Your kids want something tasty to bite into after a hard day at “the office," and you want to give them something nutritious to tide them over till dinner, without ruining their appetites. Here are A+ tips for finding après-class snacks that deliver on both counts.
1. Count snacks as nutrition, not treats.
"Good after-school snacks can help fuel kids and fill nutrient gaps that they might have missed during the school day—especially if their lunches come home hardly touched," says Shannon Crocker, a registered dietitian and mom of two, ages 10 and 13, in Ancaster, Ont. Crocker's idea of a great snack? "It should have carbohydrates for energy, as well as fibre and protein to keep your kids energized and satisfied until dinner. Try to include vegetables or fruit more often; most kids don't get enough veggies."
2. Turn healthful snacks into "convenience foods."
"I start making dinner as soon as we get home from school, so snacks need to be easy, quick and simple enough for my eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son to put together themselves," says Melissa Bruntlet, a Vancouver-based mom and writer of the Velo Family Diaries blog.
Little kids are perfectly capable of building their own snack plates, if you set them up for success beforehand, says Crocker. "Fill the kitchen with healthier choices and put them where they're visible. Have ready-to-go items prepared so they can easily grab 'n' go. For example, wash and cut up vegetables and put them at eye level in the fridge, or put a bowl of apples on the counter," she suggests.
Use cupboard space for healthful snack components like high-fibre, whole-grain cereals and cereal bars, seeds and nuts, and whole grain crackers—not cookies or fake-fruit snacks.
3. Establish proper snack sizes.
Although there isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula—different kids have different needs based on age, size, whether they have sports that night, and what time dinner is being served—Crocker says it's important to remind kids that snacks should be small, not meal-size. Think baby carrots and hummus (not a full vegetable wrap), or apple slices and one slice of toast with peanut butter (not an entire PB&J sandwich).
4. Get buy-in from kids and caregivers.
Ask your kids what their favourite fruits and vegetables are. If the one veg your kids will eat is steamed cauliflower, so be it. Keep a container of cooked florets waiting in the fridge. "Create a list of healthy, tasty snacks together. You can even post options on the fridge or a blackboard—it might just nudge them to choose a healthier snack," says Crocker.
If your children have someone supervising them after school, communicate your expectations with their caregiver. A posted list of snack suggestions comes in handy, too.
5. Don’t forget the water.
Limit your kids' beverage choices to water or plain milk. If they’re drinking a morning orange juice or go to school with a juice box, any extra juice is empty sugar. Water will also keep them hydrated. "Keep a pitcher of water in the fridge so it’s front and centre and easy to grab," advises Crocker. "Add orange slices to boost the taste for kids who aren’t into plain water."
10 great after-school snacks
1 Fresh veggies (baby carrots, cucumber, celery, fennel, green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas, sliced bell peppers or grape tomatoes—let kids mix and match their faves) and hummus;
2 An apple and a slice of whole grain toast with nut butter;
3 Pear or apple slices, and peanut butter or cream cheese for dipping;
4 A cup of berries or a sliced banana, and a scoop of yogurt with a sprinkle of muesli or granola;
5 A handful of whole grain crackers, plus shredded cheese and salsa (optional: microwave until the cheese melts);
6 Popcorn (plain kernels microwaved in a paper bag) sprinkled with Parmesan cheese;
7 A DIY snack-size smoothie containing frozen berries, kale, yogurt, milk and ground almonds or hemp seeds—let your kids experiment with their fave fruits;
8 Grapes and a hard-cooked egg;
9 Melon slices and chickpeas (boiled or, for a satisfying crunch, roasted);
A sweet treat to celebrate making it past mid-week: "I make healthy banana oat bites with bananas, rolled oats, a bit of wheat germ and vanilla, and mini chocolate chips for a sweet touch," says Bruntlett.
For more after-school snack ideas check out 9 after-school snack recipes