Helping children choose healthy after-school snacks
COLUMBIA, Mo. – After a full day of classes and an after-school activity or two, children are running on empty by the time they get home. Refrigerator and cupboard raiding is likely to start as soon as they come through the door. How can you make sure your kids choose healthy over junk food? Think inside the box.
“One great idea that parents can do really easily is to prepare a snack box,” said Ellen Schuster, associate state nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension. “Put together a box, one for the refrigerator and one for the cupboard. You can even label it ‘snack box.’”
What kind of snacks should go in the snack boxes? The cupboard snack box can contain whole-wheat crackers and pretzels. You can add whole-wheat, low-fat graham crackers. Mix whole-grain cereal with fruit or nuts and you’ll have a healthy homemade trail mix.
“In the refrigerator, you can cut up some baby carrots or other vegetables,” Schuster said. “You can provide 100 percent juice, but be sure to stay away from the juice drinks. You can now find sugar-free, fat-free puddings, and make low-fat cheese available.”
When creating these snack boxes, turn it into a fun family activity. Have your kids decorate the boxes. Include them in choosing snack items and take them with you to the grocery store to pick out the foods. Use the idea as a teaching moment to help your children learn about making good food choices.
“This is a nice activity to do with kids,” Schuster said. “Get children involved in choosing what is a healthy snack, why is it a healthy snack. The more kids are involved in any kind of food planning and preparation the more interested they’re going to be in eating what you provide.”
Don’t think that those snack boxes are just for the kids.
“Always remember that you, as the parent, set the example,” Schuster said. “So when you’re reaching for a snack, use the snack box yourself. If kids see you eating that snack they’re more likely to eat it as well.”
Be sure to pay attention to portion sizes when putting foods in the snack boxes, she said. You don’t want them filling up on snacks if you’re going to be providing a meal later in the day.
A two-page illustrated guide to packing snack boxes is available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/p/N357.