When kids get home from school, they’re a few hours past lunch time, hungry and needing a snack to tide them over until dinner. But chips, crackers and other simple carbohydrates can be a waste of calories that could have instead provided growing children with the vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy and strong.
So what’s the solution? Healthy snacks, of course. By feeding kids the right foods after school, you can make sure that every calorie counts; and when snacks are properly prepared, even the pickiest little one will eat fruits and vegetables instead of empty starches.
Below are some creative ways to make good nutrition tasty and appealing so kids will snack on real food instead of junk.
1. Freeze the Fruit—
Dieting women have known for years that frozen grapes make a refreshing, low-fat replacement for ice cream, but any fruit can be frozen if your children like cold treats.
Mangoes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, bananas and peaches can all be frozen to create a healthy snack that tastes great with a dollop of Greek yogurt for added protein.
If you have a high-power blender, frozen bananas can be turned into a treat with a surprisingly similar texture to soft serve ice cream, with peanut butter, cocoa powder, assorted fruits or other natural flavors added if desired.
2. Prep the Veggies—
Often, we have the celery, carrot sticks, fresh broccoli and cauliflower sitting in the refrigerator drawer, waiting to be used, but we forget to prepare it in time for snacks.
Rather than waiting until you have hungry children clamoring at your feet, cut up fresh vegetables during the day and place them in a sealed container with a bit of cold water to retain moisture.
When kids get home from school, instead of grabbing salty, processed nibbles, you can give freshly sliced vegetables with ranch dip or hummus to snack on.
3. Find the Fruit Bowl—
This seems like an obvious, classic way to promote healthful eating, and many of us grew up with a bowl of fruit on the table for quick snacking.
But our world has become much more convenience-minded in the last few decades, making many reach for chips, crackers and other processed junk foods instead of that good old apple we used to enjoy.
To get back into this great habit, buy apples, oranges, nectarines, peaches, bananas and other kid-friendly foods, wash and dry so they’re ready to eat, and keep the bowl within constant reach of little hands.
Children don’t get to control much in their lives, and being given the option to grab something from the fruit bowl whenever they want will make them happy. And if they lose their appetite for dinner because they had too much fruit… is that really a bad thing?
4. Mix It Up—
Kids love variety and choices, and a really healthy, fun way to give them this is with homemade trail mixes in individual servings they can grab and go, making your life easier.
Use sandwich bags to blend assorted nuts, dried fruits (without added sugar) like raisins, cranberries, blueberries and banana chips or apple rings. Some grocery stores now carry dried blueberries, mango, papaya and even dried kiwi, so get creative.
If you have a picky child, allowing them to help make multiple bags of their own special blend of trail mix can also encourage them to want to eat their creations.
5. Smoothie Sailing—
A great way to get fruits and vegetables into kids without a fuss is by making icy smoothies in the blender that taste like a shake, but are actually nutritious.
By adding dairy milk, almond milk, or yogurt, you’ll give children valuable calcium needed for growing bones.
Mild vegetables like carrots and spinach can also be juiced for fruit smoothies to increase the vitamin content as long as berries, oranges or apples are added to sweeten it up.
6. English Pizzas—
English muffin halves make adorable mini-pizzas when toasted and covered with marinara sauce, and kids love the novelty of having their very own pizza to top with shredded cheese and vegetables.
Have the vegetable toppings diced before kids get home so they’ll be ready to go, and muffins pre-toasted. All kids will have to do is spread the sauce, add the cheese and veggies, and let a grown-up microwave or bake pizzas in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese.
Use whole grain muffins to increase the fiber and nutritional content of this fresh, fun treat.
Snack time doesn’t have to be junk food time: it can actually be a great way to get fruits, vegetables and other nutritious fare into kids’ diets in a completely delicious way. Use the after-school snack tips above, or find other innovative ideas to replace empty calories with wholesome, healthful and enjoyable foods your kids will love.