7 Foods to Keep Your Kids Warm This Winter

Winter stew

Craving comfort foods this winter? There is an explanation for that. When the temperature outside drops, your body has to work harder to keep warm, burning more calories to create that energy. Simple, hearty foods like stews have many of the elements your body needs right now: protein, fats, and spices. Don’t avoid those foods you crave, just keep it healthy and you and your children will stay toasty warm.

You don’t want just to be hot for minutes; you need foods that keep the kids feeling cozy and warm for hours. Choose foods that burn slowly rather than simpler carbohydrates like crackers and sweets. Potatoes, bread, pasta, and rice are all great foods, but they will metabolize more quickly—and you will feel hungry sooner. Winter is the time to eat true slow foods.

Winter Foods Kids Will Love

Nuts. If you need to tide kids over with a snack, give them nuts. The protein and fat content make them an ideal winter snack food. Cook with nuts and seeds as well.

Spices. Whether you tend toward cinnamon, chilies, or ginger and garlic, spices are particularly good for you during the winter. Ginger helps you digest the fatty foods your body craves in the winter, and antibacterial and antiviral effects of foods like garlic help you fight off infections.

Curry. My favorite winter food is curry. I have a long list of my favorite Indian and Thai curries with lots of chilies and ginger. These make an ideal winter lunch. I feel warm and full all afternoon with no temptation to snack before dinner. My children favor peanut-based curries that aren’t quite as spicy.

Stew. Do you have any holiday leftovers, like a ham bone or a desiccated turkey carcass you put into the freezer to think about later? Your holiday leftovers can make a great base for stew, but you can also make a hearty stew without any meat at all. Add a variety of root vegetables, and caramelize those onions to give it a nice flavor. Or, make nut-based sauces for African stews. Or, make rich tomato sauce for gumbo. Any flavor-way can be used to make a rich stew. This is the perfect place to experiment.

Pie. Pot pies are one of my favorite post-holiday dishes. My mother always made great turkey stew in her flakiest pie crust. For children, you might consider making the crust more of a feature. A Cornish pasty is a pie with the crust folded over in a half-moon shape. You can eat it with your hands without too much mess and it keeps the family full all afternoon. That is why the Cornish miners took these little pies with them to work. Any stew you can dream up will (probably) also make a great pie.

Beans. My kids often just have spiced black beans for lunch. This is my daughter’s absolute favorite comfort food—a food that she almost missed when she first saw it. She told me, the first time I served her black beans, that she didn’t like it. She knew immediately, but we have a rule that one has to have at least one taste before one can form an opinion about liking a food. It turned out that she actually loved it, and she’s been eating beans happily in many forms since.

Chili. Chili is another kind of stew. Either chili or stew can include almost anything you have on hand or anything your children favor. It’s easy to make vegetarian chili or meat chili. A slow cooker, a bag of beans, and a (glass!) jar of tomatoes, and you are almost there. It’s easy to make simple chili, and you can involve children in choosing the flavors.

Keep those toes and bellies warm. Eat up!

Image © Maxim Shebeko | Dreamstime.com

Garden Fresh Snacks for Children

Vegetable Kebabs

If you planted a garden with your child earlier this year, she’s probably been eager to sample the results. Now is the season for fresh garden snacks with children.

Eat Foods Fresh and Raw

Fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden can be such an intense taste experience that they become lifelong memories. I remember very well trailing after my mother through our garden, tasting as we went. In particular, I always remember biting into a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes, and that is the only time in my young life that I remember voluntarily eating one. I just remember how incredibly good it felt to bite through the sun-warmed flesh of the tomato before the taste exploded through me. This one little fresh fruit (or vegetable, depending where you want to come down on that issue) is the anchor for all of my other childhood garden memories.

Now, without giving it much thought, we’ve put our mostly likely garden snack foods next to our main doors near our house. Because our herbs are next to the door we use most frequently, my children often stop to eat mint or fennel on their way inside. We have planted grapes by our front door, but they are only two years old and aren’t fruiting yet. I like to picture guests snacking on our grapes as they wait for us to answer the door.

Walk through your garden with your child and see what there is to sample and taste as a snack.

Choose Dark Vegetables for Micronutrients

We know dark, raw vegetables provide phytonutrients that help our bodies repair damage on a cellular level. For our smoothie series a while ago, we focused on the 5-7 color categories that fruits and vegetables can be divided into, each category rich in a particular set of phytonutrients.

Dark blue and purple foods can contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. From Sour Purple Blast Smoothie.

Carrots in particular are an incredible source of Vitamin A—or, rather, provitamin A carotenoids that can form Vitamin A. Alpha carotene is a cancer fighter, and beta carotene promotes repair of damaged DNA. You probably know that beta carotene will help your eyesight, which is related to this repair function. From Earth Orange Smoothie.

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health. From Easy Green Smoothie.

As you are planting your garden then later strolling through for a snack, keep in mind that a variety of colors means an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Quick Vegetable Kebab Snack

It’s cooling down. My children have been requesting hot snacks and lunches, so it is time to put together simple, warm foods. They do like raw vegetables, but one of the ways we create variety straight from our garden is with quick grilled vegetable kebabs. My children love crunchy grilled vegetables, and it’s a great alternative to fried foods.

  • Garden vegetables – Use whatever you have in your garden, like zucchini, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, and summer (yellow) squash.
  • Oil, vinegar, and spices for marinade
  • Skewers – We use metal skewers because they are easiest to reuse.

Rather than buying anything special for this snack, it’s an adventure for a young child to go out into the garden and eat what he finds. Collect vegetables early in the morning, then prepare a marinade using oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and any herbs you collect. Cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the marinade and the vegetables in a container for 2-3 hours. Shake it around to be sure that the vegetables are coated.

When it is time for a late morning snack, help your child skewer just a few of each kind of vegetable. Vegetable kebabs are wonderful grilled, but we try to keep snacks simple since we’re only cooking a small amount of food. We broil until the zucchini starts to steam and brown because we like the texture of the crunchy crust outside and the hot, soft inside.

I love the idea of simple snacks from the garden because it makes such a profound connection for children. They help grow the food with their own hands. As they eat and enjoy the foods in simple ways—either raw or just cooked but still recognizable—they begin to realize how much power they have to care for their own bodies and their expanding world.

Image © Michael Zysman | Dreamstime.com

Healthy Lunchbox Idea: Pasta Salad

Vegetable Pasta Salad

All of us as parents of young children try to figure out what foods will bring enough nutrition and variety to lunches that the kids will actually eat. Lately, my 11-year old son has been very focused on pasta salad. It has become his favorite meal, and it has inspired him to cook for himself. Pasta salad is my new best friend because my son is so happy to eat it. We make it a different meal every time, and I think this could be a way for you to add variety to your child’s lunchbox.

3 Tips to Keep the Pasta Salad Idea Fresh

  1. Make it infrequently. Maybe it’s just me, but if I am offered even my favorite foods too often, I stop finding them appetizing.
  2. Make it different every time. Even if you offer some kind of pasta salad every week, make it different so it doesn’t seem like the same meal.
  3. Use what you already have in the fridge or garden to add color and flavor. When my kids go to the store for the purpose of getting ingredients for a pasta salad, they go overboard. It costs too much and gets too complicated. Just have enough variety of ingredients on hand that you can choose what sounds good in the moment.

Have on Hand for Pasta Improv

Each time you make pasta salad, you reinvent it. No measurements are required. What have you got? Toss it in.

  • Different shapes of pasta. Let your children choose interesting new shapes.
  • Different colors of pasta. Have you ever tried squid pasta (black) or striped? Fun food gets eaten.
  • Different kinds of salad dressing. If you have the time, make your own. If you are trying to make this a super quick meal, just choose from the salad dressing you have on hand.
  • Fresh vegetables. We usually leave the vegetables uncooked, which is quicker, but blanched broccoli might be easier for a smaller child to eat in the salad. Don’t always leave the vegetables in predictable shapes. Shred them, chop them, cut them with tiny cookie cutters.
  • Different kinds of cheese. Sprinkle a little Parmesan, add chunks of mozarella, add feta and olives for a Greek salad. Change it up.
  • Fresh herbs and greens. Especially if you look for ways to add more dark greens to your child’s diet, chop it up in the salad. A little mint is a fresh surprise. Baby spinach adds color and nutrition. Add what you have.
  • Leftovers. If you have leftovers that might work in a pasta salad, try them out. You don’t need to create a masterpiece. Experiment surprise and delight your child.

If your child has allergies and needs to avoid particular foods, even wheat, pasta salad is flexible enough to go where you need it to go. Stock the foods your child loves, and combine them in new and interesting ways. It’s so much more likely to meet a happy child than yet another sandwich.

As I write, I hear my husband banging pans around in the kitchen. Hearing me talk about pasta salad, and looking at my photos, he just had to feed his craving for a fresh end-of-summer salad. I hope your kids will feel that same excitement when they see something new and different in their lunchbox.

Image © Eva Gründemann | Dreamstime.com

Fun School Lunch Surprises

School lunch box surprises

Now that you have a waste-free lunch box, what will you put in it? Keep your child interested in a healthy lunch with monster sandwiches and smiling, pink-cheeked rice balls.

Happy Faces & Funny Monsters

When we see a smiling face, we smile. We see that with babies all of the time. When your child is away from you, you can still have a similar effect with happy food. When she opens up her lunch box and sees a happy salad or rice ball with a big toothy grin, she is likely to smile. You can add cut-out veggie shapes or even use food paints to create the faces.

A funny monster sandwich or a Mr. Fruit Head dessert will be the talk of the lunch room. A kid with a monster in his lunch box will definitely want to show and tell.

The Element of Surprise

Food can be a way to communicate with your child when you are separated. The more experience you have putting together fun school lunches, the more your own personalities will come into play. I like to get a laugh from my children by giving them something unexpected. I use the element of surprise.

Animals. Little animals lurking in the lunch box can be great fun. To make an octopus hot dog—an octodog—you can cut eight legs into one end of a hot dog up to about an inch and a half from the other end. Strawberry mice make a great dessert crawling through the lunch box. If you child develops a favorite, this could become a character in an ongoing story. The octopus could venture through salad one week and rice the next.

Shape. Different shapes can be a surprise. Collect cookie cutters in big shapes for sandwiches, medium sizes for rice, or small sizes for vegetables. A carrot that looks like a garden of a dozen flowers is fun to eat.

Color. Painting an old favorite a new color can be fun. We sometimes add beets to potato salad to get a shocking pink salad. Beet juice, turmeric, spinach, and even squid ink are great foods to add color by painting bread, dyeing rice, or drawing faces.

Switcharoo. Using unusual ingredients to create familiar shapes can surprise a child—the first time. A banana dog with peanut butter, banana, honey, and fruit relish on a whole wheat bun is a healthy lunch that looks familiar and tastes sweet.

The Inspired Food Artist

If you are feeling really ambitious, look at amazing photos of Japanese children’s lunches for inspiration. The everyday gorgeous lunches from Anna the Red’s Bento Factory also give me a lot of fun new lunch ideas.

Put the Children in Charge

Sometimes my husband and I still make lunches for our children when they have a day out, but they are getting old enough that we ask them to be in charge a lot of the time.

If a child makes his own lunch, I have found that he is more likely to not only eat it but like it. Once my daughter was in charge of her own lunches, she stopped having sandwiches (Daddy’s choice) and random pub lunch (Mama’s choice), and she began making pasta salads with different ingredients each day. Her own tastes and personality showed through more in her lunches, and she ate her lunch every day.

Especially if your child brings food home or says she doesn’t like what you gave her, it helps to encourage her to be responsible for her own food. Fun lunch ideas don’t have to be about surprising her. You could use the same ideas to have fun making the lunch together.

Extra Treats

No, not sweets but notes, drawings, or a joke a day. One of my friends has included a note in his son’s lunch box every school day for that past eight years. They have a box of great keepsakes, and his son and all of his friends look forward to seeing what dad has said or drawn each day.

Food, including a fun school lunch, can one of the ways we connect with our children as they find their own way into the world.

Image © Mark Butler | Dreamstime.com