You know from your own experience that the mid-afternoon “crash” in energy and attentiveness is a real thing, and it’s no different for your kids. The moment hits just as kids get home from school and need to tackle homework. Just like you, kids feel the call of sugary snacks at this time of day, but those empty calories do not contain nutrients that will help see your child through to dinner time and give her the fuel her brain needs to complete her day’s studies. Here are some snacks to keep on hand that will not only satisfy the body but will give a boost to the brain as well.
Like many adults, kids often do not get enough water over the course of the day. Quick sips from a water fountain are not enough, and even mild dehydration can cause the brain to feel sluggish. Moreover, the body often translates thirst into hunger, which can lead kids toward overeating and unhealthy food choices.
Serve it up. The best approach is to create a healthy water habit in your kids by encouraging them to drink a glass of water before each meal and upon arrival home from school. If your kids find plain water unappealing, try chilling a pitcher of water with an infusion of fruit, such as oranges or strawberries, to add flavor.
Fat is key to brain health as it helps keep cell membranes flexible and better able to send and receive information. Full-fat Greek yogurt provides a healthy amount of fat along with protein to boost energy and carry a young scholar through until dinner time.
Serve it up. Use Greek yogurt in smoothies for a protein boost – combine it with fruits or even greens for greater nutritional benefits. Or serve it up by the bowl and stir in some dried fruit or granola. You can even sprinkle in some chocolate chips – dark chocolate contains polyphenols that help pump up blood flow to the brain.
Almost any fruit can make a healthy afternoon snack. Melons and citrus fruits contain lots of water to help with hydration. Apples and plums are tasty and contain quercetin, an antioxidant that can protect against cognitive decline. Blueberries and strawberries pack plenty of antioxidants into a serving and are easy to eat by the handful.
Serve it up. Most kids enjoy fruit on its own. Choose easy-to-peel clementine oranges, tasty Gala apples, or seedless grapes for easy eating. Other possibilities are dried fruit snacks like raisins, unsweetened applesauce, or smoothies made with frozen fruit when fresh favorites like blueberries are out of season.
Eggs are an awesome little package of nutrition. They provide a full serving of protein along with omega-3 fats, choline, and lutein — all nutrients that are essential to healthy brain operation.
Serve it up. It’s easy to hard boil a batch of eggs on the weekend and have them on hand all week for quick snacking. Peeled and stored in a sealed plastic bag or container, the eggs will keep for 5-7 days. Older kids can also learn to scramble an egg and combine it with spinach or salsa in a whole-grain tortilla for a tasty snack.
Veggies and Dip
Plenty of kids enjoy munching on carrots, celery sticks, grape tomatoes, or red pepper strips on their own, but adding dip can boost both flavor appeal and nutrition. Use Greek yogurt rather than sour cream as a base for your dip. Buy or make your own hummus and look for a recipe with turmeric for another brain power boost.
Serve it up. Make a batch of hummus or spinach dip at the beginning of the week and divide it up into small single-serving containers. Drop the dip container into a sandwich bag with a handful of washed veggies cut into bite-sized pieces for a grab-and-go snack. Other yummy veggie snacks: bake a tray of sweet potato fries in the toaster oven, serve up some kale chips, or look in the deli department of the supermarket for fresh chunky salsa to eat with whole-grain tortilla chips.
Seeds and Nuts
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and almonds are high in protein and healthy oils and just a small handful makes a full serving. Studies have found nuts and seeds to have a mood-boosting effect as well. Even kids with nut allergies can enjoy some nuts and seeds that do not trigger the allergic response – just check labels carefully to be sure that they’re not processed in the same facility as peanuts or other allergenic nuts.
Serve it up. Make your own trail mix of nuts and seeds and add raisins or other dried fruit and sprinkle in some chocolate chips. Another possibility – get small, whole-grain crackers and spread with almond or sunflower butter to make fun mini sandwiches.
Snack time after school is an excellent opportunity to give your kids healthy foods that will help them to focus and learn by providing essential nutrients to the brain. These snacks are easy for you or older kids to throw together on the fly or to make up in a batch and divide into single-serving containers for younger kids to serve themselves. Even better, in addition to feeding your kids’ bodies and brains in the short term, you will help them build healthy eating habits to last well beyond their school years.
Here are some books with more ideas on healthy snacks.