But there is a better way. After some trial and error, I came up with the following meal and snack swaps that are healthy enough to make me happy and tasty enough to keep the kids coming back for more. The cherry on top? These swaps are easy and will also save you some cash.
Swap Juice Boxes for Easy Fruit Coolers1 of 9
Kids look forward to the occasional sweet sipper, but juice boxes can contain anywhere from 15 to 25 grams of sugar. Not only do my fruit coolers crush cravings for sweetened drinks, but the entire family can enjoy them.
Easy Fruit Coolers: Choose a combination of fruit your family enjoys, such as lemon-lime or strawberry-kiwi. Slice the fruit and infuse into room temperature water for up to two hours. Feel free to experiment with amounts and ratios. After infusing, strain out the solids and refrigerate for up to three days. Pack it to-go in a small water bottle, or serve topped with extra sparkling water in a mason jar with a colorful straw.
Swap Cookies for Peanut Butter Protein Bars2 of 9
Our snack drawer used to be packed full of processed sweets like candy bars, fruit snacks and cookies. We came up with a new snack bar that has only four ingredients–all of which we can pronounce.
Peanut Butter Protein Bars: Combine one cup of old-fashioned oats, 1/2 cup vanilla protein powder, 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1/4 cup honey. Mix using a wooden spoon or your hands, and press into a small baking dish. Refrigerate overnight and cut into bars the next morning.
Swap Pop-Tarts for Protein-Packed Pancakes3 of 9
My kids call these breakfast treats "muscle makers," but I call them the perfect swap for toaster tarts. Make a double batch, and sandwich the extras with almond or peanut butter for the next day.
Power-Packed Pancakes: Combine 1 cup pancake mix, 1 cup vanilla protein powder, 2 eggs, 1/2 to 1 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk. Mix and make the pancakes according to the package directions.
Swap Fast Food for Make-Ahead Eggs4 of 9
More times than I would like to admit, I have made a quick trip to a drive-thru on the way to school. But, with all that added sugar, salt and fat, my kids were getting more than just a convenient breakfast. Instead, I have started making a large batch of scrambled eggs that will last for two to three days.
Make-Ahead Eggs: Scramble a dozen eggs in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper and add sliced ham or turkey, if you wish. Cook as you would normally, then divide the mixture into two to three servings. Pack in a thermos for a breakfast on-the-go, and store the rest in the fridge to warm-and-go later in the week.
Swap Lunchables for Custom Lunch Kits5 of 9
After our break-up with Lunchables, some of which have a lot of added sugar and salt, my son decided to make his own and called it the "Lindberg Lunchable." The idea caught on with the whole family. Not only can we now pack our custom kits with all our favorites, but they're healthy and more affordable, too.
Custom Lunch Kits: Start with a multi-compartment container, then choose a combination of your favorite items, such as:
Swap Nuggets for Turkey Roll-ups6 of 9
Quick to make and easy to eat, turkey roll-ups are one of my kids' favorites. Make up a large batch, then grab-and-go on busy nights when chicken nuggets seem like the only option.
Turkey Roll-ups: Layer sliced turkey with sliced cheese or cream cheese, then roll and secure with a toothpick. Serve with salsa or mustard for dipping.
Swap Potato Chips for Homemade Sweet Potato Chips7 of 9
The perfect partner for turkey roll-ups, my homemade sweet potato chips always disappear fast. When you get comfortable making these snacks, it's fun to experiment with different seasonings, depending on your family's favorite flavors.
Sweet Potato Chips: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and thinly slice two sweet potatoes and arrange in a single layer on two greased baking sheets. Brush lightly with one tablespoon of melted butter, and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.
Swap Snack Packs for Veggies & Kid-Friendly Hummus8 of 9
My kids love pre-packaged cheese and crackers snack packs--especially the ones that come with the little red spatula. One taste of that so-called "cheese," however, and you know they're anything but healthy. So, we swapped that snack disaster for bell peppers, cucumbers and carrots, paired with a small container of mild, kid-friendly hummus.
Kid-Friendly Hummus: In a food processor bowl, combine two cans of chickpeas, drained, with one garlic clove and the juice of one lemon. Process the mixture as you add in olive oil to reach your desired dipping consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.