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Healthy meal ideas for kids

Children and teens often have a discerning palate and preference for particular foods. Creating a meal to please that is also healthy for kids can be a challenge.

It is not surprising. We are faced with endless marketing of hyper-palatable processed and packaged foods, many of which contain added and free sugars while offering little nutrition. And these are designed to have consumers coming back for more!

While we won’t go to the extreme of saying you and your kids need to abstain from anything out of a packet, we share your desire to find whole food, healthy recipes for kids. We also understand most of us do not have endless hours to prepare elaborate dishes. Just know it is possible to keep things simple yet tasty, and when needed, it is okay to use something premade to support a whole food meal or snack.

So, here are some kids meal ideas and tips to get something quick, delicious and nutritious on the table. 

Breakfast
Good quality breakfasts matter. healthy breakfast for kids is especially important. It has been shown a healthy breakfast makes for better performance at school

Limit: sugary cereals, and products containing ultra-processed carbohydrates and fats such as white flour and poor quality oils.

Enjoy: good quality real food with a source of fibre, protein and/or healthy fat, for sustained mental and physical energy. Think:

  • Avocado, cheese or 100% nut/seed butter on wholegrain, sourdough or sweet potato toast
  • Whole oats or quinoa porridge, flavoured yourself with cinnamon, vanilla, grated apple or chopped banana
  • Chia seed pudding or whole oat bircher, topped with fresh fruit
  • Yoghurt with yummies, such as nuts, seeds and fresh fruit
  • Eggs ‘n’ veg, such as a premade frittata or a scramble whipped up fresh on the day
  • Homemade smoothie of fruit, leafy greens, whole oats, nut butter and/or plain yoghurt with unsweetened milk of choice
  • Last night’s leftovers. Simply reheat and enjoy!

For more on these, check out our quick no-added sugar breakfasts and breakfast ideas that aren’t cereal posts!

Lunch
After healthy lunch box ideas for kids? We’ve plenty for you! 

Mornings can be hectic enough getting yourself and the family ready for the day and out the door. Putting additional brain power into crafting a super fancy lunch for your kids can just be too much. Our tips? Keep the lunchbox fare simple, yet make more nutritious choices, and where possible, prep the night (or even the weekend) before.

Limit: refined white bread with sweet spreads such as jam, honey, or Nutella and other sweetened nut or seed spreads, as well as relying heavily on processed, packaged snacks such as confectionery, biscuits, sweetened muesli bars, crisps and such like.

Enjoy: packing in sources of fibre, protein and healthy fat (as with breakfast), so kids can power on through the remainder of their day. Think:

  • Wholemeal and whole grain bread sandwich or wraps with unsweetened spreads, such as 100% seed butter (or nut butter, if your kid’s school allows it), avocado, cheese, hummus, falafel or sustainably sourced tuna, with leafy greens (many kids can seem adverse to the greens, but it is worth a try – they may surprise you!)
  • Boiled egg or falafels with veggies sticks and hummus on the side
  • Frittata, premade with eggs and grated veggies, ready to slice and pop into the lunch box on the day
  • Soup (if you have a thermos)
  • Homemade fritters made with eggs, veggies and bound with a little wholemeal flour. Try combinations such as broccoli and tuna, corn and ricotta, peas and zucchini. Can be cooked the day before, and also great for breakfast or a snack
  • Last night’s leftovers!

Check out our Low-Sugar Lunch Box and Back To School – The Lunch Box articles for further tips on how to construct healthy lunches for kids (and adults), and you can find more healthy lunchbox recipes for kids (and again, for adults!) in The Office Luncheon e-book!

Dinner
Getting together the evening meal with rugrats running around your feet is not easy, especially after a long day. What do we want? Easy meals for kids, that are also healthy. Here we have some dinner ideas for kids that are low in sugar, big on nutrition, and aimed to keep evening preparation easy.

Limit: ultra-processed and packaged ready-to-eat meals, sugar-loaded sauces, deep-fried foods, highly refined flours such as pastries, processed and poor quality meat and meat products, and takeaway foods, especially those that can be high in added sugar, such as coleslaw, pizza, Chinese lemon chicken, or pad thai. 

Enjoy: keeping it simple, loading up on vegetables, and getting ahead of the game by undertaking weekly meal planning and food prepping in bulk in advance. Prepping food in advance, in particular, can be a game-changer, so not to rely on processed and packaged foods to get a quick feed on the table. Think:

  • Batch cooking large amounts of sauce, soup, casserole or curry, to refrigerate or freeze and enjoy later in the week or month
  • Pre-making and freezing meatballs or lentil balls, to heat and serve on the day alongside steamed or roast veggies, with a dip such as plain yoghurt or hummus
  • Baked sweet potato, steamed veggies such as corn, carrots and broccoli, served with a side of their favourite protein, such as chicken, fish or falafel
  • Homemade pizza, using wholemeal pita bread for the bases. Top with things such as a smear of 100% tomato paste, leftover roast veg and meat, sliced tomatoes and mushrooms, a sprinkle of cheese and dried or fresh and finely chopped herbs. Note: some premade pita bread can contain added sugar. Choose one that is predominately wholemeal flour, water, yeast, which may also have a little added salt and vitamins.
  • Quick fried rice, using brown basmati and mixed with finely diced vegetables and egg omelette
  • Creating a meal using only one pan – simple (and quick to clean up)!
  • Get in veg wherever you can! Try:
    • Cauliflower blended in mac and cheese sauce
    • Zucchini and carrot grated in bolognese sauce
    • Subbing out some meat for legumes in sauces, soups stews and casseroles
    • Loading up on veg and leafy greens in stews, casseroles and soups (blended or left chunky)
    • Beans and grated vegetables in bakes and burritos
    • Serving dips such as hummus with dishes such as burritos or meatballs

Having trouble getting your kids to eat more of the healthy stuff? For the young ones, let them know what superhero-like powers they can acquire when eating certain foods such as blueberries or spinach, and for kids in general, check out our article on how to survive fussy eaters. And remember, it can take at least 10-12 exposures to a food for a kid to become accustomed to the taste or texture, so persist!

Snack
Some people snack, some prefer not to. But if you or your kids like a little something between main meals, or you are looking for lunch-box-friendly-yet-healthy snack ideas, please read on. 

Limit: confectionary, crisps, muffins, cookies, and other discretionary foods, as well as sweetened packaged snacks and drinks, including some muesli and snack bars, flavoured yoghurt, sports drinks, soft drinks and the like.

Enjoy: focusing on real food, trying incorporate whole foods wherever possible. Think:

  • Fruit, whole or sliced, such as banana, watermelon, mandarin, orange and apple. Try apple slices with 100% tahini, peanut or almond butter!
  • Vegetable sticks, such as snow peas, carrot, capsicum, cucumber, cherry tomatoes and celery, served on their own or with hummus, guacamole or cream cheese
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Cheese cut into sticks
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Seeds and/or nuts. Make your own nut and seed scroggin’ with coconut chips! Note: be sure to adhere to your child’s school policy on food allergies.
  • Roasted chickpeas, edamame, or pan-fried and lightly salted butter beans
  • Natural popcorn. Made at home, you can season with a little salt and parmesan
  • Wholegrain crackers and cheese. As with pita above, some premade wholegrain crackers can contain added sugar. Choose one with minimal ingredients and no added sugar.
  • Homemade smoothie of fruit, leafy greens, whole oats, nut butter and/or plain yoghurt with unsweetened milk of choice
  • Water, plain or infused with sliced fruit such as lemon or orange
  • A glass of milk or unsweetened plant-based alternative. 

Note: when it comes to beverages, leave the juice, cordial and other sweetened drinks behind. Water and milk should be the two primary beverage options for kids. 

Read more on kids sugary swaps here!

If all of this is too much to take in, simply remember to focus on eating mostly real, whole food, and get some meals prepped in advance. Follow these principles and you will be doing great. And healthy food needn’t be expensive; check out our tips for eating healthy on a budget

By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med)

 

 

 

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