Peanut butter in celery sticks is a classic — and healthy — after-school snack. (Getty Images)

Peanut butter in celery sticks is a classic — and healthy — after-school snack. (Getty Images)

Healthy after-school snacks help children learn and grow

Try these eight delicious and nutrient-rich ideas for afternoon snacks that both you and your kids will enjoy.

It’s school time again! Every parent knows that fall brings with it a new and often busier schedule that can bring real-life challenges to serving kid-friendly, nutritious meals and snacks in less time.

One of the most important additions to your child’s diet is providing a nutrient-rich after-school snack. This is the moment when your child needs well-chosen calories and macronutrients like protein, healthy carbohydrates and healthy fats that deliver fiber, vitamins and minerals, and phytochemicals.

Combining foods to keep a balance of these components will help meet their energy and growth demands — which should not be underestimated at any age. And most children are hungry after school or in the afternoons — especially if it’s been three or four hours since they’ve eaten. It’s the perfect opportunity to add nutrition to your child’s day.

When presenting snacks to kids, it’s a good idea not to solely emphasize just how “healthy” they are. Rather, use language that encourages understanding of how delicious they taste and that they will “help you grow big and strong” and “help you feel good and think clearly at school.” Reinforce the fact that healthy foods satisfy their appetite and keep their tummies happy by keeping them full longer.

Protecting family mealtimes together as much as possible and serving well-balanced meals regularly will set an example of eating well. These are the important messages to instill early on in their lives to help develop positive eating habits that will last a lifetime.

As for sweets, in our house they were limited, and our motto was always “good food first.”

Here are some fun, creative, delicious and nutrient-rich ideas for afternoon snacks your kids (and you) will love.

■ Nut butter spread on apple slices or celery.

■ Popcorn or low sugar cereal-based trail mix with dried fruit, nuts and spices (try cinnamon and nutmeg).

■ Baby carrots, peapods and cucumber sticks dipped in hummus.

■ Frozen grapes.

■ “Cheesecake” pudding made with cottage cheese whirled with a little milk in a blender and topped with berries, apples or peaches.

■ Whole wheat tortilla spread with low-fat refried beans and a sprinkle of cheese. Roll and microwave for 20 seconds. Slice into rounds for little hands.

■ Fresh fruit (the ultimate convenience food) with low-fat yogurt.

■ A “milkshake” made from 1 cup low-fat dairy or soy milk, 2 tablespoons nut butter, 1 teaspoon honey, 2 teaspoons cocoa powder, 1 frozen or fresh banana and ice. Blend. For older children with increased energy demands from sports, add a Carnation Instant Breakfast packet or some dried milk powder to this.

Kim Larson is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health and wellness coach and founder of Total Health. Visit www.totalhealthrd.com or www.facebook.com/totalhealthnutrition for more. Follow her on Twitter @healthrd. Disclaimer: This is for information only and not intended as personal medical advice.

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