While many parents believe afternoon snacks spoil dinner appetites, it turns out snacks are good for kids to help them grow and develop, as well as stay focused on schoolwork. For optimal health and nutrition, it’s important for them to fuel properly throughout the day so they are prepared to learn and participate in after-school activities.
Snacking is also a way to add healthy and nutritious foods into your child’s diet. It’s an opportunity to include a variety of macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Although offering your child an apple as a snack is an excellent source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), it may not be filling because it doesn’t offer a mix of macronutrients. Including some protein and fat keeps stomachs fuller for longer. Try adding some peanut butter for dipping or pair with string cheese to really fuel your child throughout the afternoon.
It’s also a good idea to think about your child’s preferences. Make sure to always offer something that’s considered a “safe food”—something your child will reliably eat. If your child is hooked on Cheetos, offer a few of them in combination with healthier food options, such as fruit, cut-up veggies, sliced turkey and guacamole. When you give your kids options, they make the choices of what they eat, which helps them feel positive about healthy eating and sets them up for long-term success.
Of course, you don’t want to get into the habit of being a short-order cook. After-school snacks don’t need to be grand or complicated. Here are eight after-school snack ideas that are simple, healthy and delicious:
- Dips: Try guacamole with tortilla chips or hummus with cut-up vegetables and crackers. When picking chips or crackers, look for ones that are whole wheat or whole grain.
- Quesadilla: Fill a whole-wheat tortilla with cheese then pop it in a skillet. Cook on each side until the cheese is melted. Serve with a scoop of guacamole.
- Open-face waffle sandwich: Take a whole-wheat frozen waffle and pop it into a toaster oven. When warm, spread with peanut butter and jelly, then top with sliced fruit.
- Mini pizzas: Halve a whole-wheat English muffin then top with pizza sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake in a toaster oven until the cheese is melted.
- Smoothies: Combine fruit, plain Greek yogurt, chia seeds and even a handful of greens to make a delicious smoothie for a great snack when you’re on the go.
- Homemade trail mix: This is a fun way to get your kids involved. Pick your trail mix ingredients together and put your kids in charge of stirring them. Some ideas for inclusion are nuts, dried cranberries or apricots, banana chips, popcorn, pretzels and chocolate chips.
- Chicken or tuna salad: Use leftover or canned chicken or tuna and combine with plain Greek yogurt and whatever add-ins or seasonings you have on hand. Serve on a whole-wheat English muffin or with crackers.
- Homemade snack box: This is another good option to help kids feel involved. Give them some lunch meat, cheese, crackers, pita bread, hummus, peanut butter, cut-up veggies and/or fruit. Kids can use the various items to put together their own snack creation.
If you’re interested in learning more about healthy snack options for kids, check out MyPlate.gov for tips and recipes.
NorthShore University HealthSystem can also help parents learn more about nutrition for kids. Our pediatricians can point you in the right direction or give a referral to a registered dietitian. We also offer community classes to help families learn more about eating healthier together. For more information, visit us online or call 847-926-6800.