After-School Snacks: Help Your Kids Develop Healthier Eating Habits

A parent’s back-to-school frustration isn’t limited to school supplies, new clothes or after-school care. There’s also the dilemma of lunch fixings and after-school snacks.

Something sweet is usually the first suggestion when children are queried. But most conscientious adults want to be sure there is some nutrition in their child’s nibbles--whether these are sweet or savory, served at midday or late afternoon.

Enter the Your Life Vitamin Hotline, (800) 533-VITA. This toll-free hot line is staffed by nutritionists who are prepared to answer parents’ questions about feeding school-age children--particularly with regard to healthy back-to-school eating.

Provided as a public service by the makers of Your Life vitamins, it will be in operation from now through October. In addition to having all their questions answered, parents also can receive a free booklet with 10 tips on getting children to eat right, 10 healthy snack ideas and 10 healthy lunch-box ideas. The booklet features a chart to help children choose healthful snacks themselves and a poster for them to color.


“Most children go through periods of refusing foods they previously liked or of eating only a certain few foods such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or spaghetti,” said Gail Becker, a registered dietitian and manager of the hot line. “This can be very frustrating for the nutrition-conscious parent, but these stages usually pass.”

To help with this stage, there are many strategies that parents can employ to encourage children to develop better eating habits, and this in turn helps make meal preparation easier for parents. One suggestion is that parents not make an issue of food, Becker said.

“It should not be used as a reward, punishment, to bribe or pacify . . . to do so gives food an emotional value that can lead to lifelong eating problems and create a power struggle the parent cannot win.

“Studies show that children eventually adopt their parents’ eating habits. If you eat erratically and make poor food choices, you can expect your child to do the same. But if you eat a balanced, varied diet and maintain normal weight, your child will someday do so too, even if he/she doesn’t now,” Becker explained.


Some other keys to healthy box lunches and afterschool snacks are:

--Include foods from each of the four basic food groups.

--Try to limit fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar in both.

--Plan ahead, make good use of leftovers and choose wisely from the deli section, opting for light cheeses, reduced-sodium cheese and lean sliced meats.


--Make kebabs by threading cubes of leftover meat, fat- and sodium-reduced cheese, tomatoes, peppers or raw mushrooms onto straws.

--Fill a wide-mouth thermos with leftover hot dishes like stew, chili or soup. Or fill with cold selections like pasta salad, coleslaw, grated carrot and raisin salad, fruit salad, low-fat cottage cheese.

--Stuff a whole-wheat pita round with tuna, salmon or other fish salad or sliced turkey breast, chicken or lean roast beef, alfalfa or bean sprouts. Pack tomato and lettuce slices separately to prevent excess moisture.

--As an alternative to sandwiches, roll up thin slices of turkey breast or lean roast beef inside slices of low-sodium Muenster or Provolone cheese.


--Scoop out a tomato, fill with low-fat cottage cheese and top with sunflower seeds, shredded carrot, crushed pineapple, raisins or chopped celery.

--Stuff celery sticks with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese.

--Spread baked beans, a good source of protein, iron and fiber, between whole-wheat bread for a sandwich or pack in a container.

--Make extra pancakes and freeze individually. At snack time, thaw in microwave, add a filling and roll up. Possible fillings include: low-fat cottage cheese, peanut butter, slices of low-fat/sodium cheese and unsweetened applesauce.


--Combine dried fruits, raisins, dry-roasted unsalted peanuts, sunflower seeds and eat out of hand or mix with low-fat yogurt.


2 cups peeled and sliced pears

1 tablespoon flour


1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

8 slices firm white bread

4 eggs


1/3 cup sugar

3 cups milk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon salt


Toss pears with flour and cinnamon in bowl, then set aside.

Spread butter on 1 side of each bread slice. Arrange 4 slices bread in 8-inch baking dish, sprayed with non-stick coating spray, overlapping slightly. Arrange pears over bread. Cut each remaining slice bread diagonally into 2 triangles and arrange over pear slices.

Beat eggs and sugar until well combined. Stir in milk, vanilla and salt. Pour egg mixture over bread slices. Set baking dish in 13x9-inch baking pan and place on oven rack. Fill large pan halfway up with hot water. Bake at 325 degrees, uncovered, until knife inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Serve warm or refrigerate, covered. Makes 8 servings.



2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt


1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup raisins


1 egg, beaten

1/3 cup oil

1/3 cup milk

3 tablespoons honey


1 cup peach yogurt

Combine flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in bowl. Stir in pecans and raisins. Make well in center of mixture. Combine egg, oil, milk, honey and yogurt and pour into well in dry ingredients. Stir just until moistened, then spoon into paper-lined muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees 20 minutes or until golden. Makes 18 muffins.


2/3 cup granulated sugar


2/3 cup oil

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups oats

3/4 cup all-purpose flour


1/2 cup whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon


1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pitted prunes

3/4 cup coarsely shredded unpeeled apple

1/2 cup chopped walnuts


Powdered sugar

Beat granulated sugar and oil in large mixer bowl. Add eggs and beat 3 minutes. In separate bowl, combine oats, flours, soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture and beat to blend thoroughly. Fold in prunes, apple and nuts. Spread evenly in 13x9-inch baking pan sprayed with non-stick vegetable coating spray.

Bake at 350 degrees 20 to 30 minutes or until springy to touch and wood pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack, then cut into 1 1/2x3-inch bars. Dust with powdered sugar. Makes 24 bars.



1 package pie crust mix or sticks

6 ounces Cheddar cheese

12 slices fully cooked smoked ham

1 egg, lightly beaten


Poppy or sesame seeds

Prepare pastry for double-crust pie as directed on package. Divide into halves. Roll each half into rectangle, 11x8 1/2-inches. Cut each half into 6 rectangles and place on ungreased baking sheet.

Slice cheese into 1 1/2-inch squares, 1/8-inch thick. Top each square with cheese slice and 1 slice ham, folding or trimming ham to fit. Top ham with another slice cheese. Using kitchen shears or sharp knife, cut diagonally through layers of pastry, ham and cheese from each corner to within 1/2-inch of center. Fold alternate points to center in pinwheel fashion, overlapping points and pinching gently to seal.

Secure with wood picks, brush with egg and sprinkle with seeds. Bake at 400 degrees 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 12 sandwiches.



1/4 cup mayonnaise or plain yogurt

1/4 teaspoon instant minced onion

1/4 teaspoon dried dill weed, crumbled


1/2 cup shredded carrot

1/4 cup shredded zucchini

1/4 cup minced celery

1/4 cup minced green pepper


4 slices whole wheat bread

2 slices Swiss or Jack cheese

Combine mayonnaise, onion, dill, carrot, zucchini, celery and green pepper. Divide among 2 bread slices and spread to edges. Top each with slice cheese, then with remaining bread slices. Makes 2 sandwiches.

Note: For young children, use 8 slices bread and 4 slices cheese to make 4 sandwiches. Filling will be less generous.



1 package pie crust mix or sticks

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

1/4 teaspoon black pepper


2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup milk


1 cup diced cooked turkey or chicken

2 tablespoons cashew halves, optional

2 tablespoons chopped green onions

1 (2-ounce) can sliced mushrooms, drained


1 egg, lightly beaten

Prepare pastry for 2-crust pie as directed on package except, stir in poultry seasoning and pepper before adding water. Divide pastry into 6 equal parts. Roll each part into 6-inch round on generously floured cloth-covered board. Cover with damp towel and set aside.

Melt butter in 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Add flour and cook and stir over low heat until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and stir in broth and milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute, then remove from heat. Stir in turkey, cashews, onions and mushrooms. Place about 1/4 cup filling on half of each round, then fold other half over top.

Press edges with fork to seal. Brush tops with egg and bake on ungreased baking sheet at 425 degrees 20 to 25 minutes or until golden. Makes 6 servings.



2 slices whole-wheat bread

Prepared mustard



1 hard-cooked egg, sliced

Pickle slices

Spread bread slices with mustard and mayonnaise. On 1 slice, arrange egg slices, then top with pickle slices. Close sandwich with remaining bread slice. Makes 1 sandwich.



1 (4-ounce) container whipped cream cheese

1/4 cup well-drained crushed pineapple in juice

1/4 cup finely chopped green pepper, optional

1/4 cup finely chopped celery


8 slices whole-wheat bread

4 slices lean boiled ham

Alfalfa sprouts

Combine cream cheese, pineapple, green pepper and celery. Spread on bread slices. Top 4 bread slices with ham and sprouts. Close sandwiches. Makes 4 sandwiches.