It’s 3:30 p.m. and 17-year-old Jonah Cool bursts through his front door. After a full day of classes at Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif. and before he heads for a 20-mile bike ride, he makes a beeline to the kitchen. Healthy After-School Snacking Strategies
“At that time of day, I feel ravenous,” says Jonah, a high school senior. “What I’m looking for are carbohydrates or sugars. I want food that’s quick to grab and eat.”
Across the nation each weekday afternoon, millions of students arrive home hungry and impatient. They don’t want to spend the time cutting up fruit for a salad, boiling water for pasta noodles, or baking low-fat cookies. They want something to munch NOW.
“Some have skipped breakfasts, even lunches, and they get home and start stuffing their faces with anything and everything within reach,” says Lorraine Giangrandi, a registered dietitian at the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore, MD. “Unfortunately, they usually end up making unhealthy choices.”
But after-school snacks don’t have to be pound-packing junk food. Students like Jonah have discovered how to snack in nutritional ways. Instead of candy bars and potato chips, Jonah reaches for plums and bowls of homemade leftover pasta. His food choices help him maintain his athletic 6’0″ 175-pound build. Through elementary, middle and high school, he has learned how to make the right snack choices that give him the energy to bike and the mental stamina to study.
“I’m not much of a chocolate lover, which helps a lot, and I’m not much of a fast-food guy,” says Jonah. “My mom is a chef and owns an organic food restaurant. She has helped me learn to eat foods that won’t bog me down.”
Food is fuel. The right foods — those loaded with essential vitamins and minerals — keep our bodies revved and humming along. The wrong foods — those high in fat, sugar, and preservatives — can zap our bodies of energy and lead to health problems, including obesity, explains Giangrandi.
After-school snacking can be healthy and nutritious but it takes teamwork between parents and their children.
“Parents need to sit down with children and talk to them about what are good snacks when they are in grade school,” she says. “By the time they reach high school, bad habits are more difficult to break.”
Giangrandi offers these savvy snack strategies:
- Shop together. As you wheel the cart from aisle to aisle, discuss with your child what makes food healthy or unhealthy. Read labels together. Listen to what your child likes and dislikes. Turn shopping into a educational game: let your child make a case for selecting a particular snack based on its health value.
- Stock up on grab-and-go foods. These days, everyone is in a dash from here to there, including your children. Keep your kitchen stocked with food such as plums, large pretzels, and string cheese that are easy to handle.
- Pack in individual containers. Pantries loaded with huge bags of potato chips and cookies lead to mindless munching. Sitting on the couch with a large bag on the lap, your child is apt to reach again and again into the bag, unconsciously eating well beyond satisfying hunger pains. You can still save money by buying in bulk, but transfer snacks into one-serving sized re-sealable plastic bags.
- Craft creative shapes and designs. Younger children especially enjoy colorful, fun-looking foods. Shape sandwiches into triangles, circles, and squares. Make raisin smiles on bowls of cottage cheese. Cut up oranges and apples into slices.
- Jazz up leftovers. One last English muffin left in the refrigerator? Dress it up quickly with a few spoonfuls of pizza sauce and a few sprinkles of low-fat mozzarella cheese and toast it in the oven for a few minutes. Instant mini pizza!
- Strive for compromise. If your child loves cookies, offer oatmeal raisin or low-fat sandwich cookies and wash them down with a calcium-rich glass of 1 percent or skim milk.
- Dive into dips. Most children don’t beg for raw vegetables. Win them over by encouraging them to plunge cut-up celery and baby carrots into dips made from low-fat ranch dressing or herbed cottage cheese. Sprinkle some garlic, oregano or Parmesan cheese into the cottage cheese to perk up its flavor.
- Select healthy substitutes. French fries would belong to the major food groups if some students had their say. Bake potato sticks and wedges in the oven with sprinkles of paprika for a healthier, low-fat alternative that kids can quickly heat in the microwave or toaster oven when they return from school.
- Team up in the kitchen. Perhaps on a lazy Sunday afternoon, spend a couple of hours in the kitchen together, creating some healthy after-school snacks for the week. Make homemade popsicles together using low-fat pudding and yogurt.
- Tuck in some TLC. Scribble a note that offers praise to your son or daughter and tape it to the inside of the pantry door or inside the refrigerator. “The note can also alert them about something prepared in the refrigerator for them and it makes your child know you care,” says Giangrandi.