Think beyond chips, cookies when planning after-school snacks
August 12, 2021
I don't know about you, but every year when back-to-school time rolls around, I look back and wonder just what happened to summer. It seems like Memorial Day was last week and the Fourth of July was yesterday, but yet here it is: The first day of school is looming right around the corner.
And with school starting soon, it's time to think about what all those hungry kids are going to eat when they get home from school.
"Healthy snacks can help children get the nutrients they need after a long day of learning," says Cami Wells, an Extension Educator in Grand Island. "Helping children eat healthy snacks is an ongoing struggle with many parents."
Chips, cookies, candy and cake are among the most frequently chosen snack foods, according to a national survey done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Try to purchase these foods less often, Wells says, as kids and adults alike will be more likely to select the healthier choices when there is less competition.
Healthy snacks do take a little time to plan. Carefully chosen snacks are a good way for kids to meet their recommended daily intake of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains.
Here are a few kid-friendly suggestions based on the MyPlate food groups from the USDA:
Vegetables: Vegetable sticks such as carrot, green pepper, cucumber or squash; celery stuffed with peanut butter; cherry tomatoes cut in small pieces; whole grape tomatoes; green beans or sugar peas served with low-fat dip. Save time by slicing veggie and store them in the refrigerator and serve with dips like hummus or low-fat dressing. Top half a whole-wheat English muffin with spaghetti sauce, chopped vegetables, and shredded mozzarella and melt in the microwave.
Fruits: Apple ring sandwiches (apple rings topped with peanut butter); orange or mandarin orange sections; chunks of banana or pineapple; canned fruits packed in juice; and juice box of 100% juice. Fruits are quick and easy. Fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits can be easy "grab-and-go" options that need little preparation.
Grains: Cracker stacks (whole wheat crackers topped with cheese slices); ready-to-eat cereals; popcorn; trail mix, (ready-to-eat cereals mixed with raisins or other dried fruit); and whole grain graham crackers. Go for great whole grains. Offer whole-wheat breads, popcorn and whole-oat cereals that are high in fiber and low in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. Limit refined-grain products such as snack bars, cakes and sweetened cereals.
Dairy: Milk shakes made with fruit and milk; cheese slices with thin apple wedges; yogurt topped with fruit or granola and string cheese or individually wrapped slices. Grab a glass of milk. A cup of low-fat or fat-free milk or milk alternative is an easy way to drink a healthy snack.
Protein: Hard-cooked eggs (wedges or slices), sliced turkey or ham, peanut butter (or other nut butter) or bean dip spread on crackers. Nibble on lean protein. Choose lean protein foods such as lower sodium deli meats, unsalted nuts, or eggs. Store unsalted nuts in the pantry or peeled, hard-cooked (boiled) eggs in the refrigerator for kids to enjoy any time.
Here are a couple of more tips from Wells:
Mix it up. For older school-age kids, mix dried fruit, nuts, and popcorn in a snack-size bag for a quick trail mix. Blend plain fat-free or low-fat yogurt with 100% fruit juice and frozen peaches for a tasty smoothie.
Keep an eye on the size. Snacks shouldn't replace a meal, so look for ways to help your kids understand how much is enough. Store snack-size bags in the cupboard and use them to control serving sizes.
Consider convenience. A single-serving container of low-fat or fat-free yogurt or individually wrapped string cheese can be just enough for an after-school snack.
Also consider safety
Eating healthy snacks isn't the only thing to consider. Eating safely is another.
Bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. In just two hours, these microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels.
Wells suggests that, if you're responsible for packing snacks for the team, troop or group, keep perishable foods in a cooler with ice or cold packs until snack time. Pack snacks in individual bags or containers, rather than having children share food from one serving dish.
Here are a few tips from Wells to teach children about preparing snacks safely after school:
- Place books, book bags, and sporting equipment on the floor, not on eating counters or the kitchen table where germs could be transferred.
- Wash your hands before you make or eat a snack. Hands carry lots of germs, and not washing hands is a top cause of foodborne illness.
- Always use clean spoons, forks, and plates.
- Wash fruits and vegetables with running tap water before you eat them.
- Do not eat bread, cheese, or soft fruits or vegetables that are bruised or have spots of mold.
- Do not leave cold items, like milk, lunchmeat or yogurt out on the counter at room temperature. Put these foods back in the refrigerator as soon as you've fixed your snack.
- Don't eat any perishable food left out of the refrigerator, such as pizza - even if it isn't topped with meat. Food should not be left in the temperature "danger zone" of 40 to 140 degrees F for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees F or higher).
Safe steps in food handling, cooking, and storage are essential to prevent foodborne illness. You can't see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria that may cause illness.
Healthy after-school snacking is possible - even likely, for the most dedicated young junk-food aficionado.
Lemon Velvet Supreme
2 cups low-fat vanilla yogurt
3 tablespoons instant, lemon pudding mix
8 squares graham crackers, crushed
1 can (11 ounces) mandarin orange slices, drained (or your favorite fresh, canned or dried fruit)
Wash hands with soap and water.
Combine vanilla yogurt and pudding mix; gently stir together.
Layer bottom of serving dish with crushed graham crackers, reserving a few tablespoons to sprinkle on top. Pour pudding mixture over cracker crumbs.
Top with mandarin orange slices or your favorite fruit. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 148 calories, 2 g total fat, 196 mg sodium, 29 g total carbohydrates, 0 g fiber, 4 g protein.
Recipe from: MyPlate Kitchen
1 large banana cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/4 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
2 tablespoons oat and honey granola cereal
Divide the sliced banana pieces between two plates.
Place 2 tablespoons of yogurt onto each plate.
Place 1 tablespoon of granola cereal onto each plate.
Use fork to pick up a slice of banana and dip into the yogurt, then into the cereal.
Makes 2 servings.
Nutritional information per serving: 100 calories, 1 g fat, 30 mg sodium and 21 g carbohydrate.
Recipe from: Oregon State Extension
Soft Granola Bars
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup raisins or chopped dates
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup nuts
1/4 cup honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spray a 15-1/2-by-10-1/2-inch jelly roll pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, vegetable oil and eggs, stirring until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients, except honey.
Spread into the prepared pan. Bake 17 to 22 minutes or until done. Cool.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm honey until heated through, stirring constantly. Drizzle honey on top of granola bars.
Makes 21 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories, 12 g fat, 105 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber.
Recipe from: Cami Wells
Start to finish: 30 minutes
8 cups popped popcorn, cooled
2 cups chocolate chips, melted
2 cups mini marshmallows
3 cups crushed graham crackers
Place the popcorn in a large bowl. Drizzle the melted chocolate over it, mixing gently to coat evenly. Stir in the marshmallows until well combined.
Place the crushed graham crackers in a wide, shallow bowl. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
With damp hands, form the popcorn mixture into small balls (golf ball-size). Roll each ball through the graham crackers to coat, then arrange on the prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for 10 minutes before serving. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.
Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 405 calories; 146 calories from fat; 16 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 67 g carbohydrate; 5 g protein; 5 g fiber; 206 mg sodium.
Dried Fruit and Popcorn Bars
Start to finish: 1 hour (10 minutes active)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon water
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
2 cups dried apricots, cherries and cranberries, roughly chopped
8 cups popped popcorn, warm
In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water to 230 F. Transfer to a small bowl, then whisk in the butter. Add the dried fruit and toss well.
Place the popcorn in a large bowl, then pour the butter-fruit mixture over it, tossing gently to coat and combine.
Press the mixture firmly into a 9-by-9-inch pan. Let sit for 45 minutes. Cut into 9 bars.
Makes 9 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 193 calories; 48 calories from fat; 5 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 14 mg cholesterol; 36 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 3 g fiber; 1 mg sodium