Originally published in September 2014 | Updated in August 2019
Learn how to plan healthy after-school snacks so that you satisfy your child’s hunger after a long day of school. I reveal the step-by-step secrets to making after-school snacks that are nutritious.
Read to the bottom where you’ll find some of my favorite healthy snacks for kids and give you even more snack ideas.
Most moms like to see their kids eat healthy after-school snacks. They understand that snacks have the potential to satisfy their child’s appetite and satisfy him until dinner.
Yet, parents get frustrated by snacking. They aren’t happy with the constant requests for snacks, or the choices their children make. As a pediatric dietitian, I hear these frustrations all the time.
Snacking 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 healthy after-school snacks.
Both boys and mom are frustrated.
Scenarios like this play out in a lot of homes. If I’m completely honest, healthy after-school snacks are a dilemma for many families, including my own.
In this article, I’m sharing my strategies and rules for planning after-school snacks, including some yummy ideas to keep everyone happy.
You will learn:
- My step-by-step plan for making healthy after-school snacks
- Tips for making easy after-school snacks
- The benefits of snacking for kids
- After-school snack ideas and some healthy snack recipes
“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 a pressing one.
Before your child raids the pantry and grabs a quick fix, you realize he’s ahead of you. Way ahead. You need a strategy in place to combat overeating and unhealthy snack choices 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 feel lost.
The Benefits of an After School Snack
Too many sweets and treats can take away from your child’s nutrition and health. But, a good after-school snack can make a world of difference to your child’s mood and health.
It can offer the following benefits:
- Keep your child on an even keel with eating, even when he’s growing.
- Fill in nutrients that might have been missed earlier in the day.
- They can be tasty and filling…and they don’t have to come out of a box or bag.
In a rut with packaged snacks? Listen to Kid Food with Bettina Siegel on The Nourished Child.
Good 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 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.”Lao-Tsu
While you know that getting your child to eat fruit and vegetables is always a good idea, you also know that she won’t always go for “those” snacks.
Hold tight, there are ways to work them in.
4 Rules for Planning Healthy Snacks for Kids
I use these 4 simple rules to keep after-school snacks healthy and delicious.
1. Use more than one food group
Combination snacks, or snacks that include more than one food group, are more interesting and satisfying to children, in my experience. Include lean meats, dairy, grains, vegetables, fruit, or healthy fats. Use up dinner leftovers or breakfast combos to create a delicious, healthy snack.
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
Protein is a key nutrient in growth and development, and it’s a good nutrient to get from food (rather than a powder).
Protein sources include: 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 portion than a mealtime offering. The purpose of a snack is to take the edge off of the appetite, not fill up your child’s belly to fullness.
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 a variety of foods
Offer a rotation of food options that repeat occasionally, and try not to offer the same snack choices twice in a row.
Why? Variety is the spice of life! And a guarantee your child won’t become bored with after-school snacks.
9 After-School Snack Ideas
I’m always offering up new ideas for snacks. Parents are surprised to hear that regular meal food can be used as a snack option! The following are just a small sample of snack ideas, outlined to get your ideas flowing!
- A medium-size baked potato sprinkled with 2 Tbsp. shredded cheese
- Celery (2-3 ribs) swiped with 1-2 Tbsp. peanut butter (or other nut butter)
- 5 ounces Greek yogurt layered with ½ cup cut fresh fruit (parfait-style)
- Pizza bagel (1/2 toasted bagel with 2 Tbsp. tomato sauce and 2 Tbsp. shredded mozzarella cheese)
- Nut butter (1 Tbsp) and Jam (1 Tbsp) on 1 slice whole grain bread
- 6 whole grain crackers and 2 Tbsp. tuna fish or chicken salad
- Pita bread (1 small) cut into wedges, served with 2 Tbsp. hummus
- One cup of cereal with ½ cup low fat milk (chopped fruit on top optional)
- Quick Quesadilla: spread 1 medium-size tortilla with 2-3 Tbsp. of shredded cheese and microwave for 45 seconds.
My Favorite Healthy Snack Recipes
If you occasionally enjoy giving your child homemade snacks, here are some of my favorite healthy snack recipes:
Gorp – A mixture of cereal, pretzels, nuts, and dried fruit
And if your child loves snack 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 – Fruit-based options and low sugar.
3 Healthiest Microwave Popcorns – I review 9 different brands and rank them in order based on calories, fat and salt.
Need More Healthy Snacks for Kids?
For more healthy snack ideas, check out my 51 Snack Ideas for Kids.
I’ve even got some beach snacks!
Got a toddler? Then check out my mega list of healthy toddler snack ideas.
Got a teen? Read: 5 Healthy Late Night Snacks for Teens
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.
Check out my digital guide, The Healthy Snack Planner for Kids.