The Fourth Meal: “Smart” Fuel
Children have lots of energy, we can all agree to this. They also need a lot of energy, in the form of calories. So while smart energy and fuel may be what politicians argue about, there should be no argument against fueling your kids the smart way.
Afterschool, or in between meals, a snack is often needed to stay energized and keep brain cells working properly. What are smart snacks? Snacks can (and should be) simple, but they are not always smart. Afterschool, children go in so many directions; home, aftercare setting, athletic practice or events, study groups or many other activities. Often there is a long gap between their lunch break and dinner. Many snacks fall short of supplying that needed energy in a nutritious way.
So where to start? First, consider the time between meals. If there is going to be a gap of more than 5 hours, from lunch to dinner, a snack should be supplied that is fairly substantial. Think… a fourth meal! Mom back in the day had a fairly good idea offering cookies and milk since it supplies carbohydrates, fat and protein all at once. Make the milk skim or low fat, swap the cookies with some whole grain banana bread. Make your own version of a healthy cookie or bar. Clif Bar brand Z Bars or whole grain Fig Newtons will do in a time crunch. Offer peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat toast. Keep it real simple with a bowl of whole grain cereal with some sliced fruit of their choice. A quick yogurt or smoothie also is a great way to fit in some nutrition and also keep your kid moving! Athletes may need a whole sandwich, or addition of some protein powder to that smoothie, especially if there will be a gap between practice and meal at home.
If the gap is not so large, consider a quick snack of veggies and dip or piece of fruit. Cheese and a few whole grain crackers also fit the bill. I tested one idea this week with great results with my son-take a large flour tortilla, cut out shapes with cookie cutters (I used dogs and pumpkins). Sprinkle with cinnamon and a little sugar or sea salt for a savory snack. Bake at 350 for less than 8 minutes and serve with fruit or tomato salsa. Worked like a charm for a quick snack!
Lastly, hydration is an important factor as well. Often fatigue and the end of the day blues can be remedied with simply making sure we have enough fluid. Good old fashioned water is the best, but you can also get hydrated from fruit such as watermelon or grapes (try them frozen they are great), or make popsicles with their favorite fruit juice and water.
Laura Zurita is a registered dietitian and Montgomery County mom to a 6 and 3/4 year old. Her and her family like to read, hike, and watch Phillies baseball.