Even when the school day is over, most kids still have plenty of tasks to tackle including homework, sports practice, music lessons and more. To keep your youngsters fueled up until supper, stocking quick and healthy snacks in the refrigerator and pantry is a priority for mental and physical performance. While processed chips, crackers and sugary sweets might seem convenient to busy parents and certainly appeal to the kids to whom they are so heavily marketed, there’s not much nutritionally in these products to help prevent end-of-day brain and body drain. As a healthier alternative, consider prepping fresh foods packed with vitamins and minerals -- like fruits and veggies -- and keep them chilled and ready for grab-and-go, mid-afternoon munching.
In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced the traditional Food Pyramid with the My Plate model. These guidelines, intended for everyone over age two, recommend at least one-half of the plate at each meal should be filled up with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Serve your kids colorful vegetables such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes, carrots and broccoli in addition to a rotating selection of available seasonal vegetables. Generally, the brighter or deeper a vegetable’s color, the more nutrient rich. Fruit can be served as a side dish or stand alone as a healthy dessert.
To make grabbing nutritious veggies after school easier and more appealing, portion a medley of produce beforehand in individual containers such as zip-top baggies or small bowls. Kids can just reach in the fridge and grab a single-sized serving. Or, try using small juice glasses or condiment cups to prop up vegetables into yummy dip.
A little dip never hurt anyone, especially if it encourages more vegetable eating. Children love to dunk finger foods into dip; it seems to make eating an interactive activity. Litehouse Foods has a fabulous selection of freshly prepared veggie dips that kids will love to sink snap peas, carrots and tomatoes right into. Creamy homestyle ranch dip is a winner with all ages and older youngsters may enjoy the adventure of trying avocado dip or spinach artichoke dip.
Since the dip is waiting in the bottoms of these mini veggie cups, parents don’t have to worry about “double-dippers” spreading germs with the family. Everyone gets their own dollop of dip, everyone stays healthy!
Oh, and don’t forget the water. Believe it or not, water is one of the most important after-school snacks around. Even though water fountains are an icon of the playground and hallways, most parents would be shocked to see how little water students actually consume while at school. Research has shown that even mild dehydration can affect learning as well as mental and physical performance. A lack of water may also create a false sense of hunger, creating poor food choices and overeating. The standard guidelines are for children to get six to eight glasses of water per day; active teenage boys may need up 11 glasses per day. At home, make access to cold filtered water easy for your thirsty kids after school by keeping a pitcher in the fridge or maintaining a stand-alone water dispenser.