As summer comes to a close and school starts up again, parents everywhere are stocking up their kitchens with lunchbox appropriate foods and after-school snacks. But before you hit the grocery store, take a minute to consider whether the snacks you’re buying are really conducive to healthy, nutritious eating habits. Kids who regularly come home from school and plop themselves in front of the TV with a bag of chips or candy are putting themselves at risk for a lifetime of health problems, so establishing healthy snacking habits at a young age is important.
The following suggestions can help parents make the best decisions about what they give their children after school, and can help kids actually want to eat healthy themselves—try them out this school year for healthier students with better eating habits:
- Choose Snacks with Nutritional Benefits
The first step in establishing healthy snacking habits in kids is being aware of what snacks are healthy and which ones are lacking in the nutritional department. Fruit and vegetables are always safe snack choices since they are high in fiber and contain high vitamin contents. Whole grain snacks such as popcorn or pita chips are good alternatives for children who aren’t as willing to eat fresh produce. Whole grain pita chips and hummus is an excellent example of a balanced after school snack: hummus is low in fat and loaded with nutrients and good omega-3 fatty acids. String cheese and whole grain crackers is another filling snack that holds both kid-appeal and nutritional value.
- Make Healthy Snacks Fun
While it’s important to provide kids with nutritious snack options after school, getting kids to actually eat them can be trickier. Making healthy snacks look fun and appealing to kids is always helpful in getting them to want to make healthy snack choices. Instead of presenting kids with a plate of celery and carrot sticks, try serving ants on a log instead (celery sticks filled with peanut butter and raisins). Coming up with fun names for snacks or positioning food in interesting shapes can serve as a distraction from the snack’s healthy aspect and can help kids to forget that they are eating something healthy instead of something loaded with sugar.
- Don’t Serve Late Dinners
Kids tend to be famished after school, or at least act like they are, so serving dinner at 8 o’clock is generally not compatible with a school child’s schedule. Additionally, if kids know that they won’t be eating a full meal until much later in the evening, they will be more likely to fill themselves up on tons of snacks after they come home. To keep kids from overeating on potentially unhealthy snacks, set a standard dinnertime that is not too long after the end of the school day. This way, kids will want to leave room for dinner and will be likely to consume smaller snack portions as a result.
- Lead by Example
Kids take role models seriously, so if children see you chowing down on chips while you serve them carrot sticks, they probably won’t be happy about it. Or if kids have the option of choosing their own snacks, they’ll be more likely to choose the unhealthy ones if they see a parent or babysitter eating them. To make healthy snacks appear more appealing to kids, set a good example by eating an apple or a granola bar before dinner instead of a cookie; your kids will eventually pick up on your habits and start snacking in a similar style.
- Change Your Grocery Shopping Habits
One of the easiest ways to promote healthy after-school snacking habits in kids is to not have healthy snacks in your house. It’s as simple as that; if potato chips, candy bars and chicken nuggets aren’t in your kitchen, children won’t have the option of eating them and will have to choose something slightly healthier instead. The next time you go to the grocery store, resist the urge to buy high-sodium, fattening snacks that could be tempting to hungry kids as well as adults. Stock your kitchen with fruits, veggies, nuts and whole-grain snacks so your kids will have a healthier array of goodies to choose from.
Follow these suggestions as your kids head back to class for a school year filled with good nutrition and full, happy students.
Meredith Kimelblatt writes on behalf of Slim Jim®. For protein-packed beef jerky perfect for lunch boxes, after-school snacking or road trips, visit www.slimjim.com.