When my kids get off the bus, they are usually ravenous! A healthy after-school snack helps turn a grumpy, tired child into a kid who’s ready to attack the afternoon.
Regardless of where the hunger comes from (skipping breakfast, not eating their healthy packed lunch, mental exhaustion, physical growth, or all of the above), healthy after school snacks are a great opportunity to nourish your kiddos.
As a parent, I know that the thought of prepping one more meal can feel overwhelming — but you don’t have to turn to processed snack-packs! This article is here to help you keep snacks simple and fresh, with a slew of easy recipes your kids will look forward to throughout the week.
What makes for a healthy after school snack?
A healthy snack is really just a smaller version of a healthy meal! There are a few parameters that I like to keep in mind when putting together a mini-meal.
The same guidelines apply whether you’re sending snacks for the classroom, or for your kids to eat when they get home:
1. Seek real food ingredients!
It’s especially tempting when it comes to snack time to turn to processed, packaged foods that are high in sugar, inflammatory fats, and artificial ingredients. But, real food for kids is critical for their physical growth, mental health, and overall behavior.
Building snacks from whole foods that can be hunted, caught, gathered, or grown is the best approach for overall wellness.
2. Include a source of quality protein and/or healthy fat!
One common snack mistake is carbohydrate dominance. Even real-food carbohydrate rich snacks can spike blood sugar and leave you feeling hungry in no time.
Instead, pair carbs with a source of quality protein and/or healthy fat to slow absorption and increase satiation. Reach for an apple WITH nut butter, or carrot sticks WITH a hard-boiled egg.
3. Variety is the spice of life!
After school snacks can quickly turn into the same foods day after day. This leads to turned up noses and lack of nutrient variety. Remember that different foods offer different (and important) vitamins and minerals, so be sure to work in some diversity.
Tips for encouraging kids to eat real food snacks
“All this sounds great, but how am I going to get my kids to actually eat a healthy snack instead of reaching for a bag of Doritos, or a Snickers bar?”
Getting picky eaters to eat healthy food is possible — with the right strategies in place! Here are some of the methods that work best in our house and in the homes of my clients.
1. Keep the packaged foods out of the house!
If the chip bags, candy bars, soda cans, and pretzels bites aren’t there, they can’t tempt your kids. I urge you to purge the junk at home and swap it for real food.
2. Keep real food snacks and ingredients at eye level!
When fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and nuts are left in the back of the crisper drawer, or the corner of the pantry, kids certainly aren’t going to rummage through to seek them out!
You have to place them at their eye level, or make them easily accessible, visually appealing, and ready to grab.
3. Have healthy snacks ready!
EVERY TIME I take fifteen minutes to put a snack out on the counter before my boys walk in the door, they eat better. They are tired, hungry, and ready for food. If it’s grabbable, they reach for it.
If you aren’t home to prep a snack right before it’s needed, we’ve got your back. In the list of recipes below, there are several that you can make in advance and leave in a visible place for your children, tweens, or teens.
4. Teach your kids how to make a few simple snacks!
When your kids know how to prepare their own healthy snacks, and they have access to the ingredients, there’s no excuse. Plus, the confidence that this leaves them with extends beyond the kitchen.
If you aren’t sure where to start, you’re in luck — we’ve given you a handful of after school snack ideas your kids can make below.
Teach your kids hands-on cooking skills with my Eat the Rainbow Cooking Camp!
Eat the Rainbow Cooking Camp features two pre-recorded 90-minute lessons that will teach your kids how to make their own delicious and healthy after-school snacks.
5. Have a plan!
With any type of success, having a plan is key. This applies to healthy snacks for kids as well. It can be as simple as a handwritten list of go-to real-food snacks posted on the fridge with the necessary ingredients on hand, or a complete meal plan that includes a snack a day.
This recipe roundup will help you put a plan together in no time.
Healthy filling after school snacks
Snacks don’t need to be complicated, or take tons of time to prepare. Here’s a recipe roundup that will leave you nutritionally confident, that your kids will love, and that can be kept simple.
After school snacks kids can make on their own
Your littlest kitchen sidekicks will still need help with these, but once your kids have mastered chopping, slicing, blending, spreading, and scooping, these are perfect for raising their kitchen self-esteem, and giving them options when parents aren’t around to do it for them.
Fancy Bugs on a Log
As an upgraded version of Ants on a Log, Fancy Bugs provide different topping options to keep the celery exciting.
Healthy Banana Boats
Spread some nut butter and sail your Banana Boat toppings to far-away land.
My kids have loved to make this Coco-cado Smoothie by themselves since third grade. They are always surprised by the creamy texture the avocado provides.
Blueberry Yogurt Parfait
Making your own parfait always wins over sugar laden yogurts or store bought versions. This Blueberry Yogurt Parfait recipe can easily be made dairy-free as well.
Apple Butter Sandwiches
Here’s a perfect example of adding healthy fats to a real food carbohydrate for longer energy. Apple Butter Sandwiches can also be made with sunflower seed butter for a nut-free alternative.
Snacks that pull together quickly
These snacks look much fancier than they are! They pull together quickly so you don’t spend all day in the kitchen, and their visual appeal will grab your kids attention!
Sweet Potato “Toasts”
Using thin sliced sweet potato in place of bread adds a sweet taste and a boost of nutrition to a primal lifestyle. Colorful toppings and fun flavors make these Sweet Potato Toast recipes a family favorite.
Guac For a Crowd
Avocados are full of healthy brain fuel for a pre-homework pick-me-up. Sliced veggies, apples, plantain chips, or sprouted seed crackers are great vehicles for this Guac for a Crowd.
Pumpkin Smoothie Bowl
Smoothie bowls can be a blast for kids because of the extra treats on top — adding different textures and tastes to the refreshing creaminess below. This Pumpkin Smoothie Bowl is a nice change from typical berry versions.
Muffin tins themselves prompt creativity. This Apple Dippers snack is so easy to put together, and kids LOVE the combination possibilities.
Snack Time Skewers
A variety of bite-sized foods on a stick is a snack-time dream for kids young and old! Mixing veggies, fruits, and meats makes for nutritional balance, and the skewer keeps real foods exciting.
Snacks to make ahead
Sometimes it’s helpful to make snacks in advance, whether it’s the morning of, or part of your food prep for the week. Here are some recipes that hold up well to advanced assembly.
Cranberry Macadamia Bites
Snack bites are a nutrient dense, easy to grab after school snack. If Cranberry Macadamia Bites are a success, your kids might also enjoy Cookie Dough Bites, Chocolate Gingerbread Bites, and Tropical Turmeric Bites.
Meatballs and Dipping Sauce
I’m certainly not suggesting that you make meatballs just for snack time, but when meatballs end up on the dinner menu and you plan for leftovers they can make for a healthy snack served with marinara for dipping.
Most store bought roasted nuts are cooked in fragile, inflammatory oils. Making them yourself is super easy and gives you control over the ingredients you start with. Make a big batch for snacking throughout the week.
Italian Sub Pinwheels
Your kids will grab for these Italian Sub Pinwheels based on color alone. A spin-off of typical Italian sub flavors, with nutrition to match the taste.
Raspberry Almond Chia Pudding
Opening the fridge after a long day at school to find Raspberry Almond Chia Pudding cups brings a smile to my son’s face. An easy grab and nourishing satisfaction.
Now you are armed with the after school snack know-how!
With the three components that make up a healthy snack, five tips to encourage your kids to eat healthy snacks, and over fifteen healthy after school snack recipes, you are ready to upgrade your family’s nutrition and their fun over food.
What are your favorite healthy after school snacks? We would love for you to share with us.