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Secrets to Healthy After-School Snacks [+ 9 Snack Ideas]

Originally published in September 2014 | Updated in August 2019

After-school snacks help satisfy your child’s hunger after a long day of school. I reveal the secrets to making healthy after-school snacks and offer up some snack ideas your child will love.

The Secrets to Healthy After-School Snacks (+ 9 Snack Ideas)

Most moms I know like to see their kids eat healthy after-school snacks. They understand that after-school snacks have the potential to satisfy their child’s appetite and keep him satisfied until dinner.

As a pediatric dietitian, I hear the frustration about snacking all the time. 

Stories like this one:

Joey and Robbie come home after school and head directly for the pantry. After a split-second scan of the contents (and a few “We never have anything to eat!”), they start their daily after-school snack raid: crackers, cookies, popcorn, cheese, and chips.

They eat whatever they can get their hands on—and lots of it—before they move on to homework.

Meanwhile, their mom is making suggestions like “Why don’t you have an apple?” or abrupt rulings like “That’s enough cookies!”

She wants them to eat after-school snacks that are healthy. 

Both boys and mom are frustrated.

This scenario plays out in a lot of homes. And if I am completely honest, after-school snacks are a dilemma for many families, including my own.

In this article, I will share my strategies and rules for planning after-school snacks, including some after-school snack ideas to keep everyone happy.

“Mom, I’m Starving!”

It’s the first day of school and your kids come home starving and hungry. They’re ready to dig in! While you may feel under-prepared and not entirely confident about what is best to feed your child, the issue is pressing.

Before your child raids the pantry and grabs a quick fix, you need a strategy in place to combat overeating and choosing unhealthy options that ultimately won’t satisfy. 

Being prepared with a snack for your child after school is one way to battle this scenario, but the type of food and the right combinations are where you may get tripped up.

The Benefits of an After-School Snack

Too many sweets and treats can take away from your child’s nutrition and health. But, after-school snacks can offer the following benefits:

  • A good after-school snack can keep your child on an even keel with eating, even when he’s growing.
  • A healthy after-school snack can fill in nutrients that might have been missed earlier in the day.
  • After-school snack ideas can be tasty and filling…and they don’t have to come out of a box or bag.

Peanut butter toast with banana -- a healthy after-school snack

The Best After-School Snacks

I could list out brand names of great snacks, but brands fall in and out of favor, and my job is to give you the tools to make after-school snack decisions for the long haul. 

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

While you know that upping the consumption of fruit and vegetables is always a good idea, you also know that your child won’t always go for “those” snacks.

Hold tight, there are ways to work them in.

4 Rules for Planning After-School Snacks 

1. Use more than one food group

Include combinations of lean meats, dairy, grains, vegetables, fruit, or healthy fats. 

Why? Offering more than one food group gives your child a better blend of nutrition and helps him or her get the needed nutrients for the day.

2. Always include a source of protein

Here are some good protein sources: Lean meat, fish, beans, nuts, nut butters, dairy products, eggs, or tofu, for example.

Why? Including a source of protein satisfies the appetite for a longer period of time.

(Just compare the level of hunger after a bowl of those orange fish crackers to cheese and crackers and you’ll see what I mean.)

3. Offer smaller portions

Snacks should be a “mini meal,” or smaller than a mealtime offering.

Why? Smaller portions assure you won’t crowd out an appetite for the next meal, and will help your child keep the proper balance of calories and nutrients.

4. Focus on variety

 A rotation of options that rarely repeat, or try not to offer the same thing twice in a row.

Why? Variety is the spice of life! And a guarantee your child won’t become bored with after-school healthy snack options.

9 After-School Snacks Ideas

  1. A medium-size baked potato sprinkled with 2 Tbsp. shredded cheese
  2. Celery (2-3 ribs) swiped with 1-2 Tbsp. peanut butter (or other nut butter)
  3. 5 ounces Greek yogurt layered with ½ cup cut fresh fruit (parfait-style)
  4. Pizza bagel (1/2 toasted bagel with 2 Tbsp. tomato sauce and 2 Tbsp. shredded mozzarella cheese)
  5. Nut butter (1 Tbsp) and Jam (1 Tbsp) on 1 slice whole grain bread
  6. 6 Whole grain crackers and 2 Tbsp. tuna fish or chicken salad
  7. Pita bread (1 small) cut into wedges, served with 2 Tbsp. hummus
  8. One cup of cereal with ½ cup low fat milk (chopped fruit on top optional)
  9. Quick Quesadilla: spread 1 medium-size tortilla with 2-3 Tbsp. of shredded cheese and microwave for 45 seconds.

My Favorite After-School Snack Recipes

If you occasionally enjoy giving your child homemade snacks, here are some of my favorite recipes: 

Gorp

Game Day Granola

And if your child loves granola bars, here’s how you can make sure you’re choosing healthy granola bars for your child. 

Oat and Flax Breakfast Cookies (don’t worry, these can be eaten after-school, too)

5 Supermarket Popsicles You Can Buy Anytime

3 Healthiest Microwave Popcorns

Fresh Raspberry Muffin Recipe

23 Healthy Muffin Recipes for Kids

Need More Healthy After-School Snack Ideas?

For more healthy snack ideas, check out my 51 Snack Ideas for Kids.

I’ve even got some snack ideas for the beach

Also, if you are navigating sports and the concession stand, check out my Healthy Concession handout, and my article on revamping your child’s concession stand food. 

Learn the secrets to raising a smart snacker and be sure you’re working towards teaching your child how and what to snack on.

Last, if you want to overhaul your entire thinking and approach to snacking in your home, I’ve created an easy strategy for making healthy snack choices for your family.

Click for The Healthy ADHD Diet for Kids Cheat Sheet

Check out my digital guide, The Healthy Snack Planner for Kids

The Healthy Snack Planner for Kids by Jill Castle, MS, RDN

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