The final school bell rings, and your sweet child runs into your arms exhausted, hungry and, therefore, totally grumpy. Sound familiar? To keep their energy (and mood) up for after-school activities, homework and good ol’ play, children require wholesome, nutritious snacks to tide them over till dinnertime. However, consistently having plenty of good options on hand can be challenging for parents. Having made kids and food my life’s work for the past decade, I have come up with these rules of after-school snackmaking:
1. Being dense can be smart. When you want to stimulate young minds and tummies, nutrient-dense foods are the best. Simple snacks such as yogurt, nuts or a banana can eliminate your child’s hunger pangs and sate their cravings. (I like that they also tend to be virtually cleanup-free.)
2. Take them to the water. Staying hydrated is essential, but picking the right beverage is key. Instead of reaching for a juice box or a bottled fruit smoothie (the latter being a better choice but pricey), try offering your child a whole piece of fruit and a glass of water. That way, her body gets plenty of fiber from nutritious fruit, plus the water she needs to stay hydrated. Aside from being good for you, keeping the water flowing is a snack-time tip that’s easy on your wallet.
3. Make your freezer your new best friend. Whenever you make cookies, waffles or pancakes, freeze what’s left over in zipper bags or containers, labeled with the contents and the date. Then, simply remove a few to pop into the toaster so you never need to prepare an after-school snack from scratch again. This tip also is ideal for those times when you have leftover soup. Freeze it in a glass container filled three-quarters full, then quickly reheat on the stove or in the microwave whenever a hot cup of soup seems like the ideal afternoon snack.
4. Dippity do. If your children tend to be finicky about vegetables, after school (when they’re super hungry) can be the perfect time to try this. Put out an array of raw or steamed vegetables, such as carrots, celery and cucumber spears, and offer hummus, salad dressing or a creamy yogurt dip on the side. The combination of hunger and the fun activity of dipping food can help engage a child in eating something nutritious. (In these cases, avoid putting out crackers or anything else that might distract from the veggies.)
5. Everyone can use a boost. Add wholesome ingredients to favorite snack recipes. Up the nutrition of cookies by mixing protein- and omega-rich hemp seeds into your batter. Use whole-wheat flour and a touch of honey instead of sugar in Cinnamon Honey Wheat Thins. Or add a handful of chopped kale or beet greens to a smoothie. Nutrient-packed chia seeds sprinkled on top of a fruit-and-yogurt parfait is another time-tested favorite of mine. The options are practically endless, but remember that balance is important, so make a list of those things that can seamlessly blend into your snacks (nuts, seeds, fresh or dried fruit, granola, protein powder, etc.) so you can always feel good about what you’re offering.
6. Most important, keep it simple. When it comes to snack time, don’t overthink it. A few simple ingredients can create an after-school snack your kids will love: a delicious quesadilla made with tortillas, cheese and a handful of spinach; a toasted slice of whole-grain bread topped with almond butter and sliced banana; Mexican Rice Balls made with leftover brown rice, cheese cubes and a handful of spices; a healthful parfait made by layering yogurt, berry and granola in a glass or jar. You’d be surprised how simple it is to make your own fruit leather from peaches, strawberries or pineapple, and it lasts forever.
It may take a few tries to figure out what works best for you, but once you do, snack time can be something you actually look forward to rather than dread.