Growing up in Miami, my after-school snacks were often something juicy plucked from a backyard tree - a mango, banana, guava or such. To get more formal, my mother - who was rarely there when I arrived home from school, usually working - gave me clear instructions about what was allowed before dinner and what I could safely make on my own.
My favorites were Saltine crackers with a piece of torn bologna on top, Ovaltine and milk in my favorite Howdy Doody glass or Kool-Aid popsicles made-ahead together. But that was long before nutritionists deemed most of these things as not very nutritious. Back then, they managed to provide that extra spurt of energy (read: sugar) to fuel riding my bike, jumping hopscotch or playing jacks.
My own children, raised as vegetarians, bemoaned many of the healthy (and not always flavorful) snacks I made them. However, their favorite after-school snack was "Ants on a Log," not just because it tasted so good but because they got to make it themselves. Even now, the snack is popular among children and grandchildren for those very reasons. And, by any measure, it is as nutritious as a snack can be.
It's that time of year again- to fill your refrigerator with foods that will satisfy your kids' needs for energy-boosters during that super-busy time between school and dinner while satisfying your desire for them to eat healthy.
This year, consider the list of "super foods" that pack a nutritional wallop and provide essential elements in healthy diets to create their after-school snacks. "Super foods" are nutritionally dense; that is, they contain more nutrients per calorie than other foods. Also, they have been proven to contain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that prevent disease.
For example, vitamin-C-filled fruits like oranges, avocado's brain-building essential fatty acids, the anti-oxidants of blueberries, sour cream's probiotic cultures, nuts and seeds for their "good" MUFA's (monounsaturated fatty acids), etc. A diet incorporating a variety of "super foods" will help your children have more energy, maintain their weight, fight disease and live healthier.
Individual super foods have unique health benefits so read more about them if you want to target certain areas. However, they all have one thing in common: Every super food is going to be an unprocessed food. Go over a list of super foods (see below) with your child to select his/her favorites. Then go find snack recipes using those nutritious foods, maybe some of which your children can make themselves. That's what I call a Win-Win! Go, Snack Team!
Alliums (garlic, leeks, onions, etc.)
Beans & lentils
Broccoli, cabbage, bok choy
Buckwheat, seed & grain
Herbs, e.g., basil, mint
Nuts & seeds; nut butters
Olives, olive oil
Ants on a Log (serves 1-2)
2 stalks celery, medium length
1 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Tbsp raisins, seedless
Wash celery, then fill the center of the celery sticks with peanut butter; place raisins over peanut butter. Note: Be sure children who eat this snack do not have allergic reactions to peanuts!
Easy Dip for Veggies (makes 1 cup)
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Blend ricotta, yogurt and lemon juice in a food processor or blender until as smooth as possible; season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Serve with raw vegetables, e.g., asparagus spears, carrot, cucumber and celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, etc.
Lumpy Guacamole (makes 3-4 cups)
2 large, ripe avocados
16 oz. low fat sour cream
3 medium green onions, snipped into tiny bits
1-1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1-2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
Sea salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, optional
1. With a butter knife, cut the avocados in half, remove the pit and extract the fruit from the skin. Place the fruit in a medium mixing bowl and mash avocado with the back of a fork, until it is somewhat smooth. Add sour cream to the avocado mush and mix.
2. Rinse the green onions; snip them into tiny bits with scissors and mix again. Add the small tomatoes and gently fold them into the avocado mixture. Add lemon juice, cilantro (if desired), sea salt and black pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Serve with baby carrots, celery sticks, more cherry tomatoes or healthy chips. Note: The mixture can also be used as a sandwich spread or as a topping on other foods, e.g., baked potato, burgers, salad, etc.
Turkey Apple Roll (makes 1 wrap)
1 taco-size tortilla
2 Tbsp low-fat whipped cream cheese
2-1/2 oz. turkey breast
3-4 leaves, baby spinach
1/2 tart apple, cut into matchstick pieces
1. Spread cream cheese over tortilla; evenly lay turkey on tortilla. Add spinach leaves, then apple pieces evenly.
Roll tortilla up from one end. Serve as roll or cut into bite-size pieces lengthwise.
Smoothie (serves 2)
2 cups orange juice, no pulp
1 large banana, frozen
3 large kiwi, peeled and quartered
1 tsp honey
ice cubes (as needed)
Puree the juices and fruit in the blender for 2 minutes. Slowly add honey while blender is whirling (or it will sink to the bottom). Add ice cubes (if desired) for a slushier mixture and try other fruit combinations. Note: The mixture can also be made as a frozen treat.
2 cups raw sunflower seeds
1 cup pine nuts
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1 cup raisins
1 cup sweetened, dried cranberries
Measure the ingredients into a paper bag, fold over the top of the bag, and shake to mix. Store the mixture in an airtight container.
Treasure chest of snacks
Let your child choose his/her favorites from this list of finger foods. Pack little piles of "coins" and "nuggets" into a rectangular plastic container to maintain an after-school treasure chest of snacks:
Coins: String cheese, cut crosswise into rounds; cucumber slices; green/yellow zucchini slices; sliced radishes; carrot rounds; hot dogs or sausage (turkey, chicken or beef), cooked, cooled and cut into rounds; pepperoni; sliced dried bananas; dried apricots; sliced kiwi; oyster crackers; small, round pretzels and corn tortilla chips; round ravioli, cooked and cooled
Nuggets: Garbanzo beans, peas, blueberries, grapes, etc.