14 Kid-Friendly Junk Food Alternatives

Kid Friendly Junk Food Alternatives

Junk food tastes good and it’s usually easy to get it into our hands (and mouths) with little to no preparation time. Now that I’ve stated that, it’s important to also state that healthier versions of popular “junk” foods can be just as satisfying and immensely better for health.  

Starting our children in their early years with healthier versions of typical junk foods will lead to healthier eating throughout life.

Children begin their experience with food and food preferences in infancy, and these preferences are shaped by what is available and familiar as well as by parent modeling. So for children to learn to prefer healthy foods, they must be exposed to early, positive and repeated experiences with those healthy foods. 

Children watch what their parents eat, with parents serving as role models for establishing attitudes towards foods. If a child often sees a parent eat an entire box of cookies in one sitting while watching television, the child will see this as normal and acceptable. Providing healthy snacks (and foods in general) and role modeling eating them in appropriate portions, as well as making these foods accessible sets the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating. It’s also important that childcare providers and schools adopt this mentality as they also influence children’s attitudes towards foods too.

Now that you know the importance of providing nutrient-rich alternatives to the “junk foods” that are so prevalent, here are some healthier versions that your family can enjoy together.

  • Root Veggie Chips: Root veggie chips can be made with any or all of the following: sweet potato, red beet, golden beet, russet potato, yucca, turnip, rutabaga or parsnip. These provide folate, beta-carotene, vitamin C, antioxidants, and more. They are simple to prepare and are a great way to introduce children to some less common but nutritious vegetables. These are thinly sliced and baked with minimal oil and salt so that they crisp up and resemble chips.
  • Hummus, Salsa, or Guacamole: Hummus, salsa, and guacamole dips are nutritious and delicious alternatives to less healthy dips, and served with homemade pita chips, vegetables, or on a toasted English muffin can make a great snack or meal. One of our favorites is a whole wheat English muffin topped with hummus and a tomato slice baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit to warm it up.

    There are many varieties of hummus, such as roasted red pepper hummus, black bean hummus, white bean hummus, and more, so there are bound to be several that your family would enjoy. Also, remember that salsa can be used a number of ways, such as to spice up a breakfast burrito, added to a baked potato, or added to tacos.
  • Homemade Pita Chips:  Cut up a pita or tortilla, sprinkle with your favorite spices, and bake to use as a substitute for fried chips to go with dips.
  • Fruit Salsa: Make a fruit salsa to enjoy with cinnamon pita chips as a chip and dip alternative.
  • Snack Sticks: Cut a variety of foods, such as carrots or other vegetables, toast, cheese, or fruit that you have on hand into sticks (about the length of a pretzel stick) and serve with dips, such as nut butter and hummus.
  • Cookies: Are there really healthier versions of cookies out there? Yes, indeed. It's all in the ingredients that give the cookie a nutrient boost. Use whole wheat flour, nut butters, chia seeds, and more to satisfy a sweet tooth while packing in wholesome ingredients.
  • Frozen Yogurt: Try homemade frozen yogurt by pureeing fruit like strawberry and bananas with plain yogurt, a bit of lemon juice, and a sweetener, like honey. It'll be as delicious as ice cream and it's a recipe for success.
  • Pizza: There are several ways to make a healthier pizza.
  • Baked Onion Rings: For some reason, many kids turn away from the versatile and much-used onion. But slice it, toss it in bread crumbs, and bake it, and it becomes an irresistible snack or side dish replacing the fried and soggy variety.
  • Popcorn: Popcorn is low in calories and allows for many variations. Try adding parmesan, Cajun seasoning, or curry powder as toppings for different flavors.
  • Muffins: There are an amazing number of healthy muffin recipes available to take the place of the prepackaged, packed with fat and preservatives variety. Look for recipes with whole wheat flour (or substitute whole wheat for white for at least half of the flour) that are low in sugar and packed with healthy ingredients such as fruit, nuts, oats, et cetera. These fruit and veggie muffins, with spinach, mango, bananas, and walnuts, are as delicious as they are healthy.  And pumpkin walnut muffins have a winning combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, walnuts and sprinkle of chocolate chips.
  • Hot Dogs: Hot dogs are an American favorite and sometimes they are unavoidable. But for a healthier version, what about serving chili on a whole wheat hot dog bun, topped with mustard and a sprinkle of cheese?
  • French Fries: Yes, we eat French fries, but they are of the super crispy homemade French fry variety. When we want something different, baked sweet potato fries are a yummy side dish.
  • Burgers: Another fast food favorite, burgers can definitely be made healthier. And beans and veggies to the mix and choose lean meats, like turkey or lean beef, to reduce the fat content. In our home, we like to change up our burger ingredients, using lentils, black beans, turkey, or beef, to continue to try different flavors.

Make sure that when the time is right, you include your children in preparing healthy foods so that they can learn about what goes into preparing healthy foods and snacks. Yes, you want to feed wonderful foods to them, but you want to share how these foods are made so that they can continue this way of eating for a lifetime of health.

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