School is back in session, and with many schools serving lunch before noon, youngsters are probably ending their day pretty hungry. Whether kids are coming straight home or heading to extracurricular activities, they’ll need some sustenance to get through the rest of the afternoon.
“Children have smaller stomachs than adults and also need more energy per pound than we do,” said Karen Beers, a dietitian at UCHealth Memorial Hospital and a board-certified specialist in pediatric nutrition. “If their last meal was at 11 a.m., by the time school ends, it’s been three to four hours since they have had food. They could use a pick-me-up.”
She suggests giving them snacks no later than an hour before dinner.
“A snack should be a snack, not a meal,” she said. “It should fit on a small side plate. Include water or no more than 8 ounces of milk, and proteins like nuts, meats, eggs and cheese. They are intended to stave off further hunger until dinnertime.”
Children who participate in after-school sports should get snacks that provide sustained energy.
“Ideally they will have a snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein before they practice,” she said. “Even if practice is right after school, it would be great if they could have a protein-containing granola bar, fruit with nut butter or cheese, or even cheese and crackers before they practice. They won’t want to eat a lot, but they should have something so that they have energy available for use.”
Stacy Valdez knows a thing or two about being ready with a snack. She’s the mother of two boys: Roman, a ninth-grader, and Brayden, a fifth-grader. The brothers have played football and baseball since starting school.
“I’ve learned a lot about keeping my boys fed and ready for practice,” she said. “Roman has a hollow leg. It’s hard to keep him full. I try to keep protein in snacks at about 10 to 15 grams, especially on days they will be playing a lot of ball. Brayden is harder to get snacks ready for. He loves crackers. He will eat fruits and veggies, but if he’s hungry, he tends to go for the crackers.”
She makes power bars and trail mix to have ready for them. One of their favorite snacks is no-bake oatmeal protein energy balls. The name of the game with this recipe is customization. The recipe is basically oats, peanut butter and honey.
“The best thing about this recipe is that it is super flexible and easy to make,” she said. “It has whey protein powder to boost the protein.”
She adds mini chocolate chips to the recipe, but you could also use butterscotch, milk chocolate, white chocolate or cinnamon chips. For texture, toasted coconut flakes could be added, and for extra nutrition, toss in ground flax seeds and chia seeds.
“I use peanut butter,” Valdez said, “but there are other butters that are good too, like almond butter, sunflower seed butter or cashew butter.”
Matthew Monfre, movement teacher at Inspiration View Elementary School, said, “From my years of coaching sports from K -12 levels I always focus on water, water, water — concentrate on hydration. I tell my students to bring a water. Rule of thumb is they should drink a certain amount of water based on weight. For example, if they weigh 100 pounds, they should drink 50 ounces of water per day.”
Forget about soft drinks and candy for hydrating and refueling.
“I tell my athletes to stay away from soda,” he said. “There are no benefits. Students should also stay away from energy drinks and sports drinks. I recommend drinking chocolate milk as a way to refuel. I remind students and athletes to always eat breakfast and lunch. If they skip these meals, they will not be prepared for school, practice and games after school. Students and athletes should also stay away from sugary candy bars. They may get a quick burst of energy that lasts for 30 minutes and then they crash, feeling sluggish.”
He recommends fruit, low-sugar granola bars, peanut butter sandwich, celery and peanut butter, cheese sticks, unsalted pretzels, cheese and crackers as quick better-for-you snacks.
Making your own healthy snacks lets you control what goes into the recipe, and it’s much more economical. With a few recipes for nutritious small bites, you can be sure your students stay fueled for the challenges of the day, whether academic or athletic.
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