15 Easy Dinners from Costco (ready in under 15 minutes)

It has been awhile since I shared my last post featuring Costco, so I knew it was an appropriate time to list out some of my favorite, easy dinner ideas from Costco again. With Back to School and after school activities in full swing, I know this list of 15 simple yet satisfying dinner ideas will help you make a healthy dinner happen even on your busiest of nights!

You can get this free one week meal plan featuring seven night’s worth of easy Costco dinners too at the end of this post!

 
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The Need for Easy Dinner Ideas

In theory, I enjoy scratch-making recipes and rotating through new, nourishing options at any meal of the day. Many of my family’s staples and most favorite Fall recipes will be on my Seasonal Meal Plan because these are the dinners that I make a habit to prep ahead and pull together on a regular basis.

The reality is though, sometimes my meal planning doesn’t happen, grocery shopping happens AT dinner time, and I need simple options I can literally be pulling off in the kitchen AS I unpack the car of groceries (with three kids on my ankles I might add).

There is what’s ideal (healthy, simple ingredients and well-balanced meals) and then there is what’s real (busy, chaotic nights and rushed grocery runs where we need to grab some easy options). That’s the intersection I hope this post finds us at. Next week, I plan to give you the recipes we PLAN to have over the upcoming Fall quarter. This week, however, I want to give you some easy ideas for your dinner time tool belt that you can easily use on those UNPLANNED nights when we have to operate “off menu” and work with what we’ve got - which is often a Costco run as a catch all.

 

In this post, you have 15 easy dinner options from Costco that you can have ready in under 15 minutes.

With each meal including a balance of food groups and nutrients for a given night’s dinner idea, all you need to do is pick and purchase the listed items to pull off a quick and easy dinner once you are back at home.

Costco also offers bulk packaging of many of the items listed, so many of these ideas will give you a few meals worth from them. So while you pay a bit more up front, if you have the space to store extras (in the pantry, fridge, or freezer), these easy dinner ideas from Costco will come in handy again down the road when you find yourself needing a simple dinner ready in under 15 minutes!

 
 

If you have questions about My 55 Most Favorite, Dietitian Approved Costco Staples, be sure to check out this grocery list download!

In this grocery list, I include images of each product I love to help make it easy on you to find. Just print, put in a page protector, and let your little ones mark it up as you move your way through the aisles filling your cart with many of my favorites. Many of these are ingredients included in the following 15 easy dinner ideas list!


15 Easy Dinners from Costco (ready in under 15 minutes)

1 Chicken burgers with sweet potato fries

2 Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • Coleman Organic Meatballs (in the refrigerated, pre-packaged foods section)

  • Organic Spaghetti Sauce (in the non-perishable section)

  • Zucchini to turn into zoodles (in the refrigerated produce section)

3 Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Veggie tray

  • Cauliflower Cheese Pizza (in the frozen foods section)

  • Veggie Tray (in the refrigerated produce section)

4 Hot Dogs with Slaw Salad

  • Teton Waters Ranch grass-fed beef hot dogs (in the refrigerated, pre-packaged foods section)

  • Sweet Kale salad (in the refrigerated produce section)

5 Tikka Masala with Brown Rice and Stir-Fry Veggies

6 Madras Lentils with Cauliflower Rice

7 Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese

8 Mediterranean Quinoa Salad Dinner

9 Caprese Pasta

10 Soup & Salad

11 Teriyaki

12 Salmon Caesar Salads

13 Quesadillas

14 Tuna Sandwiches

15 Breakfast for dinner

  • Make French toast with organic eggs, milk, vanilla, and Alpine Valley Organic Honey Bread


Want more easy dinner ideas with images to shop you just what to shop for? Get my free one week meal plan for Costco here!

25 Easy Ways to Include Veggies in Your Kid's Lunch

Disclaimer: Please note that some of the following links include affiliate links. These do not cost you more money, but help Veggies & Virtue continue to grow and offer you fun free resources like this post. For more on my disclosure policy, please visit my legal page here. As always, all opinions are my own.

 

I know a lot of us parents struggle with how to include veggies in our kid’s lunch box without defaulting to baby carrots and dip each day. While that is a fine option, older kids may get burnt out of that offering and younger kids likely can't (safely) crunch their way through it.

That's why I have created this list.

With 25 ideas for how to include a variety of vegetables in each lunch box, you could literally offer a different option each school day of the month! I know this list will help to spur on some new ideas, get you out of a "what to offer" rut, and help your family shop for some fun new offerings this school year.

If you haven’t already, be sure to also grab my FREE Lunch Packing Cheat Sheet. I share 30 options for veggies at lunch!

 
 

25 Easy Ways to Include Veggies in Your Kid's Lunch

10 Effortless Ways to Include Veggies in Your Kids Lunches

  1. Frozen Peas: any kind will do; no need to buy organic (based on EWG clean 15 here)

  2. Grated Carrot Straws: You can grate your own, or buy them premade like these

  3. Freeze-Dried Veggies: We love these ones by Karen’s Naturals

  4. Kale Chips: Make your own or buy premade ones like these for a less perishable option

  5. Bell Peppers: Buy the large ones and cut into shapes or with cute punch out cookie cutters. Or, buy the mini bell peppers!

  6. Sugar Snap Peas "Peek a Boo Babies": As shown here.

  7. Canned Corn: Buy an organic, no salt added option like these ones.

  8. Grape Tomatoes: Skewer with grapes or cheese on a small kabob stick or mix with pre-made mini mozzarella balls for a simple kids caprese salad.

  9. Cucumber: An easy option you can cut in sticks or circles!

  10. Celery: Include thin sticks of celery with peanut or nut-free butter and raisins!

 

5 Ways to Include Veggies in Your Kids Lunches with Baked Goods

Based on feedback from Muffin Club, I know MANY families said they enjoy muffins mainly at breakfast or as snacks. However, tucking a veggie-packed baked good is an easy-to-eat way for veggies to be offered in lunches as well. I like to include these options in addition to a more obvious form of veggies when we have them baked and ready!

  1. Carrot Muffins: These are a staple in our house and the most popular recipe from Muffin Club!

  2. Zucchini Muffins: This recipe offers a subtle yet sweet way to add in a little added veggies.

  3. Pumpkin Donuts: These can be enjoyed year round as a tasty, veggie-packed treat to add in any lunchbox.

  4. Sweet Potato Muffins: These Sweet Potato Muffins with Crunchy Flax topping are a tasty way to tuck some added veggies into a muffin form! Plus with ways to reduce the amount of sugar or omit the gluten (if needed), I found these ones my family as a whole could really enjoy.

  5. Hulk Muffins: Don’t knock these til you try them. Such a simple way to add in some spinach to a lunch!

 

5 Ways to Include Veggies in Your Kids Lunches with Leftover Veggies

Have veggies that might otherwise go to waste but don’t necessarily look (or smell!) good in a lunchbox on their own? Try these ideas to repurpose!

  1. Spinach Quesadilla: Have spinach that is getting wilted? Add it to these and serve warm at home or in a thermos or an insulated lunchbox like this.

  2. Fried Rice: Sick of sandwiches? Add those straggling peas and carrots to your child’s favorite fried rice, or mix in some riced cauliflower and send it warm in a thermos.

  3. Frittata Cups: Have veggies that went untouched on your child's plate the night before? Add them to a egg frittata recipe or serve them up as mini egg muffin cups. These broccoli egg quiche cups are great!

  4. Soup: Have veggies that come back untouched from the day’s lunchbox? Consider storing them in a mason jar in the fridge (assuming they are still edible). Then, toss them into a soup like minestrone or many others like these!

  5. Smoothies: Do you have a little extra veggie smoothie from today’s afterschool snack? Include in a pouch or leak-proof squeeze container. These are two great squeeze containers for leftover smoothies by Squeasy Gear and WeeSprouts. Click here for more smoothie ideas.

 

5 Ways to Include Veggies in Your Kids Lunches with Cooked Favorites

I know a lot of parents and kids wish they could have warm, comforting favorites sent for lunch -- especially as the school year progresses and weather starts to cool down. We love using our OmieBox for this, but you can also use a simple, small thermos that you already have separate from your child’s usual lunchbox (like those shared here).

  1. Hidden Veggie Mac n Cheese: Get that go-to orange color of mac and cheese with the perks of packing in REAL veggies! This is a good recipe to try!

  2. Spaghetti: I love spaghetti sauce as a flavorful, family-friendly staple for getting veggies in like this recipe. Add to whole grain or bean-based noodles, or put on top of zoodles for even more veggies.

  3. Tomato Soup: this is perfect to serve with a side of grilled cheese.

  4. Tater Tots: These options tend to be a toddler favorite for their soft texture and starchy taste. Consider baking up some of the more natural, nutrient dense "tots" or buying pre-made ones like Alexia sweet potato puffs here, Dr. Praeger’s Kale Puffs here, and Don Lee’s Veggie Bites here. You can serve as a side to a leftover slider, natural hot dog/sausage, or other preferred foods!

  5. Pizza Sauce: There are so many great variations to make a more nutrient-dense pizza option at lunch. Make ahead a veggie-loaded sauce like this one to freeze in an ice cube tray so you can pop out one mini pizza’s worth when needed! Serve on a cauliflower for extra veggies!

 

So there you have it!

Plenty of fun ways to get different veggies in your kids lunch this school year! Maybe you rotate through different combinations each week based off of what you have on hand fresh or have time to prepare. Then, rotate to include other options in upcoming weeks so your child continues to get exposed to veggies in all their many forms!

If you are stuck on what to send in your kid’s lunch, don’t miss the effortless options and yet endless variety of Combination Cards - on sale now.

In the lunch deck of Combination Cards, you get 30 ideas for each food group, as shown in the image here plus examples for veggies to include in each of the lunch Combinations.

Muffin Club for Moms

Do you know you want in Muffin Club for Moms? You can skip the post below and sign up here.

Since a book club still seems like a distant dream, one thing I can commit to in the real day to day right now is baking once a week, every Monday, to both keep myself accountable and healthy snacks on hand in our home.

This was a random idea I had in planning for postpartum after my third was born in August 2018. I casually mentioned it on my Instagram, “Hey, if you want me to share the recipes I choose and make, let me know.” That was after 9 PM and when I crawled into bed, I literally had hundreds of DMs asking for me to share.

So what else would I do than hop back out of bed with my giant 32 week pregnant belly and get to work. I posted a sign up for my fellow moms (slash families as I love all you dads who bake too!), and over the past year, it has been so fun watching thousands of you bake with me.

Whether you are expecting a little one soon, early on in your pregnancy and wanting to find some tried-and-true muffins for future postpartum prep, or are a fellow busy mama who just wants to make life a liiiiiittle more streamlined, efficient, and low-stress (especially over summer and as we gear back up for Back to School by the end of this), this Muffin Club is for you.


 
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Here is What You Can Expect:

Each week, I will:

  1. Search, find, and organize muffin recipes that I personally approve of as a dietitian-mom. I have personally tried each of these in advance and think they are enjoyable to eat and easy to make (with or without kids). As a dietitian mom, I also have vetted these recipes as ones that offer worthwhile nutrition for you and your family.

  2. Send out ONE email with the recipe for the upcoming week. I will send this on Saturday mornings, only to those who have joined the Muffin Club. Join here >>

  3. Share on my Instagram a picture and/or story about the muffins we are making for the week using the hashtag #muffinclubformoms.

Each week, I ask that you will:

  1. Check the recipe for the upcoming week so you can make sure you have the ingredients on hand. You can find this recipe on the email I send out each Saturday morning titled, "New Recipe for Muffin Club: ________." To join this email list and get this recipe to your inbox, make sure to sign up here.

  2. Recognize that each recipe may or may not suit your family’s dietary needs. Whenever possible, I have tried to select recipes that offer options to modify based on dietary preferences and/or allergen needs. In each week’s email, I also include modifications that I use for the recipe (based on my own family), but I can’t personally speak to other modifications or allergen-friendly alternatives. If you try any substitution, would you please share via email with me or on social media? Last year this proved to be very helpful among our muffin club community.

  3. Use this time to bond with your child(ren) over baking or for a much needed mom break when you can bake in peace! You can make this a family affair and double batch it so you have some to freeze and save, or many moms last year enjoyed baking and swapping with a fellow mom friend. This gives you both more variety of muffins for less actual effort on each end. Plus, it becomes an easy play date snack swap that I’m pretty sure most of us would be happy to do!

  4. Whenever you decide to make the muffins (be it on Monday or anytime!), please share a picture or a video on your social media. When you do, I would really appreciate it if you would tag me (@veggiesandvirtue) and include #muffinclubformoms. This makes a more fun "community" feel for our super official Muffin Club for Moms :)

  5. Enjoy the muffins! This is meant to be fun and ultimately help fuel your family - especially amidst the chaos of real life when sometimes we only have one hand to grab something healthy-ish while heading out the door. This isn’t intended to be a burden nor a baking competition. It is meant to fuel you - mind, body, and soul!

    You are doing great, mama, and I hope each bite of muffin brings you one more much needed deep breath each day.


FAQs for Muffin Club

I have received several questions about making muffins in advance, the logistics of doing so to freeze and enjoy again later, as well as this being round two to muffin club. To address some of these questions, I have provided the questions and my answers below.


If I signed up in 2018, do I need to sign up again?

Yes. Most of the recipes will be the same as those shared in 2018, but if you would like them to be delivered to your inbox again, you need to join here.

Are the recipes the same as last year?

Yes, majority of them are! I made 1-2 modifications (depending on when you signed up) to reflect some of my most favorite recipes currently. In upcoming years of running Muffin Club, I would like to introduce all new recipes. However, due to current bandwidth limitations, majority of the recipes will be familiar if you joined Muffin Club last year.

Can I get all the recipes in advance?

Yes. You can skip the weekly emails and get the complete Muffin Club series here.

What if I haven’t joined yet? Can I still get the recipes?

Yes, you will get all the recipes starting with WEEK ONE upon signing up. Please note, that means you will be however many weeks behind the Official Muffin Club for Moms Schedule. You can access each week’s recipes as they are shared on my Instagram stories or download the printable with all eight week’s worth of recipes here.

What kind of muffins will be included?

These are better-for-you, homemade muffins made with as many wholesome ingredients as possible. Set your expectations for them to taste delicious AND be nutritious as a nutrient-dense breakfast, snack, or anytime option! If you are wanting a muffin that is delicious but not so nutritious, I am probably not your gal nor is this going to bring you the type of snack you have in mind. The pre-made options you will find at most coffee shops and grocery stores are better suited for those decadent versus nutrient-dense options. Additionally, if you want these muffins to be zero added sugar, paleo-, keto-, or meet any other kind of specific dietary standards, again I am not your gal. These will have some grain-free, some without any added sugar, many with natural forms of sugar or added sugar, and some with tested swaps to eliminate dairy, eggs, etc. This club does not intend to follow one type of diet, however.


What type of ingredients will these muffins be made from?

Since I personally can't consume gluten, I usually bake gluten-free to ensure I can eat whatever I make. When possible, I use oats/oat flour or a gluten-free all purpose flour (as a substitute for a whole wheat flour or when specified). Many of these muffins will also use almond flour, or coconut flour as the base (making them naturally gluten-free). You are welcome to make your muffins with whatever flour is called for or is your preference, but please note I can’t ensure that the exchange is always 1:1 so you need to check the recipe notes and comments to verify what works (or doesn’t).

I am by no means endorsing a gluten-free diet is appropriate for everyone; this is simply how I cook for my family so the recipes chosen will naturally reflect that.

Otherwise, I am not looking to make anything fancy here folks! Most every recipe will be selected with the common home kitchen and pantry in mind, as I value recipes that use our everyday staples vs require exotic (or especially expensive) ingredients. Some of what I consider “staples” might be new to you. My goal is not to send you out shopping or spending unnecessary money on any of the ingredients included. Rather, the ingredients included are ones that I, as a dietitian mom, think are worthwhile having in your home and becoming familiar with - with Muffin Club as your first chance!


What is the best way to store muffins?

For the muffins that I plan we will eat the week of, I usually store them in a glass Pyrex with a snapware lid (as seen on my Amazon shop - affiliate link). If I don't want to tie these glass storage containers up long term however, so for freezing I use a gallon-sized freezer Ziplock, Stasher bags (when I have some free to use), and/or a metal disposable container with heavy duty foil top (I find the best size options and price for disposable metal pans at Dollar Tree).


What is the best way to freeze muffins?

Ideally, I recommend allowing the muffins to cool and come to room temperature. Then, transfer them on a cooling rack (or in the original muffin tin) and place them in the freezer for 30+ minutes to flash freeze individually. Once quick-frozen, transfer muffins to a sealed, freezer-safe container (see question above). This will help them to not stick together but prevents you from having to waste the time or product to wrap each muffin individually.


What is the best way to keep muffins tasting fresh?

Especially during hot summer months, I recommend you keep your fresh batch of muffins in the fridge (once they have cooled). Most will mold at room temperature if left out for more than 1-2 days, so I suggest storing them in the fridge and then pulling them out in advance to bring them to room temp on their own before eating or by quickly warming them up in the microwave (~10 seconds).


What is the best way to thaw frozen muffins?

When you go to thaw your muffins from the freezer, simply transfer the container of them to the fridge. Allow them to thaw on their own, or take one and put it on a paper towel to microwave (~15-30 seconds depending on how frozen they are). You should be able to transfer the whole container to the fridge to enjoy, or you can remove one muffin at a time from your freezer stash and thaw in the microwave. For muffins with more moisture, you may want to consider putting a paper towel inside of the container/Ziplock to absorb it as the muffins thaw.


How long do the muffins last in the freezer for?

From my experience and the notes I have read on many muffins recipes, most muffins are fine to be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months (assuming they have been well-sealed). When you put each batch in, just be sure to label with the name and date and then rotate using First In, First Out method when it comes to eating those that have been frozen. This said, in real life, we had so many muffins when my third was born we ate them after the three month mark and as far as I can tell, we all still turned out okay!


Cold-Fighting Clementine Smoothie

This post is sponsored by Darling Clementines®. All ideas and opinions are my own.

From the hustle of early morning wake-ups to feeding famished kids after school, it can take families some time to get into the groove with Back to School. Come October, many parents start to focus on the next big thing though: flu season.

However even amidst our efforts to get flu shots and fight infection at home, I know many families are also looking for ways to use food as immune-boosting medicine as well.

That’s why I love this smoothie featuring Darling Clementines®.

 
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Clementines are a familiar Fall favorite. You can toss them in backpacks as an option that doesn’t bruise nor brown in a lunchbox and they’re easy enough for little ones to peel on their own. Did you know that Darling Clementines® are available year-round though, thanks to the variety of growers harvesting them every month of the year? That means that when other summer fruits move out of season and become grossly expensive by now, Darling Clementines® continue to be an easy, economical fresh fruit option for our families all year.

In this smoothie, Darling Clementines® offer a vibrant orange color that makes it perfect for Fall and all the festivities in October. They also offer the vitamin C and flavor to make for a cold-fighting smoothie your kids will love slurping down.

 
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You can offer this smoothie as an easy grab-and-go option on the way out the door in the morning or have it ready as part of nutrient packed afternoon snack. Whenever you choose to enjoy it, this immune-boosting clementine smoothie is one your family will want to have in its immune defense arsenal this Fall!


Festive and Cold-Fighting Clementine Smoothie

 
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Here’s what you need:

Ingredients

2 Darling Clementines

½ cup Frozen pineapple

1 Frozen banana

2 TBSP Ground flax seeds

4-6 ounces Unsweetened coconut water

½ cup Ice

Instructions

Add all of the ingredients to a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth, adding additional coconut water and/or ice until desired consistency is achieved. Enjoy!

 
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Squeeze the Day

In case this smoothie wasn’t sweet enough for you, be sure to enter Darling Clementines Squeeze the Day Promotion Sweepstakes. Fill out the simple entry form (it takes less than 30 seconds to do here) and be entered to win a $500 gift card for YOU, plus a donation to a partnering charity. This costs you nothing to enter, but could afford you $500 to spend how you choose (maybe on a lifetime supply of clementines?!).

Enter here, or be sure to check out Darling Clementines for more on this festive and cold-fighting fruit!

Healthy Carrot Muffins

These have long been a favorite of mine. Initially adapted from a recipe I found here, I have loved made these time and time again. They were a fave while burning calories breastfeeding (err...exclusively pumping), and now, I am introducing them to our newly one year old too.

The first time they were offered, she ate two (normal-sized)! So I think it is safe to say these will be a hit in our home for breakfast, snack time, and on the go.

 
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Healthy Carrot Muffins

Gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, refined-sugar free

Yield: 15-18 muffins or 30-36 mini muffins

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

Wet Ingredients:

3 eggs, whisked well
2 very-ripe bananas, mashed well
1/2 cup almond butter
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp pure vanilla

Fold In:

1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins


 
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Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper or silicone muffin liners, or brush muffin tin with melted coconut oil. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add all dry ingredients. Mix well.

3. In another large bowl, add all wet ingredients. Mix until well combined and semi-smooth.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry. Stir until combined, then fold in carrots and raisins.

5. Use 1/4 cup scoop to add muffin batter to prepared muffin tins. Fill about two-thirds full.

6. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

7. Allow to cool on a cooling rack, then enjoy!


 
 

Notes on Ingredients:

For infants under one, use agave or real maple syrup.

For carrots, grate in a food processor (if available). If not, buy whole, large carrots. Wash well then grate on a cheese grater (no need to peel). Or, you may buy pre-grated (matchstick) carrots and fold in per the recipe for an especially easy option!


How to Batch-Cook this Recipe:

1. Prepare as instructed above, multiplying each ingredient by the intended number of batches (i.e. 1/2 cup almond butter per batch; for 2 batches, use 1 cup almond butter).

2. After fully cooked, cool completely on cooling rack. Transfer to freezer (on cooling rack or sheet pan) to flash freeze (for ~30 minutes).

3. Remove from freezer and transfer to freezer-safe container. Store extra batch(es) in the freezer until ready to eat. Then, thaw and serve.


Products I Used (affiliate links):

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Want to get all set to make this recipe?

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Every Bite Matters: Quick and Efficient Snack Ideas for Kids

This post is sponsored by Healthy Height. All opinions are my own.

Summer is here, which seems unanimously to come with kids’ endless requests for a snack.

Somewhere in the flexibility of being home more and the need for boredom-busters that often have kids ending up in and around the kitchen though, kids constant questioning “can I have a snack” is one that parents can start answering with a more proactive approach.

Instead of feeling pressured to either provide a snack upon being asked or to tame the hangry temperament until the next meal, this post will help parents to make the most out of each bite offered with quick and efficient fuel ideas.

 

Every Bite Matters: Quick and Efficient Snack Ideas for Kids

As with when I have shared about how to build a healthy snack, one thing that continues to be an area of emphasis is to offer a balance of nutrients.

One of the reasons kids often ask for endless snacks is because they aren’t being satiated enough with a given snack. While starchy foods more traditionally seen as “snack foods for kids” are often enjoyed in large amounts by little ones, they lack the nutrition to effectively fuel a child for their high energy and spurts of activity in between meals. Additionally, for children who may need snack options that pack in more nutrition to help promote growth as well, snacks become an especially opportune time for each bite to be optimized. Rather than filling up the precious real estate of a child’s stomach with “filler foods,” parents can also use the following principles as criteria for what to include in their child’s snack offering.

That’s one of the reasons why I always encourage parents to “boost each bite.” What I mean by that is to find small, subtle changes that add major nutrition to your child’s otherwise normal snack. Although you can always add a scoop of ice cream to their smoothie/shake or offer processed, high-fat food for merely more calories, it probably goes without saying that these aren’t my ideal “boosts.” Instead, I love encouraging parents to try out other products on the market that help to deliver more nutrition with each bite, sip, or slurp. As you will see in the examples below, I like to suggest the idea of using a kid-friendly protein powder, like Healthy Height. I know that nutritionally it adds the boost children need in their diets. Equally important, I trust this product is backed by pediatricians who saw the need for a healthier shake supplement and have since created this as a safe, more-natural alternative for families (with less sugar than its competitors).

This way, whether you have a child who seems like they can never stay satisfied (and always wants snacks) or a child who seems like they can never eat enough to gain weight and grow properly (and often “eats like a bird”), you as the parent can confidently approach snack time knowing you have wholesome, nutrient-dense options for optimizing each bite. The following balance of nutrients in the snack options you offer will create a framework for snack time success:

Aim to Include a Combination of Protein, Fat, and/or Fiber for Extra Fuel

While having snacks that include any one of these components can be sufficient for some or when a small snack is merited, including options that include protein, fat, and/or fiber will help to both fill and fuel your child for longer.

 
 

Protein

As the most asked about macronutrient by parents, protein is a hot topic of concern. Many parents are concerned their children don’t eat enough protein (click here to see how much young kids need!), especially in the form of proteins often offered at meals like meat, poultry, seafood, beans, or eggs. That’s why finding creative ways to get protein in at snacks can help to both lessen the concern on how much children eat at mealtimes while also providing them with valuable fuel that helps them to feel full longer.

Here are some easy and efficient ways to add protein for extra fuel:

  • Offer Healthy Height instead of a standard juice box for a protein-rich option

  • Add hummus to fresh veggies sticks and/or crackers

  • Add nuts or seeds (as appropriate for child’s age) to homemade trail mix with dry cereal and dried fruit

  • Hard boil eggs for a quick addition to any snack plate

  • Make energy bites with added nuts and seeds instead of standard grain-based granola bars

 

Fat

With more calories per gram than either carbohydrates or protein, fat offers a nutrient-dense way to make a snack more satisfying. That means, bite for bite, your child eats the most calories from fat (compared to from carbohydrates or protein). Fat also helps us to feel full longer, so simple swaps of low-fat options for higher-fat ones or additions of healthy fat options can help curb kid’s hunger even if they only eat a few bites.

Here are some easy and efficient ways to add fat for extra fuel:

  • Mix Healthy Height with whole milk instead of water

  • Add nut butter spreads, smashed avocado, or melted cheese to toast (instead of using jam or other alternatives)

  • Pair fruit or crackers with nut butter as a dip

  • Offer whole milk yogurt in place of lower fat “kids yogurts”

  • Include hemp, chia, or ground flax seeds with items (in muffins, mixed in yogurt or applesauce, sprinkled on top of toast)

 

Fiber

This is a great reason why adding fruits or vegetables to a snack helps to not only round out what is offered nutritionally, but also provide an element that promotes added fullness. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always an easy idea to add to a snack, as is dried fruit if parents want an option that holds up better in the heat and provides more compact calories (energy!) than fresh alternatives.

Here are some easy and efficient ways to add fat for extra fuel:

  • Make a fiber-rich green smoothie with frozen fruit, a few handfuls of greens, and a scoop of Healthy Height

  • Offer a fresh fruit salad instead of fruit snacks

  • Opt for whole grains in snack foods, cereals, and crackers

  • Cut up fresh veggie sticks and offer alongside “veggie straws” or other low-fiber snack foods

  • Use whole grain flours like whole wheat or oat flour (instead of white flour) when making muffins or other baked goods that work for easy, on the go snack options

 

In Summary

Any parent knows there is a need for both quick AND efficient snacks when fueling small stomachs. So instead of reaching for snacks with empty calories on the regular, consider the above advice and ideas. Use these to help brainstorm ways that you could help your child to make the most out of every bite by adding in more protein, fat, and/or fiber at snack time. Also, if your child’s pediatrician has suggested you try Pediasure, Carnation Instant Breakfast, or any other oral supplement to try and promote more nutrient-rich options in the diet, I encourage you to check out Healthy Height.

Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt Bark

Since Fall in Texas still means it's consistently over 70 and even 80 degrees, this has been a Fall favorite with my family. It mixes the flavors from the season with the nutrient-dense foods my growing girls need, making it a perfect snack or after dinner treat!

Be sure to check out my dietitian mom tip at the bottom of this recipe as well!

 
pumpkin froyo bark.jpg
 
 

Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt Bark

Ingredients:

1 cup plain full-fat yogurt (I used Stonyfield)
1/4 cup plain pumpkin puree
2 Tablespoons hemp hearts
1 Tablespoon Halloween sprinkles

Instructions:

  1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Pour yogurt onto parchment paper. Using a rubber spatula, evenly spread out until about 1/4-1/2 inch thick.
  3. Add pumpkin purée to yogurt. Gently mix in. Again spread out out mixture until even.
  4. With hand 12” or so above yogurt mixture, sprinkle hemp hearts evenly on the surface. Repeat with Halloween sprinkles.
  5. Put in the freezer for 1-2 hours or until firm. Remove pan from freezer, lift parchment paper, and gently break up frozen yogurt bark into large pieces. Serve immediately, storing extra pieces in air tight container with parchment paper in between layers. Enjoy! 

Note: These will thaw quickly, so best to return pieces to the freezer in between requests for seconds!


Dietitian Mom Tip

We rarely ever have foods containing food dyes in our home, sprinkles included. But for some certain seasonal items that I know will be short lived and likely live in the attic until next year, I do bend some of my standard "what I buy and why" standards. This not only helps me fit in other key foods like yogurt, pumpkin, and hemp seeds, but also makes a less exciting snack all the more fun amidst a holiday season that can be so all about the sugar. So just remember - YOU are the nutritional gatekeeper. The call is yours! But sometimes, I will give my dietitian blessing to loosen up a little bit and add a little fun for the sake of the big picture.

Halloween Boo Breakfast

Boo!

Did that scare you?

No? Well it's probably a good thing that neither of us is on edge then. Because one thing you don't need to worry about scaring me with is the amount of candy our kids will soon be seeing.

As a registered dietitian and mom of two, I am well aware that with the start of this holiday season and namely Halloween comes A LOT of candy. And although it might surprise you, I am actually okay (or at least at terms!) with it. That's because my main goal in raising healthy eaters is for them to establish a healthy relationship with all foods, including all of the sweets stuffed into their little plastic pumpkin pales.

In my ideal world, all families would hand out jack-o-lantern satsumas and mummy-wrapped boxes of raisins. But in the real world? That's just not happening, even in my home.

That's why I think the sticky subject of sweets this time of year needs to shift less on if/whether and how much candy our kids eat (remember, that's THEIR job!) and more towards what, when, and where we allow sugar to be offered (since that's OUR job!).

 

When my sweet friend Ashley over at The Littles and Me asked if I wanted to do a Halloween Boo Breakfast for our monthly collab, I couldn't resist. I can talk about sugar and managing "forbidden foods" all day, how much sugar is recommended, how we can help curb our kid's cravings for it, and the most common concerns I see with how parents handle sugar. But what I really want to highlight this year is how we can assume a healthy, balanced approach to the Division of Responsibility in feeding - even at Halloween.

Halloween Boo Breakfast

It starts with determining what, when, and where our kids will be exposed to the sweet stuff.

By planning for fewer added sugars in the foods you offer your family everyday, you are opening up more margin in your kids diets for a few sweet treats when offered elsewhere. You are acknowledging that they will likely be eating more sugar than their tiny tummies need elsewhere and planning meals and snacks at home accordingly. You are making wise food choices that both fuel and fill your kiddos, so when candy is around, you know they aren't scarfing it down because you didn't do your part to feed them properly. Above all, you are embracing the joys of Halloween and helping your child learn how to healthfully and happily to do the same.

This all starts with Halloween Boo Breakfasts like this one!

With seasonal flavors, wholesome foods, and zero added sugars, make your tiny monsters this Boo Breakfast and you will both start the festivities feeling good.


Boo-Nana Smoothie

Ingredients:
1 small container pumpkin yogurt (I used Siggi's)
1 ripe banana
1 Tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 Tablespoon pumpkin puree
4 ounces unsweetened almond milk

Healthy Boo-Nana Smoothie for Kids

Instructions:

  1. Add ingredients to blender.
  2. Turn on and blend until well mixed.
  3. Serve in a spooky glass and enjoy!
 

Note:
I found these cute glass cups with lids and straws at Target in the dollar section (score!). I just added googly eyes and an "O" mouth on it myself, or you can use the ones Target has already pre-printed fun Halloween images on. Ashley also shares in her Boo Breakfast decoration ideas how you can make an easy, disposable cup option on the spot, so check out how here


Spooky Spider Web Pumpkin Pancakes

You can use any pancake recipe you prefer for this recipe. Just make sure it is thin enough to be squeezed out of the container to create the spider web. I chose this festive, pumpkin recipe below minimally adapted from @lunchesandlittles.

Ingredients:
1 ¼ cup gluten free flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or milk alternative
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons pumpkin puree

Spooky Spider Web Pumpkin Pancakes

Instructions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, add all of the dry ingredients. Stir until mixed, then set aside.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, add milk, applesauce, melted coconut oil, and pumpkin puree. Stir until well combined.
  3. Add bowl of wet ingredients to large mixing bowl with dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are mixed.
  4. Using a small plastic squeeze bottle, transfer pancake batter from large mixing bowl to squeeze bottle. If coconut oil has hardened at all in the mixing process, run it under hot water for a few minutes until it liquefies again.
  5. Preheat a large griddle or pan to medium heat. Use additional coconut oil to coat, as needed.
  6. To make spider webs, start by squeezing pancake batter in the shape of a large plus sign ("+"). Going diagonal over those lines, squeeze pancake batter into a large "X". Use squeeze bottle to then connect the end of the lines with small little inverted lines of pancake batter. Add a center circle between the center axis and the otter "webbing."
  7. As pancake begins to brown and batter starts to bubble, gently flip pancake using a large spatula.
  8. When pancakes are cooked, remove from griddle/pan and put on plate. Decorate with a plastic spider and serve!
    This recipe is AMAZING as is. Even for my syrup-loving littles, we found the stand alone spider web pancakes were totally satisfying without any added sweetener (mixed in or on top)! Encourage your kiddos to enjoy the spider web and smoothie without syrup to save some of that added sugar for all the other sweets being offered at other events.
 

Note:
I found our squeeze bottle at the dollar store. You can also use an old ketchup bottle thoroughly washed out, or get ones like these off of Amazon (affiliate link; item shown below). If the tip is too narrow to let the batter pass through, just cut a slight bit off until you are able to squeeze easily. Below are affiliate links to my pancake-making arsenal. As always (see my legal page here), using these links doesn't cost you anything extra. The small commission earned just helps Veggies & Virtue to provide more fun ideas like this one!

Halloween Boo Breakfast Menu Idea

Make it a More Festive Affair!

Be sure to find the BOO-tiful breakfast set-up that Ashley over at the Littles and Me shared. You can see from the image below, these decorations and easy to use printables are perfect to go with the Boo-Nana Smoothie and Spooky Spider Web Pumpkin Pancakes from above. So hop on over to the Littles and Me to get these Halloween Boo Breakfast decoration ideas and free printables!

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Wishing you and your little pumpkins a very happy and healthy Halloween!