Now that school has started, many families are getting back into some type of routine that includes after school activities. There’s always something to do after school….athletics, gymnastics, music or vocal lessons, homework…the list is endless. But one thing is probably universal among all school-aged kids: snacks! Most kids are hungry when that last bell rings and they want to eat. How do you balance late afternoon snacking while still saving room for a healthy dinner?
As kids get older, they need fewer snacks but it’s not surprising that most are hungry after school. What time does your child eat lunch? Many kids eat lunch early, sometimes as early as 10:45 a.m., and then have an afternoon of classes and possibly an after-school activity before their next chance to eat.
According to kidshealth.org, try to figure out the timing. Ask your child about their eating schedules on a normal weekday. Find out when they eat lunch, what and how much do they eat at lunch and if they have time to eat before their after-school activity. If they are enrolled in an after-school program, find out if snacks are served. Answers to these questions will help you figure out how hungry your kids will be when they get home.
Then consider what time you normally serve dinner. A child who gets home hungry at 3:30 p.m. and eats a large snack probably won’t be hungry if dinner is at 6 p.m. It’s probably not reasonable to expect a child to wait until dinner is served at 8 p.m. with nothing to eat since lunch. So think about your child’s schedule and plan accordingly.
The next hurdle is deciding what snacks your child would like to have. Working together, come up with a list of healthy options and be sure to include a variety of fruits and veggies. Remember that a couple of cookies or a small bag of chips shouldn’t be on the forbidden list but they shouldn’t be served on a regular basis either. This may be the perfect time to talk with your child about portion sizes and good nutrition. If possible, take your kids to the grocery store and spend a few minutes reading the nutrition facts and comparing products. Pay particular attention to calcium, protein, fiber and other important nutrients. Choose snacks that are low in sugar, fat and salt. Most of us like to be involved in the decision making process about the things that affect us and kids are not different. By including them in this process, you’re increasing the chances that kids will learn to make healthy food choices.
One way to almost guarantee that they will eat veggies at snack time is to make them readily available. Kids won’t take the time to cut up their own veggie sticks. It’s just too much trouble, especially when they’re hungry. Most of us are more inclined to eat whatever is handy and kids are no exception. Make healthy snacks easy to grab and go by packing them with their lunch, in their backpack or having them highly visible and ready-to-eat at home. Take a few minutes each week to prepare celery and carrot sticks; red and green pepper strips; broccoli and cauliflower florets; cherry tomatoes; zucchini strips; and other veggies. Place in a clear container in the fridge in clear view to make it easy for your child to locate.
Other healthy snacks to keep handy include trail mix, nuts, low-sugar whole-grain cereal, whole-grain pretzels or crackers, and peanut and other nut butters. Keep a bowl with apples, oranges, bananas and other fruits on the counter and cut fruit (grapes, berries, melons) in the fridge for easy snacks.
For those nights when dinner is hours away, consider offering 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. Don’t get too complicated; a good snack should take more time to eat than to make.
And to wash down any of these snacks? Don’t offer soda or other sugary drinks at snack time. It’s best to stick with water or skim or low-fat milk. If you’ll be eating dinner soon, offer water since milk can be pretty filling. If your child doesn’t like plain water, add a sugar-free mix or use lemons, limes or orange slices to give flavor.
So, the next time your child comes home from school hungry, what snacks will be available? With a little thought and time, you can have healthy snacks ready to go.
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.