How do you get a fast between-meal feed for your kids without (a) slaving in the kitchen or (b) selling out to processed starchy filler from a box? We don’t always have time to make the gluten free sweet potato brownies or Paleo salted chocolate bacon bark. And it’s not great to rely on chips or cheese crackers day in and day out, even if they’re the gluten-free, super cute organic bunny version (it’s still empty processed food).
Kids need food and plenty of water all day long. They’re growing; both the athletes and the couch potatoes are burning more fuel per pound than you or I as adults. Many of my clients forget that their kids aren’t little adults. Sure, they can (usually) grow on the processed stuff: Mac and cheese, pasta, pizza, crackers, chips, fruit leather, cookies, power bars, cereal, squeezable yogurt, candy here and there. But you may be amazed at how different your kids act, grow, behave, and function, when you commit to less processed food and more real food.
One of the “meh” things about processed snacks for kids is that they’re mostly starch, and weak on minerals, protein, or healthy fats. Doesn’t matter if they’re organic, gluten free, vegan, or blessed by your favorite guru. It’s still simple processed starch – which rushes blood sugar up. In response, an insulin kick soon follows, to bring blood sugar back down and help it into cells.
Snacking on starchy sugary stuff day after day can lead to adrenal fatigue, because of the yo yo effect this drops on the pancreas, adrenals, and gut over and over. When insulin jumps to adjust a sudden sugar bolt from a starchy snack, next thing you know, blood sugar can drop too fast. That’s when adrenal glands help by popping out some cortisol. Cortisol is a fight or flight hormone that keeps blood sugar at the ready and suppresses insulin. Cortisol is released when we are under extreme stress; it sets off a cascade of metabolic effects to get you wide eyed and ready to do combat or flee. One of its jobs is to keep blood glucose on the level, when we really need it.
Normally, we have a steady daily cortisol rhythm that helps us sleep at night, maintain mostly level energy during the day, and feel alert in the morning. But with a routine of starchy processed food (or chronic stress, anxiety, or illness), kids are thrown into that metabolic yo yo every day. Kids who are prone to anxiety and relying on starchy grainy food can suffer undue angst with this eating pattern, because it triggers bigger pendulum swings in mood, energy, and self regulation.
Over time, this is a debilitating scenario. Chronically elevated cortisol feels exhausting. It also suppresses immune function, escalates anxiety, and can make your child more prone to infections. Though usual lab tests for adrenal function have reference ranges too wide to detect early adrenal fatigue, many providers can use symptoms and more sensitive saliva tests to check this more precisely.
How does this show up? Tantrums, crashes when hungry, can’t get moving in the morning, difficulty sleeping through the night, ongoing anxiety, chronic fatigue, frequent illnesses and infections (cortisol is released with illness too), hyperactivity followed by meltdowns… all of these signal a need for support for those hard working adrenal glands, which need minerals from whole food (not pills, though those are better than nothing!).. and some soothing healthy fats and oils.
Rotate in these actual-food snacks to avoid the insulin-cortisol roller coaster. and give your kids extra minerals, fats, oils and maybe a little protein too. Much better than chips every single day, though there’s no problem with having them in the rotation sometimes too. These can travel in zip lock bags or travel cup, or thermos for lunches. You’ll notice that fresh fruits don’t feature big in this list. That’s because they are great sources of vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients that may have immune modulating benefits… but are not so great for the soothing minerals that our adrenal glands love.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – The favorite in my house are the spicy roasted ones (we need gluten free; they’re available plain, seasoned, raw, or roasted – check seasoning ingredients). Potassium, iron, and magnesium are the stand out minerals here. Kids who like really salty, spicy foods may go for these. Fine to work in some raisins, almonds, or cashews if trail mix suits your gang better.
Popcorn – What? Not the microwave stuff…
Buy a jar of organic, non-GMO popping corn. Use a heavy flat bottom skillet with vertical sides. Cover the bottom of the skillet with 1/8″ to 1/4″ (not more!) of a good quality high heat organic oil, like non GMO canola or safflower oil. Then cover the bottom with a single layer of kernels – with some room in between. Cover, turn on high heat… and listen. In about the same time you would microwave a bag of corn, you have fresh, real-thing popcorn in a much healthier version and no toxic chemicals from a microwave bag. Remove the popped corn from the skillet to bowl once it stops popping – don’t wait or it will burn. Place a 1-2 Tablespoon blob of organic coconut oil in the skillet with the heat off. Let it melt. You can either pour the popped corn back into the skillet to coat it with the oil, or vice versa – pour the oil on the corn – and toss with good culinary sea or Himalayan salt. You can also use ghee for those sensitive to coconut. This is a more delicious treat than you’d expect. Though it’s not as fabulous on minerals as pumpkin seeds, it makes up for it with healthy fats, some protein, fiber, and cancer-fighting polyphenols. An easy do-ahead, if you need to pack some in the car or school lunch.
Cherry or Grape Tomatoes – In summer, you can’t go wrong. These are the ultimate finger food and the juicy squish-in-your-mouth is a plus for some kids. Local, organic ones often taste so sweet they almost feel like candy. Put these out and you may be surprised how they disappear. Fun to find different colors – from sunny yellow to orange to deep red, see which ones your kids like best. Skip the mega market non-organic ones, which lack flavor and feel like dry bullets to eat (IMHO!). Natural source for vitamins A and C, a smidge of calcium and iron, and sodium – which your adrenal glands actually need.
Kale Chips – You can actually buy these now (expensive): Oven roasted, salted kale chips are handy for feeding our adrenals with calcium, potassium, sodium, and phosphorus. They are simple to make too, if you have the chance, and really yummy when hot from the oven. Rinse and chop kale, removing the chewiest stems. Pat it dry and place it in a bowl. Work melted coconut oil or melted ghee with your fingers throughout the kale, rubbing both sides of the leaves to coat with oil. Toss with good quality salt and bake in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes, or until crisp and darkened. Even the staunchest vegetable-haters may melt for these salty, crispy treats.
Sweet Bell Peppers – Take advantage of these in season and buy crisp organic brightly colored orange, red, or yellow sweet peppers. Wash, remove seeds and membranes, and lay out strips for crunching on. They’re juicy, sweet, crisp, and play well with all sorts of dips, from hummus to Ranch to lime aioli. Big on beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin C but still a good option for potassium and a sprinkling of phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. Also good for crunchy snap and sweetness: Sugar snap pea pods (open shell and pop raw peas in mouth!) and young asparagus tips (young and narrow tips and stems are good eating, with or without a dip).
Avocado – Stock up on these and eat when the stem plug drops off with an easy press of your thumb. Avocados have magnesium, potassium, a good bit of fiber, and even a little protein. And the ample fats in an avocado are excellent for avoiding the sugar roller coaster and calming kids with a steady, slow release energy source. Toss ripe soft chunks with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and sunflower seeds for even more minerals, protein, fiber and fats. Or you can make guacamole in a heartbeat by mashing it with a little garlic (fresh minced or garlic salt), salsa, and lemon juice, to boost your kids’ favorite chips into a better snack.
Got Broth? – As cooler temps approach, I like to have a jar or two of homemade broth on hand, and I make this from whole chicken (after roasting and enjoying the meat, keep the carcass, bones, and innards; simmer for a day with rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, black pepper, some lemon or white wine, and good salt). Pour some out on a chilly afternoon, and sip plain. Broth gives soothing minerals plus a bit of protein and fats. This also makes a fair breakfast for kids who are slow movers and not keen on eating early in the morning. Or for more heft, stir in some left over quinoa, fresh minced cilantro, scallion, some baby bok choy, Thai basil… and you have a reasonable facsimile of pho that makes ramen noodles look like… ramen noodles. Once again, adrenal-favorite minerals abound in this quick after-school soup for a cold day: Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorous. If making broth isn’t your thing, good quality organic stocks like Imagine or Pacific brands – beef, chicken, and vegetable – are readily available in quart boxes that don’t need refrigeration til opened. You can stir in that left over pasta, rice, or whatever your kid likes.
Like Juicing? Have A VitaMix? – Add celery, cucumber, fresh leaves of cilantro, parsley, or basil, raw ginger root, whole lemon, apple, or any dark leafy greens to your kids’ favorite smoothies. If your juicer does not have a strainer, peel the cucumber and ginger root before juicing. These foods and herbs are soothers for stressed adrenals too. Good to combine with carrot, berries, peaches, pears, melon – let your kids choose and experiment for more buy-in.
Enjoy! I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many other good ideas for mineral-rich snacks… we didn’t even get to chocolate. Add your ideas and thanks for stopping by my blog.