Children's caloric needs range from 1,000 calories per day to 1,800 calories or more, depending on age, activity level and gender. Over one-third of those calories are consumed through after-school snacks, according to Iowa State University. Make the calories count by offering tasty, nutrient-dense snacks. Schedule a set time for snacks and monitor portions, rather than allowing children to snack throughout the afternoon.
The best non-fattening snack choices are usually raw or minimally processed foods made from fruit, vegetables or whole grains. Carrot sticks, snap peas, grapes, apples or Clementine oranges make handy, portable snacks. Make the veggies more appealing to your kids by offering hummus or light creamy salad dressing as a dip. Try whole-wheat pretzel sticks, rice cakes or bagels for healthy grains with limited fat. Combine dried fruit, whole-wheat cereal and popcorn for a nutritious trail mix. Look for nutritious, natural substitutes for popular snack items. Substitute all-fruit leather for sugary fruit snacks and organic, whole-grain granola bars for candy bars or regular granola bars.
Low-fat dairy products and lean meats provide the protein and calcium necessary to grow strong bones and muscles. These products are not fattening when served as part of a balanced diet. Young children need at least 2 cups of milk each day. Ensure that older children get the equivalent of 3 cups of milk per day. Offer low-sugar, low-fat fruit yogurt, cubed cheeses or natural turkey on a bagel with reduced-fat cream cheese for fast snacks. Make a smoothie with yogurt, frozen fruit and apple juice.
Don't fall prey to the fast food trap. Stock your kitchen with healthy snacks and bring them along to after-school activities and sports. Wash and cut fruit and veggies ahead of time and package individual portions of snacks in plastic bags or containers. Keep sliced fruit looking fresh by spritzing it with lemon juice. Pack light, creamy dips in small containers, or purchase travel or snack-sized portions. Store the snacks in an accessible cupboard or shelf in the refrigerator to encourage independence.
Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
As children get older and gain more independence, they have frequent opportunities to make their own food choices. Children who are never allowed to have junk food may overindulge when they encounter it outside your home. Teach kids moderation by allowing high-sugar, high-fat foods occasionally. Go for walks or bike rides together and encourage an overall healthy lifestyle. Make mealtimes convivial, warm experiences that strengthen relationships. View food as an added bonus of the time spent together, rather than the focus.