The kids are headed back to school — not just yet, but in a few weeks. Don’t worry though, they’ll be back home again in no time and looking for after-school snacks. As children get older they need less frequent snacks, but most are hungry when they get home after working hard in school all day. Just think about your own snacking behavior. What is the first thing you want to do when you get home from work? Reach for a snack, right? Is it habit or hunger?
Consider your youngster’s eating schedule. Is he one of the unlucky ones that gets to go to “first lunch” at 10:30 in the morning? This child will probably want a more substantial snack when he gets home than the child who had “last lunch” at 12:30.
If your children get home at 3 or 3:30 and your family usually has an evening meal at 5:30, then you probably want to provide them a lighter snack so as not to spoil dinner. But don’t expect the child who hasn’t eaten since 10:30 to last until a 7 p.m. dinnertime without a substantial snack.
Find out when your child has lunch at school and how much of the lunch he or she usually eats. If your youngster goes somewhere other than home right after school, find out what might be served there for snacks. This will help you to decide how much your child may need to eat when he or she gets home from school.
Make healthy snacks an easy choice
Many children will naturally gravitate to cookies, chips, and soda if that is what is most easily accessible. This is okay once in a while, but these foods should be considered special treats, not everyday snacking options. Help your child to build healthy snacking habits by creating a list of healthy options together. Discuss with your child why it is that you want them to have healthy snacks – and it isn’t to punish them, as they may think! The parent is responsible for providing nutritious foods and the child is responsible for deciding how much to eat and when.
Here are some suggestions for healthy snacks to get you started off this school year. See what other selections you can come up with.
- Toast and peanut butter. Try whole wheat or raisin toast. Add some slices of banana.
- Fruit. Fresh, canned, frozen or dried – all of it is great.
- Vegetables. Don’t expect your child to cut up vegetables to snack on. Have them ready in the refrigerator with some lowfat dip, salad dressing or guacamole. Broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, red peppers, zucchini, cucumber, celery, and jicama are all great raw. Kids might like to put the veggies into a pita pocket with some dressing or hummus.
- Yogurt. By itself or incorporated into a smoothie with some fresh or frozen fruit.
- Trail mix. Make your own out of a combination of any of the following: raisins, dried blueberries or cranberries, papaya, apricots, almonds, peanuts, cashews, pistachios, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and a few chocolate bits or M&Ms. Measure it out in ½ cup servings and store for easy access and portion control.
- Popsicles. Look for ones with no sugar added or made from 100% fruit juice.
- English muffin or bagel pizza. Spread tomato sauce with some spices (basil, oregano, garlic) on half a bagel or English muffin. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and toast in toaster oven until the cheese melts. Assorted cut-up veggies can be added for variety.
- Lowfat microwave popcorn without butter. Try sprinkling with Parmesan cheese instead.
- Cereal. Cheerios, Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts or other lowfat, low-sugar cereals and 1 percent or skim milk.
- Whole grain crackers like Triscuits, served with peanut butter or lowfat cheese.
- Tortilla chips and salsa.
To make it easy for your kids to choose a snack when they get home from school — especially if you aren’t going to be there — post a list of available choices on the refrigerator.
The best plan is to leave something out in plain sight that your children will spot right away when they walk into the kitchen. A hungry child, like a hungry adult is going to gravitate to what is quick, easy and available, so keep the cookies off the counter.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.