I want my five children to have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to honor their hunger cues by eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full. I want them to focus on making healthy habits a priority in their lives. I want this for my own children, and for all of the kids and teens I teach in private sessions, in my classroom, in camp and through social media. I want them to learn these behaviors because I know firsthand the struggle, shame and guilt which I felt after spending decades yo-yo dieting and beating myself up with negative self-talk.
I didn’t learn any of this until I was in my 40’s. It became so important to me that I switched careers! I went from working as an attorney to going back to school to become an integrative nutrition health coach. For the last 5 years, I have devoted myself to nutrition education and to helping moms raise happy eaters, while eliminating the power struggle that often surrounds food. I believe in simplifying healthy living and in the power of spreading proper nutritional knowledge. I hope to share some of what I have learned with you.
With the kids back in school comes the after-school snack conundrum. Should the kids eat dinner immediately when they get home from school or should they eat an after-school snack first and then have dinner a few hours later? If they do eat a snack, what should it be?
This is a question I receive often from my clients. The answer really depends on the ages of your children. When my children were much younger, and they all came home from school at the same time, they ate dinner together right away. Now that they all come home at different times, and I can no longer serve dinner at 4:30, my younger children eat a healthy, nutrient-dense snack right after school, and then all the kids eat dinner together when my older kids get home, between 6:00-6:30.
At first, my kids were eating traditional snack foods, like cookies and chips, after school. While I believe there is a time and place for “junkier snacks”, I decided that right before homework and dinner wasn’t the best time for them to eat these foods. I needed to come up with healthier snacks to serve my younger children right after school that they’d enjoy and would hold them over until dinner, but that weren’t full of empty calories, sugar and dyes.
I’m excited to share my plan with you. I put this into practice in my own home and have helped many of my private clients implement these ideas successfully in their homes as well.
As a starting point, keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with items which make putting together after-school snacks easy for you: cheese, yogurts, nuts, nut butters, multigrain crackers, guacamole, hummus, trail mix, hard boiled eggs and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Kids get easily bored with eating the same foods all the time, so keep your rotation of healthy after-school snacks fresh and exciting.
Here are my after-school snack recommendations:
Serve cut-up rainbow vegetables with dips. Kids are much more likely to eat their vegetables if they can dip them into something. Dips can be your kids’ favorite salad dressing, guacamole, tahini or hummus. You can certainly make your own dips, but there are also many healthy options available for purchase at most supermarkets.
The more appetizing the vegetables look, the more likely your kids will want to eat them. A fun way to serve vegetable sticks is to place the dressing or dip on the bottom of a cup and then stand the vegetables in the cup. This way, each vegetable is already dipped and ready to be enjoyed.
It’s not always practical to cut up vegetables daily, so here is my solution: Cut up a large amount of vegetables at the beginning of the week and keep them in an airtight container. Line the bottom of the container with paper towels, place the vegetables in the container, and then place another paper towel on top. The paper towels absorb the moisture and keep the vegetables fresher longer.
I would start simply, with multi-colored peppers, cucumbers and carrots. If your kids are shopping with you, ask them to suggest different vegetables to add to your “vegetable container”. You can also ask your older kids to help you cut the vegetables. The more involved your kids are in choosing and preparing the vegetables, the more likely they will eat them.
Fruit is also a great option. Apples, pears and grapes are in season and are easy and delicious. They can be served on their own or with cheese or yogurt. Look out for clementines to start arriving in markets in November—little hands love peeling and eating clementines.
Kids like to feel like they are creating something—a container of vanilla yogurt and a bag of frozen blueberries can be transformed into yogurt bowls which they will enjoy making and eating! Another idea is to give your kids cut-up fruit and skewers. They can thread the fruit cubes onto the skewers and then eat them. This fun idea can be done with vegetables as well.
Nuts and seeds are full of healthy fat and protein and are a great snack option. I suggest eating them with a fruit, or you can make a trail mix: Combine ½ cup almonds, ½ cup cashews, ½ cup walnuts, ½ cup mini chocolate chips and ¼ cup raisins or craisins. Roughly chop the nuts, combine with the rest of the ingredients, and serve.
A childhood favorite of mine is celery topped with peanut butter. If anyone in your home is allergic to peanut butter, you can use sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). Sliced apples, pears or bananas topped with peanut butter or almond butter is also nutritious and delicious.
Here is another easy recipe I like to make in the winter as a snack for my kids. All you need is a bag of frozen mixed berries and peanut butter. I heat up the berries, add a serving per bowl and top with a tablespoon of peanut butter. That’s it! It’s wonderful to come home on a cold, windy night to a warm snack.
Another warm snack idea perfect for the fall and winter is baked apples. I core my apples and fill the centers with chopped walnuts and raisins. Then I sprinkle them with cinnamon and add an inch of water on the bottom of the baking dish. Bake until soft and enjoy!
Please don’t be discouraged if you prepare these snacks and your kids don’t like them at first. It is okay if you feel frustrated—this may be new to your family, and very often, beginnings are difficult. Do not engage in food battles with your children. Consistently exposing them to fruits and vegetables is an important first step. It may take a few times before they’re willing to taste and then enjoy new foods, and that’s okay.
I can’t wait to hear which snack ideas your kids enjoy!