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Kids and Healthy Eating by Reshma Shah, MD, MPH

This weekend I've reached out to my friend and colleague, Reshma Shah, MD, MPH. She is a pediatrician, mother, plant based home-cook, teacher and student. I was interested in learning how to get kids to eat more healthy foods.

Please share with us some of your strategies on getting kids to eat more healthy food/snacks.

I am a firm believer in the idea that "kid food" should be real food. Even from a young age, it's a good idea to offer children real, "grown-up", snacks and meals instead of food that is specifically targeted to children. Often times these snacks can come with a long list of ingredients, excessive packaging, and extra money at the checkout line. However, it can be great fun (and make it easier for little ones to eat independently) to prepare the food in a way that is appealing to them.

  • Cutting food up in easy to manage pieces, including fun shapes and sizes, takes little extra effort and can make ordinary food come alive in the eyes of a 4-year-old. 

  • Getting your kids involved is also a nice way to ensure that they will be happy with the snacks you've brought along.

What are your top recommendations for kid-friendly snacks for school lunches and family vacations?

For snacks that can be great for school lunches and family trips, I recommend taking advantage of all the beautiful produce that's so abundant this time of year such as fresh strawberries, plums, or peaches.

Here are some additional family-friendly ideas that will appeal to your whole crew for your next road trip or family vacation:

  • Berry Muffins: I am a huge fan of muffins. They are portable, can serve double, or even triple duty as a breakfast, snack, or dessert. You can make them ahead of time and store in the freezer until you are ready for your trip. If your children are old enough, you can even have them help you bake them. My family really enjoys these Cranberry-Orange-Almond Muffins, and for summertime, you can just swap out the cranberries for blueberries. 

  • Crudité: This is really just a fancy way of saying eat your veggies! Whether for a road trip or just a regular day at home, chopping, prepping, and storing veggies gives you ready access to a quick, nutritious snack. For travel, I like to chop my veggies in relatively uniform pieces and wrap them in a moist paper towel to keep them fresh and crisp. Carrots, cucumbers, snap peas, bell peppers, or Daikon radish (for your more adventurous eaters!) work really well. A small container of hummus or pesto will take this snack to the next level. You could try this Pumpkin Seed and Cilantro Pesto, use store-bought hummus or simply blend together a can of artichoke hearts, a bunch of basil, two cloves of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and a few shakes of nutritional yeast for an easy, delicious artichoke dip that comes together in minutes. 

  • Homemade trail mix: We used to do this a lot more when my children were younger, and I put together a batch for our most recent trip. You can shop for items in the bulk bin, lay out all the ingredients on your kitchen table, and let your kids assemble a mix specifically designed for them. I also find that for families that have one or more members with food allergies, this can be a really great alternative to prepared trail mixes. Of course, keep the age of your child in mind when it comes to choking risks. Our last trail mix included almonds, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and a handful of dark chocolate chips. 

  • Another suggestion that my kids love is steamed edamame (in the pod) tossed with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkle of coarse salt.

  • These hearty (yes!) chickpea cookies, are super yummy and easy to make.

We try to pack as much as we can from home but also don't fret too much over taking some prepackaged foods such as granola bars and crackers. 

Reshma Shah, MD, MPH

Reshma Shah is  a board certified pediatrician, mother, plant based home-cook, teacher and student. She has nearly two decades of experience caring for children and families while living in the Bay Area. She currently sees patients at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and serves as an affiliate clinical instructor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

In addition to her medical degree, she has a Masters in Public Health and additional training in plant-based nutrition and cooking. Over the last several years, she has had a growing

interest in nutrition and its role in supporting the health and well being of families. She has learned that cooking for our families is a powerful way to not only nourish our bodies, but also to nourish our spirits and our connections to one another.

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