When the end-of-school bell rings in the afternoon, dinner can feel like it’s days away instead of hours — especially when you’re a kid who is just so huuuuuungry (insert whine here). Enter the after-school snack, beloved by school-aged kids everywhere, and almost guaranteed to buy you some whine-free hours until dinner time.
The word “snack” has gotten a bad rap, thanks to sugary junk food, but kids really do need to eat every three to four hours, says Mandy Johnson, lead clinical dietitian at OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital.
“Younger kids eat less at each sitting, and it is recommended they have three meals and two snacks per day,” Johnson says. “Older kids need three meals and one snack, or two snacks if they are physically active.”
But when you have after-school activities to run to and homework to check, you don’t have a whole lot of time to put Pinterest-level effort into your snack game. Don’t worry. Try these easy, after-school snacks designed with busy parents in mind. And did we mention they’re healthy too?
1. Banana splits
Just like their meals, after-school snacks should provide a good balance of protein and fiber to keep kids’ bellies full, says registered dietitian Staci Gulbin, of Light Track Nutrition. This healthy twist on the decadent ice cream treat serves up fiber in the form of bananas. Slather with some peanut butter (or a seed-based spread if your family is nut-free), and you have the protein. The only thing missing? Some sweet blueberries to top things off!
2. Energy bites
The Connecticut mom Brett Martin behind This Mama Loves runs a tight ship after school, limiting her three kids to fruits and veggies before dinner. But she makes an exception for her easy one-bowl energy bites. Made from nothing more than oats, peanut butter, flax seed, mini chocolate chips, honey and coconut oil, they’re little balls of protein and fiber that get gobbled down in seconds. Bonus? You don’t have to bake them! Just form balls, and you’re done!
3. Apple nachos
This healthy twist on the ballpark favorite takes minutes to make. Just slice your apples, drizzle with nut butter, add some cinnamon and serve up to your hungry kiddos. The best part? It doesn’t matter how it looks if you have to dump into a to-go container. Nachos are supposed to look messy!
4. Fruit cup salsa
This tailgating favorite gets a healthy and kid-friendly twist with this fruit cup salsa recipe from Home Cooking Memories. Just mix their favorite fruit cup with a few veggies, and bring on the whole grain chips!
5. String cheese people
String cheese gets a solid thumbs up from the nutrition experts, and when you pair it with mini cherry tomatoes, you load kids up with calcium, protein and vitamins A and C. People shapes are optional!
6. Veggie sailboats
Give them plenty of fuel for their imaginations with little boats made out of veggies (thanks for the help, toothpicks!). Sugar snap peas or a zucchini slice make perfect sails, and you can grab what’s lying around to create the bottom part or follow these tips from Oh Happy Day.
7. English muffin pizzas
Pizza is always a hit with kids, but the experts suggest steering clear of the frozen pies (or a slice from the pizzeria) at snacktime. Instead, Johnson suggests parents turn to a breakfast favorite: whole grain English muffins. Add some sauce and cheese, toast and wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm until the kids are ready to chow down.
8. Tomato soup
When it’s cold outdoors, a nice warm cup of tomato soup in their thermos will warm them right up. In fact, it’s literally a cup that Johnson recommends, and you can pack a baggie of whole-grain crackers to munch on when you’re on the go.
9. Fruit and yogurt
When you’re running out the door to dance lessons and don’t have time to prep, yogurt can be an easy and filling option, although you need to read your labels carefully. Gulbin advises opting for Greek yogurt and ensuring your pick has 10 grams of sugar or less per serving. Mom Laurie Simmer from Jacksonville, Florida, lets her two daughters add a little fiber and fun to their yogurt with bits of fruit. You can even make animal faces!
10. Greek yogurt dip
Are the kids getting tired of eating their yogurt the old-fashioned way? The Mama Maven Nancy Johnson Horn, of New York City, throws it in a food processor with honey and almonds for a sweet dip that’s packed with protein! Don’t forget to grab some apple slices for dipping.
11. Hummus dip
Do your kids always come home hungry, diving on food before you have a chance to take your coat off? Put a (covered) bowl of hummus and some cut-up veggie or baby carrots at eye level in the fridge, Johnson suggests.
12. Watermelon stars
If they have energy to burn off when you get home from running them all over town, grab a few cookie cutters and set them up with some watermelon slices. They can eat as many shapes as they can cut!
13. Ants on a log
Celery smeared with peanut butter is a perfect post-school snack, Gulbin says, combining the fibrous veggie with the protein of the peanuts. To make it more fun for kids, add a few raisins on top. They’ll look just like little ants hanging out on a log!
14. Rainbow kabobs
Kids should have just 100 to 200 calories at snack time, Gulbin says. To keep the calorie count down but the fiber count up, stick to fruit. Throw a little science into snacktime (and help them remember ROY G BIV) with fruit slices served up on skewers in rainbow hues.
15. Cheese bites
When you’re in a hurry, these cheese bites look like you put in some extra effort. But let’s face it: All you have to do is cut some cheese (or buy the pre-cubed version) and stick in some pretzel rods. Bing. Bang. Boom.
16. Teddy bear toast
Teddy bear toast is almost too cute to eat, but somehow your kids will manage. Weelicious even manages to make this Pinterest-ready recipe fast and easy with just four ingredients.
17. A bowl of popcorn
Is it crafty? Nope. But if you’re kids are just going to devour it on the way to karate class, what really matters is that it’s packed with fiber, according to Gulbin. Just avoid the extra butter kind!