Kids and good, healthy food don’t often coincide. What is even more unfortunate, is that the culture around us is constantly tempting and throwing food options at our kids and making them fun for kids – sugary cereals and snacks, most kid-friendly foods contain lots of artificial dyes, little nutritional value… etc.
We don’t often see fun snacks being marketed to kids that are the fresh and healthy kinds. Which makes the challenge of wanting to feed kids healthy foods on a budget that much more challenging with the “kids world around us” being the opposite!
We have struggled to get our kids to eat healthy. What’s interesting is that the kids who had worse diets earlier on (who are also the oldest) struggle the most with eating healthier foods. For the first few years of our oldest children’s lives, we did have a number of “kid friendly” foods that we would get for super cheap with coupons (cereals, fruits snacks, cookies, microwave popcorn, etc.), which was part of the reason, that after a few years of extreme couponing, I was really quite sad I went down that road to resort to feeding my kids processed from boxes. Although it was cheap then, the long lasting price isn’t so!
We made a change several years ago (and still kept our grocery budget low with tricks) and our youngest kids don’t seem to have too many issues eating healthier as it was always the option. The older ones have struggled to make the switch, but they are trying to enjoy the real options and forget the fake ones and to their credit, they understand the importance of it, even if they don’t like it.
For our family, we decided a few years ago that we were going to eliminate, or at least, greatly reduce the following ingredients in our foods: high fructose corn syrup, red dye, enriched grains (this one is hard to totally eliminate), trans fats, msg, and try to buy/eat organic and non-GMO whenever our budget allows.
So, we are parents that are sharing these tips with you having been and still being on both sides of kids and healthy food issues! Here’s our advice and from our ever-growing learning experience.
1. Just don’t buy it!
Honestly, this is the simplest of options. If you stop buying it, a kid will not let themselves starve to death and will eventually eat your healthier options and soon learn to live with it and like it. It doesn’t stop all issues as you have foods at their activities outside of the home that will challenge your goals in healthier eating. We are still working through how to deal with the outside sources of these foods, but at least we can control the foods in our home more.
2. Make fruit pops.
One thing my kids missed where the popsicles and the otter pops that we use to get for real cheap with sales/coupons. I also wanted them to eat more fruit. So I often make my own fruit pops. Sometimes just fruit, sometimes fruit with an organic yogurt. I will even follow my fruit smoothies plan HERE and turn them into frozen fruit pops. My kids have never rejected this alternative and love it!
Just buy a simple BPA-free popsicle maker/molds like this one here or the push-pop style here and you can make them daily if needed!
3. Provide fresh fruits and veggies and make them fun if you want!
First, I know you are already thinking about the cost. This is something to consider and so see the 30 ways to help manage spending on produce HERE.
In the morning, I will prepare a fruit and veggie tray. As a note, the seasonal fruits are what I generally pick, and we almost always have organic carrots (they are a very cheap and healthy vegetable, even organic options) and sometimes other veggies too. But even if our snack tray is simply just grapes and carrots, then it’s fine! I will also make a veggie dip and fruit dip with greek yogurt and cream cheese with essential oils and herbs. I will try to remember to share the recipes soon!
Check out frog apples HERE (btw, that is newsprint paper on the counter – they aren’t coloring on the counter ;))
Also, check out our Pinterest Board for fun ways to make healthy foods fun to eat! We did this a lot a first, it does take more time, but it did help ease into it! I still do it on occasion today just for fun!
Our Fun for Kids Pinterest Board HERE with Fun Healthy Food Ideas
4. Set an example.
Be that example for your kids! An example that shows you can make healthy switches too! We are supposed to have more self control and give into temptation less than a child, so let us make the first move and encourage by doing.
5. Teach them about health and nutrition.
This is one thing that we have found has really helped our older children understand the importance and value of the food choices we make. A child is a sponge and wants to learn as much as they can, even in this category. Even today, our kids will ask “now what is this food good for again?” Or they will tell everyone the benefits of what they are eating. It seems to make them much more willing to eat it by being informed about it and on the flip-side, more hesitant to eat the foods that are bad for them.
6. Make your own convenience foods.
I understand the need for emergency foods. Chicken nuggets are a big one for us! You can buy healthier options, but if you want to save money, consider spending an afternoon and making your own convenience foods and freezing them!
The best ones are your own burritos on healthy tortillas, chicken nuggets that are a better quality chicken cut into chunks and dipped in an egg wash with the coating being ground wheat germ and flaxseeds. Bake them and then they can freeze well.
We actually avoid hot dogs, except that we will on occasion get the Applegate farms real beef uncured hotdogs (or similar healthy alternative). This is a higher expense, but they do freeze well and so when they go on sale, we will get a few and those make for quick lunches – especially when my kids get to make one of their favorites – stick dry whole wheat pasta noodles through the middle of a slice of the more natural hotdogs and then boil them. They look horribly disgusting, like little squids or spiders, but our kids love this fun finger food – weirdos I haven’t taken pictures of ours because they are creepy looking, but they look sorta like this – only uncured beef hot dogs and organic whole wheat spaghetti (at a reasonable price from Costco!).
Another example is popcorn! My kids love salty snacks and popcorn is actually very healthy (it just depends on what you put on it). I am not talking about store-bought microwave popcorn. But air popped (which is how I normally make it) or when I am in a real hurry, my own homemade microwave popcorn HERE.
Finally, another thing we do is make our own bulk trial mix. We do this for 3 total reasons:
1. The biggest reason is peanut and treenut allergies. Non nut trail mix is very expensive to buy and hard to find, but super easy to make!
2. I can control the ingredients.
3. I can make it for MUCH less than I can buy it (even if you are making yours with nuts!)
We can make about 40-50 snack bags worth each time we make a batch and so it lasts us a long time and is a good cheap “on-the-go” healthy snack option. I can share our nut-free recipe with you if you would like!
7. Add in health sneaks.
Foods like flaxseeds, raw wheat germ, chia seeds, healthy spices, like Turmeric, that don’t affect taste much. These little sneaks can be included in or sprinkled on top of nearly everything you eat! It makes for an easy way to get nutrition in them!
Also, some easy and affordable changes that you can make are opting for whole wheat pastas (organic whole wheat ones are quite affordable at Costco in bulk!) and brown rice. There are so many countless things that you can do with pasta and rice and they are frugal staples. So spending a teeny bit more for a healthier version is a smart way to go!
8. Disguise Food.
Cauliflower as mashed potatoes, macaroni or pizza crust, squash as mashed potatoes or spaghetti squash as actual spaghetti, Eggplant as lasagna, bell pepper chunks in other shaped pastas, etc. I actually learned this trick from Hungry Girl on t.v. a couple of years ago on a talk show. She was suggesting replacing half of the pasta with one of these swaps to help lose weight, but it is also much healthier. So like mac and cheese, use half of the amount of pasta and replace the other half with cut up cauliflower. Or for lasagna, replace a layer or two of the noodles with eggplant. Just disguising food is wise and easy when trying to feed kids (and perhaps husbands ;))!
9. Pick foods with less ingredients and ingredients you can pronounce.
As one example: My.Kids.LOVE.Chips.
Honestly, besides the salt and fat content, regular plain ol’ Lays potato chips are not that bad. They contain 3 ingredients: potatoes, oil and salt. If I were to let my kids have chips, I am automatically going to opt for the less ingredient options. Other chips and Lay’s varieties have many ingredients (which pretty much means we haven’t bought Doritos for a long time due to their long ingredient list!). Just be wise about those decisions that you make!
10. Automatically chose real foods.
Opt for real butter, real cheese, real food.
For example, you can buy a can of pears for $1 on a sale. Why not go buy a pear or two from the produce department for the same or less price? Now other real foods will increase your grocery budget some, but make a sacrifice in another area to make up this small difference. For us, it was only a difference of $10-$20 for 7 people per week.
Just try to chose real whether at home, at a restaurant, a party, whatever. If we are at a party, I will allow for other foods to be consumed to not be rude. An occasional “not-very-good-for-you” item may not hurt a whole lot and so it is fine with us in those circumstances. But I do try to balance it out with other options if at all possible.
As an extra note, buying pre-made foods that fit the health bill can be challenging on a budget. But we have found that Trader Joe’s (we love their organic ketchup – kids and ketchup seems to be a must!) and Costco are the greatest places to get these foods. At Costco, we take advantage of the coupons that they send each month and they usually have a healthier convenience food or two for a good price each month that we can stock up on. We love the Food Should Taste Good tortilla chips (and other similar snacks), Annies snacks, Stretch Island fruit leather, etc. that will go for a pretty decent price at Costco when they go on sale! We have also come to appreciate Kroger’s Simple Truth line of foods. They are more pricey, but they go on sale often.
*Be watching soon for a kids snack and quick meals food shopping list that is affordable and healthy! Also, explore our site and watch for future posts about how we try to save money in each area of life with little hints and tricks!
What tips do you have?