It’s Snack Time, Not Stress Time

I have three children, all at different school snack stages. The youngest asks me if I have packed her snack, I ask the middle one if HE has packed his snack, and I regularly lobby the oldest on the importance of bringing a snack at all.

At our schools, the lunch schedule for the various grades is based on several important considerations, but the time at which the kids actually NEED lunch doesn’t seem to be one of them. As regular visitors to this blog know, I am trying mightily to change the food served at school lunch, but changing the schedule is a front on which I have chosen not to fight. Instead, I have an easy system for sending the kids to school with snacks that will fairly healthfully tide them over to the next meal, whenever it may be.

Two more things: We don’t fight about snacks in my house. No drama. No difficulties. It’s as easy as ABC. Well, and D. Don’t forget the D!

A is for Ahead.

I buy a lot of things ahead so that I’m not stuck running to the store at 9 p.m. or 6:30 a.m. It doesn’t work for fresh fruit, but since dried fruit and those wrapped bars or crackers will probably stay edible until the kids are in college, I stock up. If you are always prowling for the big snack score, you will find incredible deals. Coupon clippers save a ton in this category of items; in fact, try my friend Chrystie’s online coupon database before heading to the store. My snack stash currently overflows the pantry and runs into the basement. We are ready for school.

B is for Balance with Better and Best.

Not all snack foods are super healthy, and they don’t have to be, as long as the WHOLE snack provides some good nutrient value per calorie. That’s where Guiding Stars helps a ton. If I follow the stars and choose the two or three star items (Better and Best) to balance the snack, then the so-so items don’t matter so much, as long as I manage the portion sizes. I mean, if I were doing pre-algebra, I would want a little treat. Emphasis on LITTLE. Educate yourself on appropriate portion sizes for kids. You might find, as I did, that we’re often a little heavy handed.

C is for Choice.

If I were to skip the Choice, we would skip right to D–which in this case would denote Drama at my house–so here’s what I mean: There are two boxes in my fridge (or one in the fridge and one on the counter, depending on what you have for space), and the kids need to choose an item (or two, if we’re packing a lunch) from each box. One box contains protein-rich foods and the other contains vitamin-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. The kids get to make some guided choices about what goes into the boxes. I might ask, “Do you want red, green or yellow apples?” (I end up buying all three) or “Do you want red or green grapes this week? Raspberry or strawberry Greek yogurt? Twenty animal crackers or ten chips? This granola bar or that cereal bar?” And so on. Mind you, these are not daily questions. Once the boxes are filled with a decent variety for the week, there is no need for questions or discussion. They choose from each box, and voila. Balanced.

D is for Drink.

It is so easy to blow an otherwise healthy snack with a terrible drink. Chocolate milk? Sugary soda? Diet soda? There may be a time and a place for kids to enjoy those things. I’m thinking New Year’s Eve at their grandparents’ house. We stick to water. How can I possibly be sending my kids to school with water and not deal with a ton of complaining, you ask? Easy: cool water bottles. Each kid has at least one water bottle that they think is pretty beast (which my 12 year old tells me is the equivalent to “awesome or rad when you were a kid, Mom…” Ew.) Again, a little prowling goes a long way toward finding the perfect water bottle for each kid, but it’s worth the effort for a little less grousing on the back end. Flavored seltzer water is another way to keep the sugar out and the water pumping in. I only keep the seltzers around on occasion since it keeps them novel, and the kids appreciate mom letting them cut loose in a zero-calorie carbonated kind of way once in a while. I’m just waiting for them to realize they’re still just drinking water…shhhh!

Keeping things chill, organized and interesting is the true key to keeping your snack woes at bay. Letting the kids have some input in the choices but retaining control over the available options is the easiest way to stay confident that your kids are not only eating well but learning to make good choices on their own.

Join Expert Chef Erin Dow to learn more about back-to-school snacks on Monday, August 27. Tune in to the Morning Report for WCSH6 Portland / WLBZ2 Bangor to see her segment.