After-school snack attack
The scene is the same in many Park City kitchens each afternoon. Kids burst through the door after a long day at school and make a beeline for the fridge or pantry in search of something to eat. While it seems like kids are always hungry, a mid-afternoon "mini" meal is actually an essential energy boost for active kids.
"Kids are especially hungry after school because they don’t tend to eat enough of the right foods during the day," says Holly Wilkens, a Park City-based dietician and nutritional consultant.
The stretch between school lunch and dinner can be a long one, sometimes as many as four hours or more. A healthy after-school snack not only satisfies hungry kids, but will also give them more energy after school for homework and sports practice.
Given a choice, most kids will opt for a less-than-healthy snack. "If you give a child a choice between fruit and Oreos, the child is going to choose the Oreo," explains Wilkens. "It’s the parent’s responsibility to fill the home with good, healthy food choices, and the child should decide how much and when they are ready to eat."
In general, a snack menu that includes foods that offer a balance of nutrients is ideal. Wilkens recommends offering snacks that combine carbohydrates and lean proteins. "Carbohydrates give energy, while proteins sustain energy," she explains. Combining plain yogurt with a mix of fruit and nuts, a piece of fruit coupled with a serving of string cheese, or a peanut butter sandwich made with whole grain bread are some good carbohydrate/protein combinations.
Shopping for snacks can be a family activity. Sit down with your child and make a list of healthy snack staples. Talk about why it’s important to make healthy food choices. Check out http://www.mypyramid.gov/kids for some helpful guidelines and fun activities designed to help kids make healthy food choices.
When shopping, Wilkens recommends that natural foods are your best choice. For prepared foods, check the nutrition labels and choose foods that are low in saturated fats and avoid foods that contain too much sugar.
Ready-made snacks like pretzels or granola bars are suitable options says Wilkens, as long as they are not overdone. "Watch out for portions. It’s a good idea to measure out a snack serving in a small bowl (such as a 6 oz. ramekin) before giving it to your child."
Persuading kids to eat healthy foods can be as easy as varying the food’s presentation. "Instead of serving carrot sticks, try slicing carrots into wavy chips using a mandolin slicer, or serving fruits or vegetables in colorful bowls or on a skewer," recommends Wilkens. "Kids will eat foods that are presented in a cute and colorful way."
Taking a dip is another way of enticing kids to eat their fruit and vegetables. "Kids are much more likely to eat something that they can dip into something else," adds Wilkens. Cottage cheese (mixed with a few drops of salad dressing), strawberry yogurt, peanut butter, almond butter and hummus are a few healthy dipping suggestions.
Encouraging kids to make their own trail mix is another fun way to promote healthy food choices. Ingredients such as whole grain cereal, raisins, nuts, pretzels, and dried fruit can be mixed and matched in endless varieties, and measured into snack sized bags for an easy on-the-go snack. Or challenge your kids to get creative with popcorn. Wilkens suggests tossing popcorn with nuts or a touch of cinnamon-sugar, or try sprinkling hot popcorn with grated Parmesan cheese or a mix of herbs and spices.
With parental supervision, kids can use a blender to create their own smoothies. Wilkens recommends yogurt or milk-based (rather than fruit juice) recipes served in 8 oz. portions. Kids can add their favorite fruit, or fruit combinations to whip-up a quick, and cool treat. And speaking of cool, kids love to snack on frozen fruit. Frozen berries, peaches, grapes and bananas are popular choices.
Instilling healthy snacking habits takes a commitment from the whole family according to Wilkens. "Parents need to work together with their kids to help them choose the right types of food to stay healthy."
Here’s a quick and easy after-school snack that kids can make themselves. For variety try using different spreads such as almond butter.
Whole wheat tortilla
Tablespoon peanut butter
Peel banana. Spread peanut butter on tortilla, drizzle honey over peanut butter. Place banana on edge of tortilla. Roll tortilla around banana. Eat and enjoy.
Source: Holly Wilkens, MS, RD
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