Healthy snacks for kids this summer

By Janelle Sanchez, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Summer is right around the corner, which brings with it, endless pool days, picnics in the park, and surfing. Staying hydrated is an important part of staying safe this summer. Our bodies are 60% water which maintain the function of various systems including your heart, brain and muscles. Sufficient water intake also helps to regulate your body temperate and even help prevent constipation. It is important to pay attention to not only the water you are drinking, but to be mindful of consuming foods that will also contribute to your water intake. What better way to fight off the heat than by cooling down with some refreshing treats?

Summertime also generally includes a lot of relaxation, celebrations and parties- which often translates into more fun foods than healthy foods, leading to an increased risk for weight gain.

Let’s look at some common summertime treats and try swapping those out with some healthier and more hydrating choices.

Instead of a sugary frozen slushie drink, prep some Cucumber Mint Citrus Infused Water:

  1. Fill pitcher up with water. To make a sizzling drink, use unflavored sparking water.
  2. Add 1 lemon sliced, 1 sliced lime (or as desired), 1/2 cup mint leaves, 1/2 cup sliced cucumber, and stir.
  3. Refrigerate overnight, stir and enjoy!

Instead of indulging with an ice cream sandwich, opt for a DIY Fruit and Yogurt Popsicle:  

  1. Blend your favorite fruit  in a food processor or blender on high speed until nearly liquified into a smoothie-like consistency. Try blueberries, raspberries, strawberries or banana.
  2. Pour blended fruit into a large bowl. Add Greek yogurt and lightly mix together. Blend more to get a mixed look, blend less to get a more patterned white and fruit look. For additional sweetness, try adding some agave or honey to the mix.
  3. Pour the thick liquid into popsicle molds. If your popsicle mold has slots for sticks, you can insert them before freezing. If not, freeze for two hours, then insert a wooden popsicle stick in the middle of each mold. Continue to freeze for an additional four to six hours or overnight.
  4. Run popsicle molds under warm water to easily remove.

Recipe adapted from

Instead of opting for corn dogs or pizza for a quick meal, try this Avocado Chicken Salad:

  1. Drain and shred canned chicken or tuna in a bowl.
  2. Chop up cilantro, avocado, cucumber, bell peppers, tomato, red onion and add to the protein mix.
  3. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into a bowl, add salt, pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil. Mix together, and pour over salad mixture.
  4. Eat with a spoon and enjoy! Or add inside of a whole wheat pita and enjoy as a wrap!

More ideas for healthy summer snacks for kids:

  • Frozen grapes
  • Frozen bananas dipped in Greek yogurt and chocolate chips or nuts
  • Hydration-loaded fruit and vegetable “fries” including jicama, watermelon and cucumber sticks
  • Chilled spring rolls
  • Cold pasta salad made with zoodles and a light dressing
  • Fruit-filled ice cubes

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Tips for traveling with picky eaters

By Sarah Kavlich, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

When you’re a parent dealing with a picky eater, childhood and picky eating can seem synonymous. It’s easy to cater to the pickiness in an effort to avoid a struggle at mealtimes. However, this can sometimes worsen their habits. With summer just around the corner and as we move into warmer months filled with fun, travel and a break from school, parents can use this opportunity to try some new and interesting foods with their picky eater. Whether you’re traveling or staying at home, this time of year can offer an opportunity to experience a new culture through food.

Tips for introducing new foods to toddlers

Remember that kids are learning to eat so consider changing your mindset before heading into meals. Remember that they won’t necessarily eat much of a new food the first time they try it. Repeated exposure to that new food will help them become more comfortable with the food over time. Research suggests it can take up to 20 encounters with a food before someone develops a preference. So, if it is a food you would like to be a mainstay in your child’s diet, don’t give up right away but also don’t force it. Maintain structure by letting your child know that everyone in your family eats the same meals, and there are no separate kids’ meals. This can be a tough pattern to break but offering a small amount of the new food alongside a few familiar foods or a favorite dipping sauce during the meal can help.

Tips for traveling with picky eaters

Exposing your children to new foods while at home, in a lower pressure environment, can help expand their palate before traveling. Start by offering just a small taste test of the new food alongside some familiar foods that your child already feels comfortable eating.

Talk about your upcoming adventure and some of the things your family might experience there, including testing new food together. Kids learn by example and often model the behavior of the people they are closest to, so make sure you have an open mind as well. It’s ok for children to have different food preferences than their parents.  If your child shows interest in a new food that you may not enjoy, go ahead and let them try it without assuming they won’t like it.

On your trip, pack a few of your child’s favorite foods or snacks that travel well like bars, dry cereal or crackers, or pick up some fruits, vegetables, yogurts, or cheese at a local market to help ease them into the new cuisine. Healthy snacks will also help your child from becoming overly hungry between meals. Use words like “exploring” and “adventure” as you offer new foods to promote a more enjoyable atmosphere. Most importantly have fun as you learn together and create lasting memories with your family.

At home before a trip, set the stage by offering some of the foods you might experience on your upcoming travels, like this healthy recipe:

Rice with Lemongrass and Green Onion


(Serves four)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 cup long-grain white rice

1 3/4 cups water

2 12-inch-long lemongrass stalks, cut into 2-inch-long pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 large green onion, chopped


Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 2/3 cup onion and turmeric and sauté 5 minutes. Mix in rice. Add water, lemongrass and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand covered 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass.

Heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add green onion and sauté 1 minute. Add rice and stir until heated through. Season to taste with salt.

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How to read a food label

By Janette Skaar, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Trying to
eat healthier may be
a goal you’ve set for your
family this year. Even with
the best intentions, it may seem
confusing with all the choices
available in the aisles of
your favorite grocery store.
Shoppers today have more options
than ever before.
Sorting through food labels and
checking prices may seem
like a daunting task. Understanding food labels is key to
making the best choices for you and
your family.

Natural: The USDA allows the term “natural” to be used
on meat
and poultry that contains no artificial ingredients
or added
color. It must also be minimally processed.
It does not address food
production methods, such
as use of growth hormones or pesticides, or potential
health or nutrition benefits. The FDA has
not provided any formal definition
or regulation of the term
“natural” on food or beverage labeling.

Processed or unprocessed:
These terms may
easily misunderstood. We generally
think of anything “processed” as being
unhealthy, with lots of additives,
like boxed mac and cheese or potato chips. “Unprocessed” foods may be
healthier, since they are not in
a package, frozen or canned.

The USDA defines processed as a
food that has had a change in character. Roasted nuts, pre- washed spinach, and whole wheat bread are also processed, as well as anything
we cut, cook or
bake. Pasteurized milk is processed
with heat to 161 degrees for 20 seconds to kill listeria,
salmonella and E. coli, which
reduces the risk of serious
illness from these bacteria.
 Some foods
are made
more nutrient dense,
for example when milk
and juices are fortified with
calcium and Vitamin D.

This means not all processed
food is unhealthy.
However, we should aim to do more food
prep at home, when possible, and select minimally processed foods, such as cut vegetables or frozen
fruit, rather than heavily processed
foods like pizza and microwave dinners.
Eating too many heavily
processed foods adds
hidden sugar and sodium to our diets that may increase
the risk for diabetes and
heart disease.

Whole foods: There
is no regulated definition of this term,
but it generally refers to foods that are
in their simplest
form, that are not
processed and do not
have added ingredients.

100% whole grain: There is
a difference between the phrases “100% whole grain”
and “made with whole grains.” Whole grains contain the
entire grain kernel and
include whole wheat flour, bulgur
or cracked wheat, oatmeal, whole
cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined
grains refer to grains
that have been processed to
remove the gran and germ. A food may have a
very small percentage of whole
grains in the ingredients and
still carry the
label “made with whole grains.”
The Whole Grains
Council developed the 100% Whole Grain
Stamp and the Basic Stamp
to help shoppers identify which foods are
good sources of whole grains, and not just white bread
disguised as whole grains.
Check the list of ingredients. Since manufacturers must list the
ingredients in descending order, the first ingredient should start with the word whole,
such as whole wheat flour or
whole grain rye flour.

Buying locally grown and in-season
fruits and vegetables means eating
foods that taste fresher, have
retained more of their nutrients,
and cost

The terms
local and locally grown refer to the
distance between farm and market
and may mean
less than 100 miles, or even 450 miles, if you
are a large grocery store chain.
Buying local is becoming
more important to shoppers concerned
about their carbon
footprint and their desire
lessen the impact of food
production and transportation on the environment, while
supporting local farmers and communities. Farmer’s markets offer the opportunity
to talk to local growers and ask questions about their farming
methods. Some use a mixture
of organic and conventional methods.

Organic: This term has the most specific
and legal meaning.
 The term organic means
crops are grown with
fewer pesticides, no synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified
organisms and farm animals
raised without
the use of routine
antibiotics and are given organic feed

There are three
tiers to the USDA
labeling standards. To display the USDA’s organic
seal of approval,

product must meet the top two requirements:

  • “100% organic” which means it contains 100% organic
  • “Organic” indicating it contains
    at least 95% organic
  • “Made with organic
    (ingredient)” indicates it contains
    at least 70% organically
    produced ingredients

The USDA organic
seal is a simple way to know if you are purchasing
a primarily organic food

Conventionally grown: You won’t find
this term on your
fruits and vegetables, but it refers to the growing
and production of foods with traditional farming practices, which may
include chemical pesticides, herbicides and
fertilizers to enhance
growth. Livestock
may be given antibiotics and hormones to improve their growth and
prevent disease.

vs Conventional
? There is research support for organic foods having
lower pesticide levels, as well as organically
raised animals less likely to be contaminated with
drug resistant bacteria. The verdict on long term health
outcomes of eating
organic vs conventional
foods is still out.

If the price of organic
produce is a concern, families can use
shopper’s guides provided
by Consumer Reports
or the Environmental Working Group to help them
choose conventional foods with
lower pesticide residue. These are
commonly referred to as the
Dirty Dozen and the Clean

Dirty Dozen: Strawberries, spinach,
kale, nectarines, apples, grapes,
peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes

Clean Fifteen: Avocados, sweet corn,
pineapples, sweet peas (frozen),
onions, papayas, eggplant, asparagus,
kiwi, cabbage, cauliflower, cantaloupe, broccoli, mushroom, honeydew melon

Whether choosing organic or conventionally grown foods, increasing your intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is recommended. Focus on eating a variety of foods, including those with rich colors.

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Spring clean your family’s eating habits

By Monika Frauzem dietetic technician, registered

March is not only the kick-off of spring;it’s also National Nutrition Month! Spring is not simply  a good opportunity for traditional spring cleaning, but also an ideal time to make positive changes to your eating habits.

With a greater variety of fruits and vegetables hitting the markets this time of year, it is easier to meet the recommendation of filling half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. The USDA MyPlate program is a model for healthy eating.  For those of us withambitious goals to pursue, focusing on small changes is more realistic. There is no magic recipe; food variety and moderation are key ingredients to healthy eating.

Here are a few easy ways to spring clean your family’s eating habits:

Mindful eating: Focusing on mindful eating helps control portion sizes and lets you enjoy the different flavors of your food. Fruits and vegetables are the most flavorful when bought in season.

Shop outside:  Farmers’ markets are ideal places to shop for seasonal produce.Sustainability and encouraging market development in underserved areas are just two reasons to support your local farmers’ market.  Programs such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) offer access to more fresh fruit and vegetables to low income families and provide vouchers that are accepted at many farmers’ markets.

Shopping at the local farmers’ market is not only fun, it also supports local businesses. It is a great place to by organic produce, locally baked goods, local cheeses, and oils. Three out of four farmers who sell at farmers’ markets use farming practices that meet or exceed organic standards.

Get your kids involved: Some vendors at farmers’ markets come equipped with recipe cards and are happy to share recipe ideas and give advice on cooking and storing various kinds of produce. They let you know when the season is at its peak and when it is winding down. This is a great way to get your kids involved with learning about where food comes from and to see fruits and vegetables that may be unfamiliar. Samples are often available so you can taste what you are about to purchase—another good way to get your children to try something new!

Meal plan: Allow yourself to be surprised by the selection at the market as well as inform yourself on the seasons for produce grown in your area. If you know what you will find at the market it is easier to make meal plans and a grocery list in advance. This helps you avoid overbuying, and reduces food waste. Check out these healthy meal prep tips for busy parents.

Celebrate National Nutrition Month and the launch of spring by taking time to explore your local farmers’ market with your family and enjoy the goods it has to offer. You might find a new favorite food!

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Family-Friendly Healthy Eating on a Budget

By Christina Wright-Yee, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Eating healthy on a budget doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. By following these tips, you can be on your way to a balanced diet and budget!


  • Determine a food budget for your family. Use the Spend Smart, Eat Smart App to calculate your family’s weekly grocery budget to meet each family member’s nutrition needs and stay in budget!
  • Plan a menu based on your family schedule for a week at a time, building the menu around foods you already have in the house. Consider planning for left-overs for another night in the week.
  • Write down a list of all of your grocery items by category based on your menu. More trips to the grocery store can often lead to more impulse purchases. Grocery shop on a regular day of the week that works for you and your family, or for the deals of your preferred stores. Reading grocery flyers can help you determine what’s on sale and in season to help you create your grocery shopping list.


  • Eat before you shop. Going shopping while hungry often leads to spontaneous and unhealthy purchases.
  • Compare prices. Food items at eye level tend to be more expensive. Instead, look for store-brand version of the same products that tend to be more cost-effective. Look at the price per unit when comparing products to find the best value.
  • Reach for the back of food items in the produce, dairy and meat sections to get the freshest foods, with expiration dates furthest away.
  • Try other options in each food group:
    • Fruits and vegetables:
      • Buy fruits and veggies that are in season in their simplest form.  Pre-cut, washed and ready-to-eat foods tend to be more expensive.
      • Buy fruit canned in 100 percent fruit juice or canned vegetables with labels that mention low sodium or no salt added.
      • Frozen fruits and vegetables tend to last longer and are just as good for you as fresh ones.
    • Grains:
      • Pick whole grain options for rice and pasta, including:  whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole oats and whole rye.
      • Buy oatmeal in bulk instead of pre-packaged sweetened versions. You’ll get more for your dollar and enjoy more health benefits too!
      • Look for breads in the clearance section. Freeze what you don’t use and pull out of the freezer as needed.
    • Protein foods:
      • Low cost protein options include: beans, peas and lentils. Limit pre-marinated meats as they tend to be more expensive and add more sodium (salt) to your diet.
      • Buy family-size or value packs of lean meats, such as chicken or turkey, and freeze portions you can defrost as needed.
      • Canned tuna and salmon stores well and are less expensive than fresh fish.   Opt for a canned version in water rather than one canned in oil. Check to make sure the can is BPA-free, is not dented or discolored, and is not bulging or cracked.
    • Dairy foods:
      • Choose low-fat (1 percent) or fat-free (0 percent) milk and reduced fat or low-fat cheeses.
      • Buy a larger container of yogurt and pre-portion the yogurt yourself, rather than buying the individual containers.
    • Other tips:
      • Drink water instead of sodas and juices.
      • Keep most of your shopping around the outside edges of the store, as it tends to be where the freshest and healthiest options are stored.


  • Keep it simple. Let kids dip their raw veggies into hummus, Greek yogurt or even light ranch instead of cooking the veggies.
  • Prepare double or even triple batches of vegetable soups, stews or casseroles on days you are less busy and freeze the leftovers to pull out for a quick meal on days you are short on time.
  • Cook extra meats and use it multiple ways during the week. For example, baked chicken can become shredded chicken to top a salad, put in a taco or in a casserole.

Remember, by portioning out your foods and focusing on healthy portion sizes, you’ll eat the right amount, which also saves money and your family’s health.

The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance food groups.


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