With back-to-school season upon us, Megan Watts, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CDE, a dietician with Children’s National Health System, discusses healthy and helpful tips for making after-school snacks for your children.
Healthy snacking is a great way for kids to reach their daily nutritional needs since kid-sized stomachs can make it difficult to get all the necessary nutrients with only three daily meals. One to two healthy snacks per day can help avoid excessive hunger and overeating later while keeping your child’s brain sharp throughout the day.
The trick is using nutrient-dense and filling foods from a few food groups. Typical snack foods, such as chips that provide energy and fat, lack many nutrients, and they also don’t lead to satisfaction with the recommended serving size.
Since the vast majority of both kids and adults need to increase their fruit and vegetable intake, make these types of foods the go-to snack for the entire family. As a rule of thumb, we recommend parents use the simple guideline of combining a fruit or vegetable with one serving of a food from another food group – whole grain, lean protein, or low-fat dairy.
The sweet or salty treats your child (and you) love can still be a normal part of the family routine a couple times per week. Instead of keeping these treats in large amounts at home, bring them into the house in small amounts--just enough for the family to share--or go out and get single-servings. For example, instead of buying a gallon of ice cream, get a smaller container to split with the family, or go out for ice cream. If a big bag of chips is staring at your kids from the counter after school, it could be hard for them to grab an apple instead.
Prepare snacks that are fun to make and to look at. This will make healthy snacks more exciting and more likely to be eaten. Also, kids will be more likely to eat something that they helped choose or create.
Make the healthy choice the convenient choice at home with fruits and vegetables easy to grab-and-go. You can do this by keeping fruit available on the table or in fruit cups (the kind without syrup). Cut your vegetables as soon as you get home from the grocery store and put them in a container or in baggies so that they are just as easy to grab as a snack-sized bag of chips.
Here are some ideas for easy, fun, and healthy after-school snacks for kids:
- Hummus and pepper sun, a delicious, colorful, and interactive dipping snack
- Homemade mini-pizza with one-half of a whole grain English muffin, tomato sauce, low-fat shredded cheese, and sliced veggies to decorate the pizza with a face or design
- Fruit and yogurt parfait bar in which the kids can layer yogurt, their choice of fruit, and nuts or whole grain cereal
- Apple slices scattered in a small bowl of popcorn can be a fun variation on bobbing for apples.
- A banana, apple slices, or celery sticks with peanut butter and let you child choose a topping. Topping choices can include raisins, unsalted peanuts or whatever healthy snack comes to mind!
- A smoothie made of low-fat milk or yogurt and your child’s favorite fruit.