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After-School Snacks

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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Do your kids come in from school and head right to the kitchen for something to eat? Most kids are hungry after school. Many kids eat lunch early and then have an afternoon of classes. Some may have an after-school activity before their next chance to eat. Even if their lunch is later, it still may be 6 hours or more before they sit down to dinner.

After-school snacks can take the edge off hunger and boost nutrition. Parents can help their children choose healthy after-school snacks while still leaving room for dinner.

Create a List of Healthy Options

When it comes to after-school snacks, make chips, sweets, and other treats the exception rather than the rule. Talk to your kids and make a list of healthy options together. Include a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein foods. An occasional treat is fine, but serve healthy snacks most of the time.

Some kids might want to come along to the grocery store to help choose snacks. Spend some time reading the nutrition facts labels and comparing products. Pay attention to the amounts of protein, fiber, calcium, and other important nutrients. Also talk about serving sizes. Together, choose snacks that are low in sugar, fat, and salt. Being involved makes it more likely that kids will learn to make healthy food choices.

Figure Out the Timing

Consider your child’s eating schedules when planning snacks:

  • What time is lunch?
  • What and how much do they eat at lunch? 
  • Do they eat an afternoon snack at school or after-school program?
  • What time is dinner?

A child who gets home at 4:00 and eats a large snack probably won't be hungry if dinner is at 5:00. Instead, offer a light snack — perhaps a fruit or vegetable you’ll serve at dinner — to take the edge off. On the other hand, it may not be reasonable to expect a child to wait until 7:30 with nothing to eat since lunch. Offer a fruit or vegetable, but pair it with a protein, like apples and peanut butter or veggies and hummus.

Make Healthy Snacks an Easy Choice

Kids are more likely to eat what's handy, especially when they are hungry. Make it easy to choose healthy after-school snacks. You can:

  • Put healthy snacks out where kids can see them. Keep fruit on the counter and healthy items, like yogurt and cut-up vegetables, front and center in your fridge.
  • Make healthy snacks ahead of time.
  • Pack healthy snacks in lunchboxes or backpacks.

If you're at home after school, your child mild enjoy making snacks together. Some kid-favorite creative snacks include: 

  • ants on a log (celery topped with peanut butter and raisin "ants")
  • egg boats (hard-boiled egg wedges topped with a cheese sail)
  • fruit kabobs (pieces of fruit on skewers with yogurt for dipping)

Older kids may enjoy making smoothies, home-made trail mix, or popcorn sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

If your child goes to an after-school program or to a caregiver's house, ask about snacks. If you don't like the snacks they serve, suggest healthy alternatives. Or pack a healthy snack for after school. Easy-to-pack snack options include trail mix, nuts, low-sugar whole-grain cereal, whole-grain pretzels or crackers, fresh or dried fruit, and cut-up vegetables.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021