Does the black hole between 3–5pm turn into an all-you-can eat buffet in your house? Ditch the rice cakes and instead try some healthy after-school snacks to bridge the gap between home time and tea time. We share our top tips for healthier snacking, and share some delicious, simple recipes from the founder of healthy family food site, Food for Kids.
If your son is happier to see the packet of Pom Bears than you at the school gates, you’re not alone. Bottomless pit often isn’t an understatement when it comes to busy little boys, particularly once they are unleashed from the confines of school or nursery. And it’s all too easy for the after-school snack to morph into a couple of hours of non-stop grazing, often ruining their appetite for whatever carefully considered masterpiece you’ve rustled up for tea.
The trick is to ditch the empty calories and quick-release carbohydrates (which leave them hungry again in no time) and instead choose a satisfying healthy snack that delivers a filling, nutritious hit in one go, providing them with a boost of energy to carry through them through.
Our tips for healthy after-school snacks:
- Like so many things with kids, a bit of forward thinking pays dividends. Making a batch of granola bars or some banana bread on a Sunday evening or chopping up some vegetable sticks and fruit slices for the fridge when you do your weekly shop means you are less likely to reach for a bag of pre-packaged snacks as you dash out the door to do pick-up.
- Rice cakes can be a healthy snack if used as a vehicle for a nutritious topping that will fill them up and help slow the release of the simple carbohydrates. Try almond butter, mashed avocado, cream cheese or hummus. And try rotating the rice cakes with oatcakes, brown rice crackers (recipe below), wholewheat pitta or slices of apple to keep things varied.
- Quick, easy and often overlooked, a hard-boiled egg is a great snack complete with it’s own carry-case. Just make sure you cool them quickly in cold water once cooked to avoid that really unappetising grey ring around the yolk.
- Kids often confuse hunger with boredom. Snacks that require a little concentration and take time to eat can help in keeping them from trolling the kitchen every 15 minutes. Try edamame beans in their pods, or satsumas that they need to peel and segment themselves.
- Be mindful of the increasing number of ‘healthy’ snack alternatives that are effectively glued together with dates or agave syrup. Most agave syrup is heavily refined and loaded with liquid fructose – an alternative that is no better for your kids than white sugar. Similarly, many processed kids snacks (even from apparently healthy, organic brands) are full of concentrated grape or other fruit juice. Dates do offer a nutritional trade-up to refined sugar but they are still laden with natural sugars and only ‘healthy’ if you keep an eye on how many your kids are eating.
- Homemade granola or oat bars are much better (and cheaper) than shop-bought and allow you to boost the fruits, nuts and seeds and keep an eye on the sugar quota. Try these cranberry spelt cowboy bars or these pear granola slices made with coconut sugar.
- Dried fruit is a great snack but portion control matters: with the moisture removed from the fruit the sugar concentration is high, so gram for gram it is considerably higher in sugar than fresh fruit. A portion the size of your child’s hand is perfect. Look out for dried fruit that doesn’t contain sulphur dioxide (the preservative that gives dried apricots their bright orange colour).
- Raw vegetable sticks are easy and transportable – carrots, peppers, celery, cucumber and mild radishes are all popular choices with kids, especially if teamed with a dip. Good quality ready-made hummus is an easy option or try this red pesto dip.
- Got a blender? Smoothies are fun for kids to help make and allow you to throw in all sorts of fruits and vegetables. Try adding a small handful of oats or a spoonful of nut butter to make it filling (but not too filling).
Need some more inspiration? Vicky Charlesworth, Leiths trained mum of two and founder of Mr Fox favourite recipe resource, Food for Kids, shares some of her favourite recipes:
“I recently moved back to the UK from Sydney and it’s true – no one makes banana bread quite like the Aussies! This recipe is my cross between the best from Sydney and the recipe from Leiths School of Food and Wine where I trained.
It tastes heavenly, it’s well balanced and it’s a touch healthier than a cake! And if you’re nut free don’t fear – it works perfectly well without”
Brown Rice Crackers
“Next time you have brown rice cook extra to make these brilliant crackers. I was put on to these by a friend and the first time I made them I was, to be honest, quite sceptical about how they’d turn out. But my goodness how wrong could I be? They are out of this world and perfect for kids as a snack.
I love them with mashed avocado, nut butter and alfalfa sprouts or humous, but really they are great vehicle for any nutritious topping. The mixture is sticky so spread with a palette knife or roll between two sheets of baking paper.”
Coconut and Cashew Bounce Balls
“The inspiration for these delicious coconut and cashew bounce balls actually came from re-engineering a shop bought snack. I love a toffee, nutty flavour but wanted a snack without all the nasties and one that would give natural energy – not to mention better value for money.
These delicious power snacks will keep your kids bouncing around all day (that’s a warning!). Puffed, or popped, quinoa is easy to find in UK health food stores and is available from Amazon too. Or you could try making your own.”Food for Kids or follow Vicky on Instagram @food_for_kids or on Facebook. All images © Vicky Charlesworth.