12 tips to make healthy snacks the easy after-school choice

photo: USDAgov via Flickr

As school starts up again, some parents worry about what kids eat for lunch.  School lunches don’t have the best reputation, although a new set of guidelines may make lunches healthier.  One of the my biggest issues with school is the timing of meals.  Kids get up at the crack of dawn, rush out of the house with little to eat, and then get served lunch at 10:30.  They may not eat again until after school.  By which time they’re starving, with time on their hands and a pantry and refrigerator at their disposal.

If you’re child fits this description, you should assume he or she will need to eat something after school.  The best overall strategy is to make healthy choices easy.  Here are some steps you can take to ensure your hungry child makes good choices at 3 p.m.

  1. Leave a bowl of cut up fresh fruit in the refrigerator: melon, apple slices with lemon juice, pineapple, berries and other fruit that will not brown and look unappetizing by 3 o’clock.  Watermelon and cantaloupe work especially well; peaches maybe not so well.  What about whole bananas, plums or other fruit?  That’s great if your child will eat them, but frequently a whole piece of fruit just looks unappetizing compared to ready-to-eat cut up fruit.
  2. Do Not Buy chips, candy or cookies.  These are all easy and tempting.  If you buy them, they’ll get eaten, so just don’t.  Or lock them up.
  3. Set up a plate of a small portion of cheese or hummus with crackers or pita bread, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the frig where your child will see it.
  4. Cut up vegetable sticks, arrange them on a plate and place some hummus or dip (made with plain yoghurt) on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, as above.
  5. Buy small containers of yoghurt, and stick to brands that are not overly sweetened, 4-6 oz size, depending on your child.  A yoghurt and a banana or other fruit is a great snack.
  6. If you buy granola bars or nuts for snacks, portion them out and place those in plain sight on the counter (unless you have a dog that eats off counters).  1/4 cup nuts and 1-2 granola bars, depending on size.  An elementary child could eat up to 200 calories of granola bar, along with a glass of low fat milk for a decent snack.  If necessary, put out the milk glasses as a reminder.
  7. Speaking of which, don’t leave soda pop or sports drinks around, or those will be consumed in place of milk.
  8. Soup is another great snack, especially in cold weather.  However, heating up soup means your child needs to be able to safely use the microwave or stove, so plan accordingly.  Low sodium/non-MSG soups in cans are fine.
  9. While lots of parents rely on microwave pizza, popcorn, hot dogs or other meal-like items, I don’t think that’s the best choice after school.  Those are highly processed items, likely to be high sodium and low in other nutrients.
  10. Small sandwiches: a PB and J works well with some milk.  It doesn’t need to be a huge sandwich, maybe half is fine, with milk or juice.  Make them ahead and leave in the frig.
  11. Wraps: a half burrito (or one small one) with cheese, salsa, beans is a great snack, along with juice.  Or make a peanut butter and jelly wrap or a hummus wrap with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.  Roll them up ahead and leave in the refrigerator.
  12. Salad: if your child loves green salad, toss the vegetables together in a container without the dressing and leave in the frig.  Put a bowl and fork on the counter.  If you’re worried about dressing overload, portion some into a small container.  Add some grated cheese or sunflower seeds, and with a glass of milk it’s a great snack.

In fact, most of these work just fine for adults, too.

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