Kids can start choosing their own snacks at a fairly early age, but they still need parents to help them make healthy food choices well into adolescence.
When older students come home from school before their parents, choosing nutritious after-school snacks can be challenging. Parents can have more influence on their children’s choices by working with kids to plan after-school snacks.
Planning and preparing after-school snacks on Sunday evening or a few days ahead of time helps older children feel like they’re more in control of snack-time decisions, said Alison Berg, assistant professor with the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences Department of Foods and Nutrition and UGA Cooperative Extension nutrition and health specialist.
Snack planning is a great way to help children feel like they are making decisions about what they eat and creates time for the family to gather and spend time together while planning healthy snacks, Berg said.
“You can make it a fun event with the kids,” Berg said. “Prepping ahead will give you more options because kids can use kitchen equipment when the parent is there. Making fruit and cheese skewers with the help of parental supervision would be OK, or you could make tuna salad that the kids could eat later in the week.”
Another way to watch what children are eating, but still give them free rein, is to cut or wash specific snacks ahead of time. Parents could prepare cut celery, pineapple, bell peppers, mangos or any whole fruit or vegetable that requires the use of knives. This way neither parents nor children have to worry about the children using sharp cutting utensils, the stove or oven. Then children can choose a prepared snack.
When thinking of snacks kids could bring to an after-school day care or play date, it’s important to think about things that don’t need refrigeration.
“We need to think about foods that aren’t going to spoil,” Berg said. “Other snacks could be homemade trail mix, unflavored applesauce cups, previously popped popcorn or whole-grain cereals. Granola bars are also easily available and portable.”
There are a lot of different brands and flavors of granola bars, so it can be hard to choose the best or healthiest one, Berg said. She explained that it’s best to look for granola bars with at least 3 grams of protein and at least 2 grams of fiber. That way, the snack is tasty, yet still has nutritional value.
Some great alternatives to packaged snacks are:
- Whole fruits
- Cheese and crackers
- Deli meats, such as lean turkey or ham
- Whole-grain cereal with milk
- Single-serve yogurt
There are a variety of different options to consider when deciding what snacks children can make and eat when they are on their own.
(Erica Cooke is a student intern working with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.)