Fast, healthy foods for busy families

Your family’s schedule is jam-packed. Fortunately, making sure your children eat well does not have to take a ton of time.

The best way to help kids eat well is to serve healthy options at every meal and snack. Follow these tips from Janet Kramer, MPH, RDN, LD, Clinical Dietitian, Pediatric Nutrition Services, University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, for quick and nutritious meals and snacks your kids will love.

Quick, healthy meals

Kids consume about 125 extra calories when they eat fast food, says a JAMA Pediatrics study. Try these fast, at-home meal ideas when you are tempted to hit the drive-thru:

  • Blend up a smoothie. All you need is ice, milk or yogurt, and fruit. Bananas, berries and peaches are good fruits for smoothies. Or use frozen fruit instead of ice to get a thick and creamy texture. Add a tablespoon of peanut butter for more protein.
  • Make soups, stews and casseroles. Throw the ingredients in a slow cooker before leaving the house in the morning and come home to a hot, tasty meal. Double the recipe and freeze leftovers for a fast meal later that week.
  • Whip up a one-pan stir-fry with lots of vegetables and a lean meat, such as chicken or shrimp.
  • Cook double batches of whole grains, such as brown rice or quinoa. Freeze the extra in plastic freezer bags to quickly thaw and reheat when needed.

Healthy grab-and-go snacks

“It is important to monitor portions,” says Kramer. “Keep total calories for a snack around 200 – 300.” Try these ideas to make them healthy:

  • Make your own trail mix. Buy bulk unsalted nuts, crunchy whole-grain cereal (such as Wheat Chex) and dried fruits.
  • Freeze grapes, berries or cubes of fruit on kabob sticks to offer a healthy frozen treat.
  • Pop a big batch of air-popped corn. Sprinkle it with salt-free seasoning or Parmesan cheese and place individual servings in plastic baggies.
  • Slice fruits and vegetables and place them in small, airtight plastic containers for kids to grab on the go. Grapes, blueberries, plums, clementines and pineapple chunks are good options.
  • Stock your fridge with string cheese and yogurt to help your kids get enough calcium and protein. Add your own fruit to plain yogurt to avoid added sugar.
  • Make a sandwich with 100 percent whole wheat bread and turkey or ham (try hummus instead of mayonnaise) and include a leaf of lettuce. Cut into quarters and pack in plastic baggies (one to two quarters per child).

Smart, healthy swaps

  • Choose cereals with 6 or fewer grams of sugar per serving, unless the sugar comes from dried fruit.
  • Serve whole-grain pasta instead of white pasta. Make sure whole grains are the first item on the list of ingredients.
  • Satisfy your child’s sweet tooth with fruit. Try baked apples or pears, frozen bananas or grapes, and frozen pureed fruit.
  • Cook with healthy oils, such as canola, corn, olive and sesame oils.

Healthy eating starts today Pediatric outpatient nutrition services are available at convenient community locations. To schedule an appointment, call 216-UH4-KIDS (216-844-5437) or visit


Medical Director, UH Rainbow Care Network
Clinical Dietitian, Pediatric Nutrition Services, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital

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