Creative and Attractive Snacks
When Sarah Ibrahim’s children come home from school, she has healthy snacks waiting for them on the kitchen island. From piping hot lentil soup in the winter to a medley of berries when it’s warmer, the key is to have everything ready.
“If you wait for them to get back and then ask them what they would like, chances are they would shrug, grab a cookie and go watch some TV,” says Ibrahim, mom of four in Elgin, IL.
She has some go-to favorites that her kids love and, from time to time, she tries out new things to keep them interested. Usually, an ethnic twist makes it easier for her kids to enjoy their veggies. They often have steamed Brussels sprouts sprinkled with chaat masala or any chopped vegetable in a spicy karhai tomato paste. Just add a fork and the after-school snack is ready.
She feels that most kids love anything with dips. Homemade is always better, but if you are pressed for time, and the occasional store bought dip entices your child to have a variety of fruits and vegetables, it is worth the splurge. Putting them out in dishes with different sections gives them the choice to try a variety of healthy fruits, buffet-style. She also ensures they have plenty of milk and water, which is often side tracked when it comes to re-fueling tired kids.
“When a child is hungry, he will most likely eat anything he can get his hands on,” Ibrahim said. “Just like when they have walked for three hours at a theme park, they are willing to eat something they might fuss over at home. Similarly, when kids come back from school, they are very hungry, so accessibility and appearance makes a big difference.”
Speaking of appearance, Ayesha Akhtar, MPH, a community health educator for the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago and co-founder of HEART Women + Girls, has been using fun plates and straws to jazz up meals and snacks for her boys, 10 and 8.
“I’m definitely a believer in fun presentation,” Akhtar says. “I’m also a smoothie machine. I will make any combo and always add protein powder to balance out the glycemic index. With some fun straws, we often have a ‘liquid breakfast’. I also have plates with sections and the boys have fun loading it up with different food groups. It is so easy and makes kids accountable for a balanced meal. Even the regular healthy snack combos like apples or celery with peanut butter are more appealing when presented in a fun way.”
Registered dietician and mom to three boys, Shahana Khan believes it’s a good idea to talk to each of your kids and ask them what fruits and vegetables they like. Take them grocery shopping to a store with a huge variety of fresh produce so they can see that options are not limited to the bare basics.
“Have the kids make a list of healthy foods they are willing to try,” Khan said. “Baked sweet potatoes julienne cut are popular in my house. I feel the way you cut vegetables can also make a difference!”
Khan also suggests giving children some choices in how they have their veggies. Whether it’s a salad bar at home or a variety of vegetable toppings to put on their whole-grain pizza, it helps when they have a say in the process.
For a quick fix, she always keeps yogurt on hand. Add in a little honey and chopped dates or raisins and you have a power house of a snack in a jiffy. She also pops her own popcorn and adds different herbs and seasonings.
“Smoothies are so popular these days,” Khan said. “Moms can sneak cucumber or spinach (little at a time) with the fruit of their choice. We also like carrots, cucumber, broccoli or celery with peanut dipping sauce or hummus. Another fun way to do it is to dip apple wedges in peanut butter and then chopped nuts or dried fruit so they stick to it.”
Akhtar, however, is not a believer in hiding healthy foods in other foods. She feels kids need to know what they are eating and why it is good for them. When her son asks for Nutella sandwiches, they agree to add banana slices which “taste heavenly together!”
Her “New Food Monday” rule has worked well for their family, especially for her picky younger son. He has learned to enjoy turkey and cheese sandwiches which are a life-saver for school lunches.
“He can choose not to like the new food, but he has to try it,” Akhtar said. “This gives the child the power he wants, and the parent the opportunity to show him new foods and continue to expand his palate.”
Another idea that has worked for Akhtar, would be great for working parents or older kids who come back from school to empty homes, is mason jars smoothies. Instead of reaching for cookies and chips, these are very easy to blend and very healthy too. She puts fresh cut kale, berries, and bananas in a mason jar and stores it in the freezer. All she has to do is blend it with water or pineapple juice after school, or with Greek yogurt for breakfast, and her kids have a nourishing snack.
If your kids are craving carbohydrates, Akhtar suggests keeping healthy sandwiches ready to eat. She recommends any seed butter with jam or honey. Sometimes the same filling on a different type of whole grain bread or tortilla can make things interesting. Even rolling and slicing the sandwiches with a twist can appeal to picky eaters.
Another way to include healthy snack options in your kids’ home-from-school routine is to try and aim for a rainbow of colors every month. Draw or print a picture of a rainbow and try to include at least one item from every color in a healthy after- school snack. The first person to complete their rainbow can earn a surprise. Hopefully that will get them to try new colors of fruits and veggies.
In the same way schools create hot lunch menus for the entire month, you can do so for healthy snacks. Include the kids in the menu-making process and be sure to include a wide variety. This will make grocery shopping easier for you and you will not be wondering what healthy options to give the kids when they get off the bus.
Kiran Ansari is a writer and mom to Yusuf, 11 and Hana, 8. Since working on this story, she has been trying to keep a healthy snack ready for them when they come home from school.