Joey and Robbie come home after school and they 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 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, mom is making suggestions like “Why don’t you have an apple?” or abrupt rulings like “That’s enough cookies!”
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.
Kids come home from school “starving” and are ready to dig in, while parents feel under-prepared and not entirely confident about what is best to offer up. Being prepared with a snack at the ready after school is one way to battle this scenario, but the type of food and the right combinations are where parents often get tripped up.
The instinct on snacks is generally good:
- 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.
- Too much of the wrong foods can take away from your child’s nutrition and health.
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 healthy after-school snack decisions for the long haul.
The idea is: “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.
The best after-school snacks showcase four things:
- More than one food group
Lean meats, dairy, grains, vegetables, fruit, or healthy fats
- A source of protein
Lean meat, fish, beans, nuts, nut butters, dairy products, eggs, tofu, for example
- Smaller portions
A “mini meal”
- Variety, variety, variety
A rotation of options that rarely repeat, or “never the same thing twice in a row”
Here’s the rationale behind my four healthy snack “rules”:
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.
Including a source of protein satisfies the appetite for a longer period of time. (Just compare the level of hunger after a bowl of fishy crackers to cheese and crackers and you’ll see what I mean.)
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.
Variety is the spice of life! And a guarantee your child won’t become bored with after-school options.
Here are some ideas for healthy after-school snacks:
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.
For more healthy snack ideas, check out this FREE PDF.
Also, if you are navigating the concession stand, check out my Healthy Concession handout, available on my website.
Need even more inspiration and a weekly planner? See my new E-Guide below: