How DIY Meals Help Kids Make Healthy Choices

Posted by: Jane Albin

Many kids have strong opinions about food, including which ingredients they love or loathe.
And studies show that giving them control over their eating decisions can make kids more cooperative and promote mindful, healthy decisions.

Kid's hand with spooning a mix of zucchini and tomatoes in a bowl.

With more free time on their hands, summer is an ideal time to teach kids how to prepare their own meals and snacks. Creating food prep activities that put kids in control can teach them independence and reinforce healthy eating.

One effective way to allow kids to make their own healthy choices while adhering to Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards is to set up do-it-yourself “Choice Bars.” These are stations where kids get to pick and choose how they want to assemble their healthy meal.

HEPA standards require:

  1. A serving of fruits or vegetables at every meal and snack
  2. No partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat), fried or pre-fried foods
  3. Serving whole grains when grains are served
  4. Serving foods that do not have sugar as one of the first three ingredients or less than eight grams of added sugar

Here are three easy interactive HEPA-approved options, no cooking required:

Breakfast: Yogurt or Smoothie Bowl
Allowing kids to start off their day with a do-it-yourself yogurt or smoothie bowl station can get kids active and engaged with a healthy mindset from the start.

Items to include:

  1. Fruits (pre-sliced bananas, berries, peaches, grapes, mango)
  2. Low-fat plain yogurts
  3. Whole wheat cereals
  4. Whole grain granola
  5. High-protein nuts (almonds, cashews, pre-shelled pistachios, walnuts)
  6. Healthy garnishes (coconut flakes, fresh mint, chia seeds, flax seeds)

Lunch: Salad
Salads are a great way to deliver a healthy serving of vegetables, but they’re not always exciting. Letting kids choose what’s in or out of their salad can get them more on board. Here are some ideas for your bar:

  1. Fresh greens (mixed greens, romaine, kale)
  2. Diced tomatoes
  3. Sliced cucumbers
  4. Shredded carrots
  5. Avocado (sliced or mashed)
  6. Hard-boiled eggs
  7. Beans (garbanzo, kidney, black)
  8. Bell peppers
  9. Mushrooms
  10. Olives
  11. Sunflower seeds
  12. Mandarin orange slices
  13. Healthy salad dressing (Oil and vinegar, fresh-squeezed citrus)

Snack: Trail Mix
Letting kids recharge with a build-your-own trail mix bar can get them fueled for the next activity. Let them fill their bags, bowls or cups with any of the following:

  1. High-protein nuts (almonds, cashews pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, pecans)
  2. Dried fruit (blueberries, cranberries, banana chips, cherries, apricots, raisins)
  3. Seeds (sunflower, flax, pumpkin, chia)
  4. Whole wheat cereals
  5. Stove-popped popcorn
  6. Whole grain granola

Have more DIY snack bar ideas to inspire healthy habits? Share them with me on Twitter using #HEPAChampions #TheYFeedsKids.

Looking for more tips and support?

Share your ideas on Twitter using #BestSummerEver #YMCA!

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The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.