granola bar with nuts

After a long day at school, your kids often arrive home ravenous, craving sugar-filled snacks or high-fat munchies. Research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that there has been an increase in unhealthy snacking in the last twenty years. Based on a survey of approximately 10,000 children, the USDA noted that twice the number of children eat less-healthy snack foods, such as pretzels, popcorn, and chips, as kids two decades ago. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reports that during the same time period, soda consumption among six- to nine-year-olds increased almost 40 percent.

Unfortunately, you can't always be home before the school bell rings--will your kids or their babysitter make the right choices when it comes to their post-school treat? By doing some advance legwork at the grocery store and in the kitchen, you can make it much more likely that they will. What's easy gets eaten, and you can help ensure that the healthy snacks are the ones within easy reach.

Having nutritious foods available at home does not require fancy preparation or a huge budget. Simply stocking up on snacks that are both tasty and healthy can get the job done quickly and inexpensively. Many low-fat and low-sugar snacks involve very little prep time, while offering a big bang for their nutritional buck.

Try Whole Grain
The Mayo Clinic recommends whole-grain foods on their list of top-10 healthy snacks for kids. That's because whole grains offer kids long-lasting energy, without giving them sugar-highs and sugar-lows.

The options for kid-friendly whole grains are endless. With some creativity, you can stock your shelves and be ready for any size of snack attack:

  • Whole-grain pita chips with low-calorie dips
  • Whole-grain pretzels
  • Whole-grain tortillas (use as wraps for low-fat meats and cheeses)
  • High-fiber, whole-grain cereals
  • Low-fat, whole-grain granola bars

Sweet but Not Sugary
It's hard to get kids to stop eating sweets, but you can steer them toward smarter choices. The Mayo Clinic offers a number of tasty suggestions that are low in refined sugar, but can satisfy any sweet tooth:

  • Frozen yogurt or fruit bars
  • Fat-free pudding (try different flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, or butterscotch)
  • Skim-milk smoothies (add fat-free yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit)

For an alternative to soda, stock up on seltzer and 100% fruit juices such as apple, orange, and tangerine. Make sure there's no added sugar--the best juices contain only the natural sweetness of the fruit. Your kids can mix seltzer and fruit juice for a sweet, bubbly treat.

Find Fruits and Veggies
While your kids may turn up their noses at traditional servings of vegetables and fruits, you can make eating these essential foods more fun. Instead of plain carrot sticks, let your kids try dipping them in fat-free ranch dressing or hummus.

Peanut butter or almond butter can jazz up apples, bananas, or celery sticks. Or try offering something unusual to peak their interest, such as cranberries, pomegranates, or tangelos. You can also mix dried fruit and nuts to make a tasty trail mix.

HealthAhead Hint: Stock up Today
With your busy work schedule, getting the kids to eat healthy foods after school can seem stressful--but it doesn't have to be. Make it easier on yourself by stocking up on nutritious afterschool snacks now. Don't take the path of least resistance when it comes to your children's food choices. Proactive grocery shopping can ensure that you'll have smart selections on hand when your kids need a snack. You'll be guiding your kids toward healthy habits--even when you're not home.