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I sometimes think that the word “parent” is synonymous with the word “busy,” as I make my way through days filled with work, school, appointments, lessons, cooking, cleaning, laundry… and sometimes even socializing!
With so much to squeeze in every day, sometimes our plans to eat healthfully fall by the wayside and instead we just grab whatever is convenient.
Unfortunately, choosing convenience foods often means choosing high-salt, high-fat, refined-carbohydrate options (think chips, candy bars, cookies, sugary drinks, etc.) that may give us short-term energy but result in a sugar “crash” later on.
In my opinion, probably the number one thing that people can do to help themselves eat more healthfully is to create a healthy food environment.
By that, I mean surrounding yourself and your family with good options, so that you can’t help but make a healthy choice!
When you are on the run, this means not only having healthy foods available at home, but also in your car, your purse, your backpack, etc.
That way, when you get hungry, or your kids need a snack, you have a healthy option right there ready to go.
A good rule for snacks is to include mostly carbohydrate, and a little bit of protein.
Healthy carbohydrate snack ideas include fruits, whole grain crackers, and low-fat dairy foods like milk and yogurt.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for our brains and our muscles, so including these at every meal and snack helps to keep us going strong.
The best snack-type protein choices are nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy. Including some protein at snacks helps us feel more satisfied and full, so that we can get through until the next meal!
Basically, you want to pack your own “convenience” foods – that are easy to carry and eat, and don’t require refrigeration.
Fruits are the ideal single-serving, healthy “convenience” food!
When you are heading out for the day, stock your car or purse with a couple of bananas, apples, mandarin oranges, pears, peaches, plums, or even kiwi fruit (you can eat the skin and all!).
If you can’t bring fresh fruit, keep some single-serving containers of unsweetened applesauce or unsweetened squeeze pouches of fruit purees on hand.
Dried fruits like raisins, dried apricots or dried plums are also a great choice, but remember that they have a lot of calories packed in a small serving.
If you do choose dried fruits, opt for the ones that are not coated in sugar. That way you’ll get more of the good stuff (fiber and vitamins) without excess calories.
Keep a little bag of almonds or walnuts in your purse or car. Pumpkin seeds and roasted soy nuts are also delicious, healthy snacks, and you can find them in regular or spicy varieties.
You can even buy single-serving packets of almond butter or peanut butter, which would pair perfectly with your whole grain crackers.
Granola bars and other bars combine carbs and protein in one convenient snack; just be sure to watch the sugar level to get some good energy while avoiding a sugar crash.
Look for bars that have less than about 10 grams of sugar in each bar. The healthiest choices for snack bars are ones made with mostly nuts and dried fruit.
Unless you are a serious athlete, avoid the sports bars that are packed with a lot of mysterious-sounding ingredients, often along with tons of calories and more protein than you need.
Even with the best intentions, sometimes we end up on a day out running errands with the kiddos, they start clamoring for food, and we don’t have anything with us!
If you do need to run into a convenience store, you can usually find some healthier options, including many of those mentioned above.
String cheese is also a great go-to snack, and most kids love it. With calcium, protein and carbohydrates, it is a great option. (And it’s not just for kids – try it yourself!)
Next time you are heading out the door, take a minute to think about whether you or your family are likely to be needing a snack before you return, and stock your purse, backpack, or car with the right fuel to stay on track!
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