Busy schedules mean active days; we know that kids always seem to be hungry. Registered dietitian Sally has gathered some options for healthy after-school snacks that they can enjoy, while still maintaining an appetite for dinner!
If your kids are like mine, they don’t come home from school hungry. They come home ravenous. Yet there’s a fine line between nourishing kids after a long day and completely spoiling their appetite for dinner when it comes to after-school snacking.
How to make it work? You know your kids best, and different families need different solutions–so here are some after school ideas to consider that won’t spoil dinner:
What makes a good snack for kids?
Kids are going through an enormous amount of growth and development and need nourishment. So the best snacks for kids pick up the slack from meals, filling in food groups and nutrients that might’ve been missed.
So focus mostly on “meal foods” at snack time. Typical snack foods–like chips, cookies, and gummy fruit snacks–are totally fine occasionally. But center most snacks around foods you’d see at meals: whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, and lean meats.
Why after-school snacks are tricky
Depending on what time your family eats dinner, a hearty after-school snack can cause kids to be too full at mealtime. And kids who come to the table full won’t want to eat much (if any) dinner–and they definitely won’t be as receptive to trying new foods or recipes. Your goal: to strike a balance between quelling hunger and making sure they still have an appetite at mealtime.
Ideas for after-school snacks
Every kid is different–and that includes their appetite. Yours may be going through a growth spurt that makes them perpetually hungry. Or your child may have a smaller appetite and tend to fill up faster.
Bottom line: You know your kids best, and different families need different solutions. But here are some ideas to get you started, depending on how far out you are from sitting down to dinner.
If dinner is 3 (or more) hours away
You want a snack with some staying power, including carbohydrates for energy, and protein and fat to keep them fuller longer. Though traditional snack foods like chips and sweets are okay occasionally, try to serve “meal foods” more often.
- Yogurt with fresh or frozen berries (like these Fireworks Parfaits)
- Mashed avocado on toast
- Hummus and pita bread
- Half a sandwich and a glass of milk
- Small plate of leftovers
- Hard-boiled egg + whole grain crackers
- Smoothie made with yogurt, milk, frozen banana, and a scoop of nut butter
- Small bowl of oatmeal topped with berries
- Cup of cottage cheese with fruit
- Whole grain waffle spread with nut or seed butter
If dinner is 2 hours away
The idea is to quell their hunger with foods that are tasty but quick and easy to digest, so they’re still hungry for dinner later. Serve something light but satisfying.
- Popcorn + apple slices or berries
- Whole grain crackers + banana
- Homemade ice pops (like these Green Smoothie Pops)
- Small bowl of whole grain cereal
- Cheese stick + pretzels
- Apple slices with nut or seed butter
- Small handful of nuts + cup of applesauce
- Few pieces of beef jerky + chocolate milk
- Ants on a Log
- One or two energy bites (like these No Bake Granola Bites)
If dinner is 1 hour away
You want to tread carefully in this time-frame, since many snacks can spoil their appetite for dinner. Serve veggies.
This was the strategy I settled on with my kids, and it worked wonders! Our house policy was “only veggies in the hour before dinner.” I’d offer both the veggies I was prepping for dinner and any veggie in the fridge.
The beauty of this policy: Your kids will come to the dinner table with a serving or more of veggies already in their bellies. Or if they chose to opt out of the pre-dinner veggie snack, they’re still hungry for dinner.
- Raw, sliced veggie sticks with dip
- Crunchy salad greens with a favorite dressing
- Vegetable salad (like this Carrot Raisin Salad)
- Cooked veggies you’re serving with dinner
If all else fails
Consider moving dinner earlier or later. If your family schedule can swing it, an earlier dinner–such as 4pm–can allow your kids to get a good, square meal at the time they’re hungriest. You can either eat an early dinner too or have part of the meal with them, and part later.
If your kids just can’t get by without a big, filling snack after school, pushing dinner later might be the solution.
Remember: As your kids get older, schedules shift and appetites grow, and your snack and dinner strategy will likely change too. Do what works for your family now.