We pile into the house after school and the first activity on the agenda is the begging of snacks. I believe children everywhere are up to the same business at approximately 3:30 PM. They’ve signed a childhood contract of snack time compliance, and it’s up to us parents to follow their plan accordingly.
Of course, there are probably some hidden clauses in the contract which harbor statements like ‘will only accept crackerish bits in cheery shapes, including but not limited to: fishies, bunnies, teddies, etc.’ And at this, my mom-head explodes with elementary litigation. I lobby for fruit. I compromise for protein. I settle for mildly healthful with a side of frivolity. Because is it too much to ask that a snack be both kid-friendly as well as healthy? Something filling enough to maybe keep them from raiding the cupboards all afternoon? Options that won’t repeatedly bust our processed and sugary intake right through the roof? Sadly, crackerish bits fulfill none of my hopes.
Part of my job description entails preparing three meals and a few snacks for five people each day. Therefore, I need easy snacks. Quick snacks. And those usually don’t come healthily in family-sized boxes from the grocery store.
It’s not that my kids won’t eat the healthy things as much as it is that at the appointed hour, snacks must be in-hand with all due haste, or their patience wears thin. The hungry little bosses need something as easily managed as a box of cheesy fish crackers, and if I’m being honest, I do too.
In order to keep the kiddos’ after-school bellies satisfied as well as bypass the contractual clause for animal shaped crackers, here’s what I do to make snack time easier.
Plan ahead. I’m not ashamed: I make menus. Breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are mostly planned in advance to spare us from time-consuming lapses in creativity, and snack time can benefit from the same treatment. Use generalizations if you like, by keeping the weekly rotation mostly static: Monday is popcorn and apples, Tuesday is tortilla wrap-ups, Wednesday is yogurt and berries, Thursday is veggies and dip, Friday is chocolate chip cookies. (I mean, come on; kids need these not at all, but life should be enjoyable, right?)
Make ahead. To take care of the immediacy of snack demands, make sure your fridge is prepared for the onslaught. Keep the fruit in-reach of little hands, and pre-chop your veggies at the beginning of the week. Make a large batch of your favorite snack recipe, and store portions in the freezer to be grabbed quickly.
Set time limits. If you’re like us, your kids think snack time should last from school’s end to dinner’s beginning. Stop the constant graze by plunking a snack down with a preset time limit. “Okay Timmy, eat up because at four o’clock, we’re going outside to play.”
Be silly. Fill a muffin tin with bite-sized options. Cut sandwiches with small cookie-cutters. Use seasonal holidays for snack idea inspiration. Introducing variety can scare some kids off, but by making the snacks appealing in an unexpectedly fun way, they become less intimidating.
If we approach snacks with the same consideration as regular mealtimes, they suddenly seem more manageable and important.
And knowing that our children’s after school appetites are usually whetted with wholesome snacks leaves us some freedom to pull out the crackerish bits every once in a while. Because our contractual obligations cannot be overlooked entirely without some backlash from the little ones.
I've got some healthy snack recipes on the way in the next column! But in the meantime, what are YOUR family's favorite snacks?