Expert Tips: Preventing “Hangry” and Dehydrated Kids with Healthy Swaps and Label Reading


Food can be a struggle; for toddlers, for kids and for adults. We have so many options for foods to eat and many times, desserts, treats and “junk” food will win out. This is most obvious to me when the kids get off the bus from school. There are cries of hunger, requests for snacks and pleas for unhealthy treats.

Expert Tips Preventing Hangry and Dehydrated Kids with Healthy Swaps and Label Reading

Despite being in this game for over 11 years, and despite them knowing exactly my response they still try. Every day! We talk about healthy choices, good, nutrient-rich foods and making sure we are staying hydrated. But sometimes, they still look at me like I have five heads.

Heathier cereals

Recently I teamed up with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Strong4Life and had the opportunity to meet up with Registered Dietitian and food expert, Katherine Shary. She took me around a store and gave me helpful hints, tips and pointers for shopping and also eating. Did you know that eating habits in children are formed by age three and can follow them through adolescence and into adulthood. As parents, we have a tremendous opportunity early in our children’s lives to establish a strong foundation and preference for healthy eating., offers busy parents information about food parenting with age-specific tips, facts and advice from the experts (and parents) at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In fact, Strong4Life has a robust library of online resources with age-specific tips, facts and advice developed by the experts (and parents) at Children’s.

In efforts to help us be better with food and snack choices, I’ve made notes of many of the important things Katherine and I discussed as well as some other things I’ve learned along this parenting and life journey.

Reading Labels

Reading nutrition labels is a huge part of nutrition and is so very easy to overlook. They are there for a reason, so make sure you use them to your advantage. Some important things to make sure you check:

  • Sugar Content. You would be surprised to see how much sugar and more importantly added sugar is in so many things you eat. For example, cereal should have 6g of sugar or less per serving.
  • Saturated Fat. When reading the labels, you want to make sure that saturated fat is 3g or less.
  • Overall Ingredients. Those “high fiber” items you love so much? They are often full of fillers like chicory root. Make sure you are buying foods and not fillers.


Drink More Water

  • Offer water early. Once children are old enough, offer water to drink instead of milk. This way they learn to enjoy and appreciate it and don’t always want juice or soda.
  • Drink often. So often (adults too), our brains confuse being thirsty with being hungry. Drink water throughout the day. And if you are hungry, have some water first to make sure it’s not because you are dehydrated.
  • Add frozen berries. This was a great tip for us. The girls take water bottles to school every day and it’s a struggle to get them to drink it all. She suggested adding a frozen strawberry or two. The results? They all drank their water and requested doing it again. An added bonus is that it keeps the water cooler longer. For some reason, the frozen berries really help flavor the water better than fresh.

tip for helping kids drink more water

Make Healthy Swaps

There are a ton of healthy swaps, but to give you an idea, here are a couple we discussed.

  • Peanut Butter. Peanut butter is yummy. And it’s also a good snacking item. But, you need to make sure you are eating one that’s just peanuts and not one with loaded sugar and oils. Pick up a natural peanut butter next time. Pro tip: store it upside down in your pantry until you open it to better mix the separated oils.
  • Carrots and Celery. We will often suggest peanut butter with apples. But, you can mix it up and go for carrots and celery with your peanut butter for an even better swap.
  • Yogurt. Flavored yogurts are loaded with sugars. Grab a plain one (Greek has more protein) and add your own fruits.
  • Wraps. Instead of using carbohydrate-filled tortillas and wraps, use big leafy lettuce. It adds the crunch without as much sugar and more vitamins.
  • Quinoa. In some recipes, like chili, swap the meat for quinoa as it still adds protein, but changes a meal to vegetarian and reduces the fats and cholesterol.
  • Cereal. If you do want to enjoy some cereal, check the labels (see above) and bulk it up with slivered almonds, fruit or chia seeds to add fiber and / or protein.

Stop Unhealthy Habits

Strong4Life’s research shows that Atlanta parents with children below the age of two struggle in the most in the food parenting with the following:

  • Rewarding their children with food: 55 percent of parents say they give their child treats or desserts as a reward for good behavior, creating an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Clean their plates: 77 percent of parents try to get their child to eat all the food served and 60 percent urge their child to continue eating even after they say they’re full.
  • Short-order cooks: Serving as short-order cooks for children who won’t eat the meal that is provided: 53 percent of parent act as short-order cooks, preparing separate meals.

Healthy Snacks

  • Chicken or tuna salad. We eat this all the time for dinner, but I never thought of it as a snack. It should be an appropriate serving and will allow them to have a couple crackers that you know they are wanting while still getting some protein.
  • Eggs. I will tell you. I’m not the biggest fan of eggs. But they cook quickly and are a great source of protein. With my instant pot, I cook a half dozen at a time and the kids are thrilled they are available for after school snacking.
  • Frozen Yogurt Cups or Parfaits. Freeze plain yogurt in a muffin cup, or just eat it out of the fridge topped with your favorite fruit and maybe a sprinkling of granola and enjoy. It’s a treat but not really.

Eating parfait

All of these skills can be carried from store to store as long as you are looking at the labels and making good choices. The earlier we learn them and teach them, the healthier, less “hangry” and less dehydrated we all may be!

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  1. Ellie Wright says:

    Drink a glass of water before every meal. I also try to walk everywhere possible instead of drive.

  2. Alyce Poalillo says:

    I buy the healthiest, local, organic food I can with my limited budget. I also grow a garden with some veggies and lots of herbs.

  3. Margaret Smith says:

    Wash hands whenever coming in from public places. Get enough rest. Eat well and drink enough water.

  4. Ann Fantom says:

    I try to walk as much as possible. I don’t park close to store entrances, forcing me to walk. I don’t use elevator or escalators, using the stairs instead. I particate in several charity walks every year. etc.

  5. Stephanie Phelps says:

    One of my healthy tips is to have a broth based soup or salad before the main course. I am very luck all my kids love salads!

  6. Tracy Shafer says:

    Veggies with every dinner, and I try not to buy processed foods if I can help it.

  7. Barbara Montag says:

    Healthy tip – getting ca dio exe cise in daily.
    thank you

  8. We keep humidifiers going during the winter months, the air gets so dry and we wake up with sore throats. So, that really helps alot!

  9. Cynthia C says:

    I keep hummus and veggies in the fridge for snacking as well as fresh fruit.

  10. Susan Christy says:

    The healthiest thing I’ve ever done for myself was give up sugar. I feel better, no longer have to eat Tums every day, my skin is clearer and I just feel better!

  11. Tracy Pryor says:

    Don’t fall asleep with the tv on. It can really mess up how well of sleep you get.

  12. Sandy Klocinski says:

    Think twice before you skip flexibility exercises. You joints need to be stretched, especially as you get older.

  13. Christina Sparks says:

    Do not bring laptop and phones, tv in the bedroom.

  14. We go on family walks at night time so the whole family is exercising.

  15. We drink extra fluids, take vitamins and wash our hands and faces often.

  16. Drink plenty of water and always get enough rest!

  17. Lyssa Sahadevan says:

    My healthy tip is keep water handy so it is the go to drink for everyone-fun water bottles, fun fruit to put inside, shaped ice cubes, etc.

  18. Tammie Venne says:

    Try to stay away from sugar in all forms and concentrate on protein

  19. We try to use fruits and veggies as snacks instead of candy and chips.

  20. Even if you eat something not so healthy, keep it to a small portion.

  21. Thank you for the giveaway. A few healthy tips include, drinking plenty of water, washing hands, checking labels, and eating plenty of fruits and veggies.

  22. susan smoaks says:

    i watch what i eat and i exercise to stay healthy. i try to get lots of fruits and veggies every day.

  23. Kyl Neusch says:

    try to use fruits and veggies as snacks

  24. Jennifer Reed says:

    I love to have lower calorie protein shakes in the house for quick meals or snacks to keep my protein level up.

  25. never fill a plate more than 3/4 and never take seconds

  26. Kimberly Hilbert says:

    My healthy tip is to keep a water jug at work to refill my water bottle. That way I know I”m getting the recommended amount of water a day.

  27. stephanie baker says:

    I am the wrong person to give healthy tips, I’m reading this for ideas! I have two little girls that I want to genuinely enjoy a healthy lifestyle unlike me, so I’m trying to make it fun for them. I make their healthy snacks colorful & fun by cutting it into shapes & using peanut butter to make a face on it. Their favorite thing to do is dance, so we have what my oldest calls, Supa Supa Dance Parties!

  28. Mary Cloud says:

    I try to drink plenty of water everyday – even if it’s just eating ice chips – staying hydrated is great for your skin

  29. Richard Hicks says:

    I try to exercise 3 times a week

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