Pam wrote and asked me about filling and nutritious snacks that she can send to school with her athlete son. Since many children don't go home between school and after-school activities, particularly sports activities, too many fill up on packaged snacks and sweets that just don't prepare them for physical activity. Here are some ideas for healthy after-school snacks to pack! These nutritious foods will keep without refrigeration and will help fuel your children for after-school activities.
Peanut Butter and Vegetables or Crackers
Peanut butter is a great food for instant snacking and good nutrition. If your kids like peanut butter, chances are they'll like "ants on a log," which is peanut butter-filled celery sticks dotted with raisins. Try using other dried fruits in place of the raisins for more interest. If your child is a fan of peanut butter crackers, trying making a healthy homemade version. Choose whole-grain crackers and even crusty bread slices.
Ready-to-Eat Cereal and Cereal Bars
Many ready-to-eat cereals, especially those which contain whole grain and not a lot of added sugar, are very nutritious. They will also help your student-athlete "carb-up" before strenuous activities. Kids also love compact cereal in a bar form. Make sure to check the nutrition label on cereal bars. Choose ones with the highest percentage of nutrients per serving for your child's health.
GORP (Trail Mix)
Have your child go to the store with you and pick out some nutritious and some "junky" foods to make your own snack mixes. After all, gorp should have a few M&Ms for fun; just make sure most of the foods are nutritious.
Juice boxes use aseptic packaging, which means they will stay fresh and wholesome as long as they aren't opened. Juices provide lots of great nutrition and vitamins for your child. According to a consumer magazine, if the juice is diluted half with water, its absorption rate is equal to sports drinks.
Muffins, Cookies, Quick Bread, and Granola Bars
If your child likes muffins, they will love munching on some homemade quick bread. Many of these recipes include pureed fruits and vegetables, which add to the nutritional content. Even though most cookies wouldn't be considered nutritious, they are a tried and true after school snack. If all else fails, low-calorie granola bars, healthy milk and cereal breakfast bars, a homemade oatmeal cookie, or crispy skillet cookies are going to beat a candy bar, nutritionally, every time.
Fresh Fruit Mixes, Fruit Rolls, and Dried Fruit
Choose fruits that will retain quality even out of refrigeration, such as grapes, cherry tomatoes (yes, they are a fruit!), small pears and apples, bananas, and oranges (especially clementines). Check the label of fruit rolls; some have very good nutrition. And any combination of dried fruits, including nuts, makes a wonderfully nutritious snack, even when fresh fruit might be in an offseason.
Shelf-Stable Yogurt Packs and Cheese
Make sure that these are purchased from the grocery shelves, not the chilled dairy compartment. These foods stay fresh and safe unless they are opened. Shelf-stable applesauce is another good choice.
Pack What Your Child Likes
There's no point in packing healthy snacks that you know your child won't eat. Take them to the grocery store, add some new foods to their diet gradually, and make sure you feed them a balanced and varied diet at home. Most children tend to eat pretty well if offered a choice of different foods; remember, just do the best you can and let it go.
Some Tips for Healthy Eating
Your goal is to combine two food groups, such as a protein and carbohydrate, which will fill them up and provide good fuel for activities, along with liquids to keep them hydrated.
Take a stroll through your grocery store and look for snack foods that are considered "shelf-stable." This means that the food will stay fresh and wholesome without refrigeration, as long as the package is unopened.
I don't recommend that you pack foods that require chilling for after-school snacking. Chilled packs, ice bags, and frozen drinks just won't keep foods safe longer than 3 to 5 hours. The foods you pack for lunch will be just fine if everything is eaten at lunch; just make sure your kids aren't saving some of this food for after-school munching.