There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner, but parents of school-age children
know that after-school snack time can be a meal unto itself.
“Many kids come home after school and their first stop is the kitchen.
Other kids stay after school for extracurricular activities or sports,
and they usually need to pack a snack they can eat on the go to give them
energy until dinner,” says
Priya Mody, MD, a pediatrician at
St. Joseph Hospital Affiliated Physicians in Tustin. “Just like any meal, it’s important for kids to
eat the right kind of snack to give them the fuel their bodies need.”
Dr. Mody suggests snacks should have a balance of protein and carbs, and
that whole foods be used whenever possible. Cheese, for example, is a
great low-carb snack if the parent is concerned about introducing too
many carbohydrates before dinner.
“Fruits and vegetables are great choices,” Dr. Mody says. “They
can always be made more interesting with some healthy add-ons—spread
nut butter on almond slices, dip carrots and celery in hummus, or mash
up some avocado and smear it on a slice of wholegrain toast.”
If a child wants something with a little crunch to it, try pretzels, whole-grain
crackers or baked snack chips. An even healthier alternative is to bake
homemade chips using corn tortillas or pita bread. Another DIY snack is
popcorn with a combination of herbs or flavorings such as parmesan cheese
to give it an extra zing.
Parents shouldn’t forget the freezer case when it comes to stocking
snacks. “Have frozen fruit on hand, such as bananas or berries,
which makes it easy to whip up an after-school smoothie; slip in a handful
of greens, such as spinach or kale, for extra nutritional value,”
Dr. Mody says. “Another option is to make the smoothie in advance
and then pour it into Popsicle molds and freeze it for a refreshing treat
on a hot afternoon.”
If a child stays after school for an activity, pack portable snacks. “Homemade
trail mix or high-fiber cereal, granola bars, dried fruit and applesauce
all work well,” Dr. Mody says. “If the child has an ice pack
and insulated container, they can also have cold snacks, which offer even
But buying or making all the healthy snacks in the world won’t matter
if they aren’t easily accessible.
“Kids are on the go, and will reach for whatever is easiest to grab,”
Dr. Mody says. “Your kids are more likely to make healthier choices
if that’s what is readily available. Cut up fruit and veggies, have
any dips or spreads ready, put chips or pretzels in serving-size bags
and keep everything at the front of the fridge or pantry.” And don’t
forget drinks: Dr. Mody says water should always accompany a snack, instead
of fruit juices or sodas.
Dr. Mody adds that parents shouldn’t worry that snacks will add too
many calories to their child’s diet.
“A study in
Pediatrics found that children who ate healthy snacks, such as vegetables and cheese,
ate fewer calories during the course of the day compared to kids who ate
potato chips. If parents are concerned snacks might spoil their child’s
dinner, they should make sure there are a couple of hours between snack
and dinner time. Otherwise, letting kids eat when they are hungry—and
eating foods that are good for them—is beneficial during their growing
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