Do your kids come in from school and make a beeline to the kitchen looking for something to eat? If so, how can you can make sure they enjoy a snack while still saving room for a healthy dinner?
Kids need less frequent snacks as they get older, but it's not surprising that most are hungry after school. Many kids eat lunch early — 11:30 or even before — and then have an afternoon of classes and maybe even an after-school activity before their next chance to eat. It's no wonder the snack food vending machine looks so appealing at the end of the day.
Depending on a child's age and after-school routine, parents might not always be able to control what their kids eat in the late afternoon. But don't throw in the towel just yet. These steps can guide kids to good after-school snacks that will be satisfying and still leave room for a nutritious dinner.
Figure Out the Timing
Put yourself in your kids' shoes and consider their eating schedules on a normal weekday. Some younger kids may have a mid-morning snack, but most older school-age kids won't. Find out: When is lunchtime? What and how much do they eat at lunch? Do they ever skip lunch? Does the after-school program serve snacks? This will help you figure out how hungry your kids will be when they get home.
You'll also want to think about what time you normally serve dinner. A child who gets home famished at 3:15 and eats a large snack probably won't be hungry if dinner is at 5:30. Likewise, it may not reasonable to expect a child whose parents work late to go until 7:30 with nothing to eat since lunch. Think about your kids' schedules and plan accordingly.
Create a List of Healthy Options
Next, talk about which snacks your kids would like to have at snack time. Come up with a list of healthy options together and be sure to include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. While a slice of cake or some potato chips shouldn't be forbidden foods, such low-nutrient snacks shouldn't be on the everyday after-school menu.
If you can, take your kids along to the grocery store and spend some time reading the nutrition facts labels and comparing products. Pay attention to the amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, and other important nutrients, and don't miss the chance to talk about portion sizes. Together, choose snacks that are low in sugar, fat, and salt. Being involved in the process makes it more likely that kids will learn to make healthy food choices.
Make Healthy Snacks an Easy Choice
Don't expect kids — even teens — to cut up their own veggie sticks. It's just too much bother, especially when they're hungry. Kids are more inclined to eat what's handy. That's where you come in. Make healthy snacks easily available by packing them in their lunchboxes or backpacks or by having them visible and ready-to-eat at home.
If you're at home after school, your youngster might enjoy helping you make a creative snack like ants on a log (celery topped with peanut butter and raisin "ants"), egg boats (hard-boiled egg wedges topped with a cheese sail), or fruit kabobs. Older kids may enjoy a fruit smoothie, mini-pitas with hummus dip, or whole-grain crackers topped with cheese and pear slices.
Older kids often like making their own snacks, so provide the ingredients and a few simple instructions. If dinner is just around the corner, consider allowing a "first course," such as a small salad or side vegetable while you finish preparing the family meal.
For those nights when dinner is hours away, you could offer a more substantial snack such as half a sandwich or a quesadilla made with a whole-wheat tortilla and low-fat cheese warmed in the microwave and topped with salsa. Nothing too complicated, though. A good snack should take more time to eat than it does to prepare!
If your child goes to an after-school program or to a caregiver's house, find out if snacks are served. If so, what's typically offered? If you don't like what you hear, suggest alternatives or just pack an extra snack your child can eat after school. Easy-to-pack snack options include trail mix, nuts, low-sugar whole-grain cereal, whole-grain pretzels or crackers, fresh or dried fruit, and cut-up vegetables.
What if your child comes home to an empty house? Again, the best strategy is to leave something healthy front and center on the kitchen counter or in the refrigerator. A hungry child, like a hungry adult, is likely to take the path of least resistance.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: February 2012
|Allrecipes.com This site offers more than 40,000 free recipes, plus lots of cooking tips and information.|
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|Food Network TV's Food Network goes online with searchable menus and recipes, an encyclopedia of cooking terms, and ideas from celebrity chefs.|
|Tips for Cooking with Kids Helpful tips from PBS for parents who are cooking with kids.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|Snacks for Preschoolers Healthy and well-timed snacks can help fill in nutritional gaps for preschoolers. But how do you turn yours into a smart snacker?|
|Snacks for Toddlers Some toddlers may seem too busy exploring to slow down and eat. Others may be fickle about food or refuse to eat at mealtime. That's where healthy, well-timed snacks come in.|
|Snacks If the right foods are offered at the right times, snacks can play an important role in managing kids' hunger and boosting nutrition.|
|School Lunches Packing school lunches are a chance to steer kids toward good nutrition. Here are ideas for some fun and easy lunchbox options.|
|Healthy Drinks for Kids What kids drink can drastically affect the amount of calories consumed, as well as the amount of calcium needed to build strong bones.|
|Healthy Eating Good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up healthy. Here's how to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits.|
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2014 KidsHealth® All rights reserved.
Images provided by iStock, Getty Images, Corbis, Veer, Science Photo Library, Science Source Images, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com