easy way to get more fruits and vegetables is to consciously provide fruit and vegetables at lunchtime and as snacks. Five to nine servings per day of fruit and vegetables is recommended.

Many children and teens get almost half their calories each day from added sugars and solid fats. Approximately half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk. To help replace some of those empty calories with more nutrient-dense food, here are a few ideas to create convenient, on-the-go meals and snacks. Many of these can be assembled in 10 minutes or less. For extra time savings, cut up fruits and vegetables on the weekend.

• Banana and nut butter wrap. Mash a banana and mix with any nut butter (this is a great opportunity to try a different butter --like almond butter, which is high in vitamin E and protein). Sprinkle with dried fruit or coconut for a different flavor. Spread it on a whole-wheat wrap or flat bread, roll it up, cut it up and bag it.

•Turkey, ham or chicken with hummus or Greek yogurt wrap. Spread some hummus or Greek yogurt on a wrap, add meat slices, any cheese (optional), lettuce or spinach and cucumber slices. Roll it up and bag it. Hummus or Greek yogurt adds a unique flavor, so if your children do not like it, use mustard or a small amount of mayonnaise.

•Pita pocket with curry chicken salad. Take chopped chicken and mix it with a little curry, Greek yogurt, chopped celery and chopped carrots. Put it in a whole-wheat pita pocket with spinach or romaine lettuce.

•Baby carrots, cucumbers chunks, grape tomatoes, hummus, whole-grain crackers and pita chips. Put some hummus in a small container to use as a dip. Bag the carrots, cucumber chunks and grape tomatoes. Also pack some whole-grain crackers or pita chips for energy-packed carbohydrates.

•Low-fat yogurt, cheese, sandwiches. Keep low-fat yogurt, cheese and sandwiches cold by using an ice pack, frozen juice box or frozen milk box.

•Trail mix. Mix almonds, peanuts, dried fruit and whole-grain cereal for a nutrient dense, energy-packed food and bag it. This is a great "take it anywhere" kind of food.

•Other snacks. Cheese sticks, nuts, frozen yogurt, soy or almond milk, 100-percent juice in boxes, dried fruit, fresh fruit and canned fruit all make great snacks and additions to lunches.

Related Links:

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Kids Eat Right

Web MD