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Do after-school snacks matter?

Back in the ’80s, when I arrived home from school I would cozy up for a small snack of junk food and soda. But these days we know that this isn’t the best idea for kids.

Should kids be snacking after school? And, if so, what’s a good snack to power them up?

Does this sound familiar? The kids get off the bus and before you can even ask about their day, they are clamoring to find out what’s for snack and how soon can they have it? Don’t worry, your kids are totally normal.

“When kids get home from school they are often ‘starving!’ That’s why it is important to have filling, low-calorie snacks at the ready,” says Christen Cooper, MS, RD of Cooper Nutrition Education & Communications.

And it’s with good reason too.

Planning a better snack

Nutrient-rich after-school snacks

Cooper suggests these fruits and veggies for snack time:

  • Broccoli: Calcium, B vitamins
  • Carrots: Vitamin A
  • Pepper slices: Vitamin C
  • Apples: soluble fiber (heart-healthy)
  • Oranges: Vitamin C
  • Bananas: Potassium

The after-school snack fuels a kid’s brain and body for homework, extracurricular activities and more, says Cooper. Those sugary, fatty, bad-for-you snacks that you may have enjoyed as a kid (I did!) aren’t the right snack for kids though. “There is no place for these snacks in the after-school hours because they don’t help with alertness, brainpower, or energy, and they do tend to “spoil” dinner (because they offer little fiber and many calories),” says Cooper.

So, what should you serve instead? Cooper suggests, “Fresh berries, apple slices, oranges, or any other fruit sliced and ready (although it probably shouldn’t be done too far ahead of time since many fruits turn brown).”

Fruits and veggies aren’t just healthy, they also ensure that your child gets all the proper nutrients for the day. “One of the biggest problems today in kids’ nutrition is that few kids get anywhere near the number of fruit and veggie servings that the USDA recommends for good health,” says Cooper. “Taking advantage of that after-school hunger is a great way to help kids get those servings in.”

What about when they don’t come right home?

If your kids are involved with activities right after school and don’t come home, it’s still important that they get a good snack to eat. But don’t rely on the school. “Many schools have only a vending machine to supply kids with food from the close of school until their parents pick them up, sometimes well into the evening hours,” says Cooper. “Coaches have complained to me numerous times about kids who show up at practice, having skipped lunch and having had no snack or an unhealthy snack before sports practice. That’s a recipe for low performance and worse, injury.”

Make sure you pack a healthy snack for your child to take with him. “The same foods that kids should eat at home serve as good pre-sports or pre-activity foods: Fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Peanut butter keeps well outside the fridge,” says Cooper.

More on food for kids

Smart ways to snack
Healthier snack food choices
Preservative-free snacks

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