Josie Ortega offers ideas for after school snacks that kids and parents will love
This year, feeding my three kids after school seems to be the hinge in the day. If I’m prepared, life feels glorious. If I’m scrambling, somehow the universe begins to tilt and veer out of control. Before I know it, I find myself collapsed on the kitchen floor, covering my ears, humming to drown out the whining of the children and the racing of my own thoughts.
After school snacks are serious business.
The kids are tired; I’m tired. Who knows how the school day actually went? Was it happy-go-lucky? Or are they stressed about playground politics? What did they eat for lunch? You’d think that last one is a straightforward question with a simple, factual answer. In practice, however, as my brother says: It’s impossible to know.
Therefore, I need to be nimble, ready for anything. I need to think proactively and have a strategy. Let’s do this. Let’s brainstorm about after school snacks.
Ideally, afternoon snack time serves as part of an overall healthy, balanced diet. Let’s just assume we always need more veggies and protein. I remember a seasoned mother talking about how to use afternoon snack time as a way to fill in nutritionally, because, if they’re hungry, the kids will be like ravenous animals willing to eat whatever you give them. They’ll also get used to whatever it is that we do. Even if there’s initial resistance to it, they’ll come around after a while. Exposure therapy for the win!
In thinking about what makes a good healthy afternoon snack, let’s consider these ideas:
- Cranky kids need protein. A kid may be going through a growth spurt or maybe he chatted throughout lunch and forgot to eat. If in doubt, spread peanut butter on a piece of bread. Or just bread and butter for that delicious healthy fat. Or yummy cheese toast: bread, thin cheddar slices, maybe a sprinkle of garlic salt, broiled in the oven for a minute or two.
- Fill in nutritional gaps. If they eat fruit all the time, try to sneak in some yogurt or nuts. If they’ve got that protein and dairy covered—Cheese, please! All day!—it might be a good chance for a crudite platter instead.
- Options are OK. Picky eaters may threaten to destroy your zen snack strategy. You might pile several options on a snack board! Baby carrots, raisins, crackers, cheese slices . . . here’s hoping everyone can find something acceptable.
- Fruit bowl always available. One of my kids may be fighting rickets, since she consistently asks for something more to eat after a meal or snack, and usually ends up going for an easy-peel orange.
- Think colorful! When the kids were younger, I liked playing that tricky game with a plate of red, orange, yellow, and green sliced sweet peppers. They’d try a bite with eyes closed and guess which color.
- Hydration is key. It’s easy to forget the water glasses when we’re focused on the snack food.
I mean, some kids, sometimes. You can only control you.
- Apples with peanut butter
- Apples with cheddar slices
- Any fruit, basically
- Popcorn. Popping on the stovetop is so much easier than I realized! Kids will love watching and listening for the pops.
- Hit up Trader Joe’s to stock the pantry with all those packs of dried fruit, dried veggie chips, nuts, trail mix. Early in the week after grocery shopping, we try to eat the fresh stuff, then rely on the pantry as the situation gets dire.
- MOR snacks- Your kids will love these delicious snack packs with nuts, dried fruit, and freeze-dried cheese. They're perfect for after school or your next road trip.
- Hummus and chips, carrots, peppers, pretzels, celery
- Sugar snap peas with ranch dressing
- Smoothie, perhaps with stealth nutrients
- Mexican snack inspiration: cucumbers with lime juice and Tajin spice. It’s not too spicy, just delicious and full of the sodium that will make you eat tons of veggies. Also great on fruit like watermelon and mango!
- Roll up a tortilla with hummus
- This is weirdly good: grapes dipped in yogurt or sour cream, with a sprinkle of brown sugar
- FROZEN GRAPES!
- Banana ice cream: frozen bananas whipped up in the blender
- Frozen peas and corn. Don’t knock it ’til you try it!
Share the burden with those little stinkers. Ask them what they’d like. They can help brainstorm and ease that mental load.
Even when I'm prepared with healthy options, things can fall apart during afternoon snack time. Let’s talk logistics and the Hows, Wheres, and Whys of after school snacks.
- Whenever possible, snack outside. Even with the same food, a picnic snack can feel easier than being inside at home. On the back porch, or at the park, or hanging around the school playground, birds help with crumbs and everyone benefits from fresh air and sunshine.
- Schedule snacks with friends. Socially, this might be an easier ask than trying to host a dinner party. And perhaps a snack-time playdate will shame—ahem—influence our kids into less complaining and picky eating. Might do a world of good for the parental psyche as well.
- Make a snack board. As mentioned above, prepping a snack platter is a great way to lay out the options clearly. Even if I merely take things out of their packages, I feel so much more organized and in control if I’ve laid out a snack board ahead of time.
- Homemade clear-the-pantry trail mix. Grab the last cheerios from the near-empty bag, the leftover nuts from a baking project, the raisins, and whatever else is hanging around. Kids can pour it all into a mason jar or other container and shake it up. Adding chocolate chips will catapult this option into the after school snack hall of fame.
Snack time offers a way to celebrate everyday victories or to mark special occasions with relatively little effort. Or, let’s be honest, to turn around a crummy week.
- Enjoy baking cookies together; pair with a nice glass of milk to balance it with protein.
- Mexican hot chocolate!
- A glass of milk with the Halloween candy, or Valentine’s or what have you
- Mark special occasions with different plates, fun napkins, or something out of the ordinary to bring a sense of occasion to the day.
- Try tea time. If everyone has the bandwidth, it might be lovely to serve up kid-friendly herbal tea like Hibiscus or Rooibos along with snacks. We’ll feel so civilized as we discuss the day. Perhaps we may even be able to sip tea and read out loud. (Bonus points for poetry.)
- Coffee shop. I can’t wait for all my kids to be old enough to bring a book and try to have a reading date for snack time, while I caffeinate myself.
- Throw them a bone every now and then, and go out for ice cream.
- Bowl of cereal. It’s official. I’m a cool mom.
We like to play “Truth or Fiction” after school, which is a simplified version of Two Truths and a Lie. Each of us will give two statements about our day, and the others guess which is the truth. At this point, it’s not terribly revealing, but the kids like it. “Today, I had music. Or, today I had art.” We’re talking to each other without me asking for information like pulling teeth. Victory!
Whether it was well-planned or thrown together, I want after school snack time to be our moment to relax, hydrate, recharge, and know that our family members want to hear all the details about art class.
What are your go-to after-school snacks? Tell us in the comments and share your ideas with other parents on FamilyApp!