From nacho chips dipped in yogurt to leftover wedding cake to waffles with ketchup, kids are willing to eat anything when they get home from school. But their odd snacking choices are a major concern among parents. According to a national survey commissioned by frozen snack maker Farm Rich, 95% of parents agreed that after-school snacks provide their kids with a needed boost of energy for afternoon activities. With 90% of kids choosing to eat before doing anything else when they get home, it’s important that they make smart snacking decisions. However, nearly half of kids aren’t under adult supervision between school and dinner, leaving them to opt for less-than ideal snacks.
“People have dissected kids’ eating habits at breakfast, lunch and dinner time,” said Jennifer Meetz, Farm Rich’s Senior Marketing Manager. “After-school snacking is a sector that hasn’t been explored. It’s clear from this survey that it’s as much of an occasion for American kids as any other meal of the day.”
The survey also revealed that more than 75% of parents say satisfying hunger is the most important quality when it comes to their child’s after-school snack, while only 36% ranked being low in fat and calories at the top of their list. The importance of wholesome after-school snacks was verified as almost half (49%) of parents admitted that six or more hours go by between the time their kids eat lunch and dinner.
“Balanced nutrition is probably the biggest influencer on energy and health,” said Atlanta based registered dietician Ilana Katz. “For a child to reach their highest potential in physical activity and health, the body as a whole must work optimally. A balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and fluids all play a crucial role.”
Here are some other helpful suggestions from the Illinois Early Learning Project:
Serve snacks from a variety of food groups
- Grains and carbohydrates. Children will enjoy these snacks as part of the 6 servings needed each day: crackers with cheese spread, ready-to-eat cereal, mini rice cakes, and graham crackers. Older children may enjoy trail mix or popcorn (but be careful—these foods can cause choking in children ages 3 and under).
- Vegetables. Snacks can be a good way to work 3 servings of these foods into a child’s daily diet. Try vegetable strips, such as cucumber or squash, cherry tomatoes cut into small pieces, steamed broccoli or carrots, green beans, or sugar peas with a low-fat dip. Older children may also like carrot or celery strips, perhaps with peanut butter.
- Fruit. Sections of fruit (apples, tangerines, bananas, or pineapples), canned fruits, and juices are good choices. A child needs 2 servings of fruit each day, but be careful not to overdo the juice. A serving for 4- to 6-year-olds is ¾ cup.
- Milk products. Some good choices include milk shakes made with fruit, cheese slices or string cheese, and mini yogurt cups. One cup of milk or 2 ounces of cheese makes up 1 of the 2 servings young children should have each day.
- Meat and protein. Children may enjoy hard-cooked eggs; peanut butter spread thinly on crackers, fruit, or vegetables; or bean dip thinly spread on crackers. Two to 3 ounces of meat, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 of the 2 recommended daily servings of meat or protein recommended for children ages 2 to 6.
- Sweet and high-fat foods. Everyone enjoys an occasional treat, but try to limit the number of these foods in your children’s diets. Eating these foods may keep a child from eating the foods he needs and can lead to overeating.
Take safety precautions in serving food
- Watch out for foods that may cause choking, including hot dogs, meat chunks, chips, nuts and seeds, popcorn, raisins, grapes, cherries, marshmallows, pretzels, large chunks of fruit or raw vegetables, peanut butter (when eaten by the spoonful), and round or hard candy. Some of these foods (like grapes or cherries) can be served if they are cut into small pieces. Peanut butter can be spread thinly on crackers or bread. Children love finger foods!
- Know your child’s allergies. Be sure that anyone who cares for your child is aware of her allergies and reports any allergic reactions to you. Severe reactions can be life-threatening and may require emergency medical attention.