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10 Healthy power snacks for kids

Updated: April 14, 2011 12:31 PM EDT
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By Gail Belsky
From Your Family Today 

When kids come home from school hungry, they reach for the quickest fix possible -- often a box of cookies or a bag of chips. Healthy? Hardly.

But it's not just their lack of vitamins and minerals that make these foods less-than-ideal snack choices. It's their lack of protein.

Kids need a combination of carbohydrates and proteins in their snacks to keep their energy up and their hunger at bay until dinner, says Jill Castle, a registered dietitian and pediatric nutrition specialist in Nashville, Tenn. Carbohydrates provide a quick burst of energy, and proteins (along with fats and fiber) sustain that energy for longer. That means fewer return trips to the kitchen for another handful of pretzels.

In addition to giving kids sustained physical energy -- a plus for after-school sports -- this combination of food types offers important mental benefits too. Research suggests that proteins and fats may increase attention, focus and concentration, while carbohydrates may improve memory. So eating right after school could make a difference when it comes to doing homework.

To provide a healthy balance, parents should think more in terms of mini meals rather than snacks, suggests Castle. This way, you'll be thinking about protein, carbs and fats. "We usually include all those things when we make a meal," says Castle.

The healthiest carbs come from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and small amounts of dark chocolate, while the best protein sources are dairy, nuts and beans. Here are 10 smart snack ideas that give kids a healthy combination of essential nutrients:

  1. Graham crackers with Nutella spread
  2. Sliced banana with peanut butter
  3. Low-fat yogurt with semisweet chocolate chips
  4. Bowl of cereal with dried blueberries and chopped pecans
  5. Mini breakfast burrito with one scrambled egg and shredded cheese
  6. Turkey and cheese on whole-grain crackers
  7. Pita chips with hummus
  8. Whole-grain or blue corn tortilla chips with black bean salsa
  9. Cheese quesadillas
  10. Waffles or French toast with peanut butter and jam

There is one catch: Most older kids won't take the time to prepare healthy after-school food for themselves, and younger ones won't be able to. To ensure that your kids get the power snack they need, assemble it ahead of time so it's ready as soon as they walk in the door.

"Parents have to be prepared with good options," says Castle. "They have to elevate their role in helping kids make good food selections."


Gail Belsky
is the managing editor of Your Family Today. She has worked on a variety of women's publications, including Parents, Working Mother and All You. She has also written a book for women titled The List: 100 Ways to Shake up Your Life.

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