When the last bell rings at school, dinner’s still a few hours away.
It’s easy for young students to munch on sugary cakes or chips after a long day in class, but experts say growing children need more nutrition in their snacks.
“You want to make sure that the calories you’re eating most of the time are nutrient-dense, which means they have a little more nutritional bang for your buck than a Little Debbie cake or cookies or chips or something like that,” says Brooke Schoonenberg, a dietitian at Woman’s Hospital.
To help parents and children snack smarter, Schoonenberg assembled these easy after-school treats that do more than fill bellies. They incorporate extra fiber, protein, healthy fats and other important nutrients into kids’ diets.
Fruit and cheese
The simplest snack for a growing child, a slice of cheese paired with a wedge of fruit, offers lots of calcium, plenty of vitamins and other nutrients.
“It just doesn’t get any easier than that,” Schoonenberg says.
A natural pairing would be an apple and cheddar cheese, as the flavors complement one another. Dried fruits, including raisins and dried apricots and figs, don’t need refrigeration and contain just as many nutrients, Schoonenberg says.
Mini peppers and guacamole
Most kids don’t eat enough vegetables, so substituting these small peppers for chips provides added fiber and vitamins, Schoonenberg says.
“They’re colorful and you know they have a lot of different vitamins and they’re kind of sweet and not as bitter as another type of vegetable,” she says.
Guacamole adds potassium and healthy fats to a child’s diet.
It can be purchased at most grocers, but Schoonenberg warns that many packaged foods contain high amounts of sodium. The green dip primarily consists of mashed avocados, salt and pepper and lime juice. Simple recipes abound online and in cookbooks.
Yogurt and peanut butter dip
“Kids love dip,” says Schoonenberg, and this dip is so simple, older kids can make it themselves.
Just mix a tablespoon of peanut butter with half a cup of Greek yogurt and serve with pear or apple slices. Sweeten the dip to taste with cinnamon or honey.
“This snack is great because the Greek yogurt has calcium and vitamin D and the apple and pear slices are both good sources of fiber,” Schoonenberg says.
Mix colorful fruits like kiwi, strawberry and pineapple with brightly colored bell peppers to create a healthy, fresh salsa and serve it with whole grain pita chips or baked tortilla chips.
“There’s nothing wrong with regular salsa,” Schoonenberg says. “This is just a way to get extra fruits and vegetables into your kid. The more colorful it is, the more interesting and visually appealing it is.”
Parents can dice the fruits and peppers with a knife and mix them like a pico de gallo. Less salty than most salsas, this recipe injects potassium and vitamins into a child’s diet.
Frozen banana ice cream sandwiches
Kids will never suspect this is healthy.
These imitation ice cream sandwiches made of bananas, Greek yogurt and whole grain graham crackers taste like they’re bad for you, but they contain potassium and protein.
“They have a lot less added sugar,” Schoonenberg says. “The frozen banana is just natural sugars. They should be sweet enough that you don’t have to add anything.”
Freeze three bananas cut into slices, then use a blender to mix them together with a quarter-cup of Greek yogurt. Blend them to a consistency similar to soft serve ice cream, and spread the mixture onto graham crackers. Eat them immediately, or let them freeze for a few hours.
Mix peanut butter, cinnamon or other fruits into the banana ice cream for a sweeter treat.
Sweet potato chips
Snacking on baked sweet potatoes is a great stand-in for greasy potato chips that contain empty carbohydrates and calories, Schoonenberg says. These tubers pack a lot of potassium, vitamin A and fiber into a plain orange root. For that reason, sweet potato chips are becoming popular items on supermarket shelves.
“Instead of buying the sweet potato chips on the shelf, because those are usually fried, you can do the same thing at home,” she says.
To prepare them, thinly slice two sweet potatoes with a mandoline or a knife, then coat them with olive oil and arrange them on a baking sheet. Cook them for 12 minutes at 400 degrees and allow them to cool and become crisp. Add cinnamon for a sweeter treat or salt, pepper or chili powder for a salty snack.
“This is a good alternative for kids that want a bag of chips,” Schoonenberg says. “Then you can go sweet or savory depending on what your kid likes.”