by Patti Ghezzi
We know our kids need to eat well to do their best in school. But with fast food and junk food screaming out from every corner, it can be hard to find quick, healthy after-school snacks that appeal to fickle palates.
Kids tend to chow down after school, especially if their class has an early lunch period. It’s easy to write off the after-school hours as an inevitable pig-out session, but the afternoon can be a great opportunity to get them to eat healthy food. Keep these tips in mind as you plan after-school snacks for your kids.
Plan the night before. Leave snacks in labeled containers on the counter or in the fridge. This is especially helpful if parents are at work when the child gets home from school.
Work with what your kids like to eat. If your children won’t eat vegetables at the dinner table, don’t bank on carrots and ranch dip being a big hit in the afternoon, either. For kids who love salty snacks, offer pretzels along with string cheese and dried fruit. For those with a sweet tooth, try high-protein cereal topped with dried cherries and yogurt.
Think mini supper or light lunch. Traditional snack fare can be nutritionally empty. But a turkey and cheese rollup on a fajita-size whole-wheat tortilla is healthy and yummy. Some kids might also enjoy a cup of soup or half a slice of leftover pizza.
Save the milk and cookies for dessert. To boost your child’s energy after school, opt for foods that offer more than empty calories.
Watch the sugar. Sweeten plain yogurt with jam or fruit juice concentrate. Look for low-sugar cereals. Keep portions of sweet snacks small.
Go with whole grains. Choose whole-wheat bread, crackers, and pretzels as well as whole-grain cereals.
Pick protein. Cheese, nuts, yogurt, peanut butter, and other high-protein foods will give your child the energy he needs to tackle homework or soccer practice.
Watch the fat.Kids need a little fat in their diet, but make it a healthy option, such as olive oil or the fat found in nuts and avocados. For cheese, yogurt, and milk, choose low-fat.
Kids are more likely to accept healthy snacks if there’s an element of fun. Shake up your snack routine by trying new ways of preparing nutritional foods and letting the kids take on some of the work.
Make it cool. In hot weather, kids love frozen treats, says Penny Warner, author of Healthy Snacks for Kids. Try out a recipe for frozen yogurt popsicles, or make frozen fruit cups with applesauce and frozen berries.
Make it hot. In cold weather, try a hot snack such as oatmeal topped with almonds and raisins or a baked apple topped with cinnamon and yogurt.
Put kids in charge. Provide English muffins, marinara sauce, cheese, and pizza toppings and let the kids make mini pizzas. The fruit sundae is another of Warner’s favorites: Make a “boat” with a banana sliced lengthwise, then it with yogurt, crunchy cereal, fruit, and a cherry.
Let the kids “cook.” Children can prepare instant pudding themselves. With supervision, they can even make nachos using baked corn chips topped with black beans, shredded cheese, and diced tomatoes.
Offer dips and dippers. Pretzels, baked chips, crackers, pita triangles, and carrots make great dippers. And for the dips, try hummus, plain yogurt with garlic salt, salsa, or honey mustard.
Find the healthiest prepackaged snacks you can, such as pretzels, low-fat cookies, or baked chips, and let your child choose one. Serve with a glass of milk and a slice of cheese. Or try these simple recipes to create kid-pleasing combinations.
Sampler platter: Serve a slice of cheese, a piece of fruit, a handful of whole-wheat crackers, and half a handful of nuts.
Kebabs: Set out cheese cubes, olives, cubed melon, cubed avocado, and cubed cooked chicken. Give your kids toothpicks and let them assemble their own kebabs.
Gorp: Mix up your own combination of cereal, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit, popcorn, and even a few handfuls of M&M’s or chocolate chips.
Waffles: Start with a whole-wheat toaster waffle, then spread it with peanut butter and jelly or top with yogurt and fresh fruit.
Even if your children don’t have food allergies, the friends they invite home from school may be sensitive or allergic to common foods. Always read labels before offering food to a child with allergies. Instead of offering separate after-school snacks, encourage everyone to enjoy the same treats. Here are some after-school snack ideas for children with allergies:
No dairy for me: Try hummus, whole grain crackers, and fruit. Spread peanut butter on toast and drizzle with honey.
I’m nut-free: Steer clear of processed foods. Instead, offer cut-up fruits and veggies with yogurt dip, popcorn sprinkled with parmesan cheese, or turkey and cheese rollups. You can also spread sunflower butter on apple slices.
I don’t do gluten: Many gluten-free crackers, cookies, and other snack foods are available in grocery stores. Kids may also enjoy peanut butter and rice cakes, dried fruit that hasn’t been dusted with flour, hard-boiled eggs, mixed nuts, and fresh veggies.
Originally posted in 2009 and updated regularly.