Eat Well to Be Well: A+ after-school snacks enhance kids’ health

Summer is almost over with a new school year about to begin. You’ve bought new book bags, shoes, and school supplies to start your child’s school year off right.  But there’s one other important component enhancing your child’s school success and health – healthy after-school snacks.

The importance of after-school snacks

Who doesn’t remember coming home from school hungry and looking for something to eat? Children of today are no different. Keeping nutritious after-school snacks on hand allows kids of all ages the perfect opportunity to enrich their growth and nutritional needs.

As parents, we are responsible for forming our kids’ snack habits.  Think of the after-school snack as a mini-meal.  Healthy, nutritious snacks are a far smarter way to fill them up instead of offering overly-refined foods such as chips or Cheetos. Smart snack choices can provide key nutrients like fiber, iron, and protein that may otherwise be lacking in some kids’ diets.

The idea is to fuel your kids’ brains providing an energy boost while satisfying their hunger cravings helping them achieve academic success. For those participating in sports, busy student athletes will be wise to choose nutritious snacks supporting energy for growth and athletic performance. When smart snack choices are frequently made, this not only develops good eating habits, but also enjoyment of wholesome foods.

Planning healthy after-school snacks by age

Even though meals make up the majority of a child’s nutritional intake, snacks are sort of like cement patching together what may be missing from meals. Children’s nutritional needs change from age to age. That’s why planning snacks to include a mix of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein for sustained energy and satiety is a smart strategy. Here’s a look at good snack strategies for kids from elementary through high school:

Elementary school – At this age, kids’ palates are still evolving. One day they like a food, they next day they don’t. Spark their interest in trying new foods by involving them in planning snacks. Take them to the grocery store, helping them pick healthy choices that fit standards you’ve set. Introduce cooking skills by letting them help you make snacks.

Middle school – By now, your child has already developed routines which might include more time spent watching TV, playing video games and being with friends. It’s also a time when bad snack habits of filling up on not-so-nutritious foods and beverages can easily get out of hand. Here’s your opportunity to set rules, such as eating only at the kitchen table (no food allowed in bedrooms), making family meals a priority, and talking about why good nutrition matters as they start puberty.

High school – Teens’ snack habits often revolve around their social life as activities, jobs, and sports fill up their time. Getting teens to choose healthy snacks can be challenging. Your best bet is to stock your home with delicious foods that meet their nutritional needs. When they open the refrigerator or cupboard doors, your teens should see foods such as cut up veggies, fruit, nuts, string cheese, whole wheat crackers, hard boiled eggs, or slivers of meat to snack on.

Healthy eating starts with parents as role models since children easily pick up on parents’ attitudes about food. Demonstrating a healthy attitude towards food goes a long ways in helping your children to also develop that same attitude. Why not eat the after-school snack with them, showing your kids it’s okay to enjoy all foods in moderation. When you display good eating habits, think of the positive impact it’ll have on your child’s future eating habits.

Best ideas for healthy snacks

With some pre-planning, here are quick and easy healthy snack ideas to consider:

  • Fruit with yogurt cups or a yogurt parfait made by alternating yogurt with fruit and granola cereal
  • Mini pizzas made of a whole grain flatbread or English muffin topped with tomato sauce, veggies, and melted cheese
  • Homemade trail mix
  • String cheese with fruit slices
  • Peanut butter with celery and raisins
  • Whole grain pita filled with veggies and chickpeas
  • Protein energy balls
  • Oatmeal cookies with milk
  • Hard-boiled eggs with whole wheat crackers
  • Nuts and fruit
  • Homemade yogurt popsicles
  • Popcorn with apple slices
  • Bread pudding snack
  • Brownies made with avocados
  • Peanut butter yogurt fruit dip
  • Smoothies made with Greek yogurt and fruit.
  • Cut-up fresh veggies (carrots, peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes) with hummus or ranch dip
  • Peanuts with dried fruit
  • Graham crackers with milk
  • Pudding
  • Whole grain cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber with milk
  • Chocolate milk
  • Quick breads such as zucchini or banana bread.

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook. Visit her website at

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