Is there anything quite like an afternoon snack? For hungry children at the end of a school day, snacks provide an important energy boost when homework or a piano lesson or soccer practice looms. In today's busy world, parents want to offer nutritious after-school snacks that will help tide their children over until dinner time.

For years, parents were urged to discourage children from eating between meals. To keep young bodies and minds performing well over the course of a long day filled with school, homework, and extracurricular activities, though, nutritionists eventually saw the need for snacks throughout the day.

As children will gladly tell you, youngsters need a little something in their bellies to tide them over between meals, and older kids often need extra energy for sports practice and other activities. But what should children be eating at snack time? That's a good question!

While nutritionists agree that after-school snacks can be a good way to provide needed energy and nutrients, they also stress the importance of serving healthy snacks. Healthy snacks provide nutrients, encourage healthy eating habits, and help prevent a wide range of illnesses.

As much as possible, avoid high-calorie, high-sugar, and high-fat snacks. Things to avoid include sugary sodas, snack chips, candy, sweets, and processed foods low in nutritional value.

Instead, focus on snacks that provide healthy carbohydrates for energy and proteins that build muscle. While bags of chips and cookies may be convenient, experts recommend foregoing these in favor of fruits and vegetables.

Fruits and vegetables are highly recommended snacks because most children fail to eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Like healthy snacks should, fruits and vegetables contain important nutrients, such as vitamins and fiber, and help prevent health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

Luckily, Mother Nature provides a smorgasbord of choices when it comes to fruits and vegetables. Visit the local grocery store and take a walk through the fruit and produce sections. It won't take most children long to find several fruits and vegetables that they would gladly snack on after school.

Turning to fruits and vegetables at snack time can also help you save money. Although some people believe fruits and vegetables cost more than other snacks, they are actually less expensive than other less-healthy snacks on a per-serving basis.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average serving of fruits and vegetable costs 25 cents per serving. If you've seen the cost of a bag of potato chips or a candy bar recently, you'll understand how much of a bargain fruits and vegetables can be!

Of course, fruits and vegetables aren't the only healthy alternatives for after-school snacks. Here are some additional types of foods that many children enjoy as healthy snacks every day:

  • Grains: crackers with cheese, whole-grain cereal, mini rice cakes, graham crackers
  • Dairy: fruit milk shakes, cheese slices, string cheese, mini yogurt cups
  • Protein: hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter on crackers, bean dip, jerky

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