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Healthy back to school snacks for kids

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Happy school year! Time for a resolution. Let’s clear out all of the processed unhealthy snacks from our pantries and fill them with nutritious alternatives.

Over the last 25 years, children’s lifestyles and environment have changed tremendously in a world that has become increasingly fast-paced. We know that childhood obesity is on the rise, as many children already suffer from risk factors for heart disease, which include high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, raised insulin levels, physical inactivity, and obesity. Additionally, many children now suffer from type-2 diabetes, a disease which is typically environmental, triggered by unhealthy choices. And let’s not forget that technology is producing a generation of sedentary children, where physical activity becomes secondary. Furthermore, in many homes, nutritious eating is not a priority, as families are always "on the go" rushing to various time-sensitive appointments. What can a parent do to help their child get on the path to a healthier lifestyle?

A good first step is to get them in the habit of healthy snacking after school. According to certified nutritionist Cheryl Wheeler Duncan, "Eating healthy snacks can provide children with the nutrients they need to 'feed their brain' and gain natural energy to get through their day." Unfortunately, many children are coming home and selecting the snacks high in saturated fat or processed sugars, which are escalating their risks for heart disease while increasing their waistline. Duncan adds, "Kids should stay away from sugar-laden snacks and drinks and high fatty foods. The sugar creates excess insulin, which can lead to increased fat production and 'energy drop off.' Many foods high in fat tend to slow down the digestion and create that 'sluggish feeling' that tends to prohibit activity."

Healthy after-school snacking does not have to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive — just creative. Here are six quick and easy snacks that your child can enjoy after school, which can be easily prepared the night before ready to eat the next day.

Boiled Eggs
Nutritionist Trudy Scott recommends a boiled egg: "Boiled eggs are a great source of protein and good fats for growing brains. The choline in the yolk is so important for brain health and as a chemical messenger between nerve cells. Eggs also help to keep blood sugar levels stable for better energy and mood. Eggs are also a good source of tryptophan (the 'happy' amino acid) and the B vitamins (important for energy, stress, and the brain). I do recommend pastured or at least organic eggs, since quality food is a big part of eating well and staying healthy. The great thing is that eggs are a low-cost, high-quality protein source."

Nut Butter Sandwich
Certified nutritional coach Janet Zappala suggests nut butters as a healthy choice: "Spread nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew, or hazelnut) on a slice of toasted whole-grain bread, and top with slices of banana. I haven't met a child yet who didn't eat this up! It provides an energy boost, and because of the whole grains will fill them up quickly. Grains help with their digestive tract and won't cause their blood sugar to soar."

Smoothies
Linda Allen, a registered dietician states, "An example of one healthy snack during or after school is a smoothie made with frozen blueberries (packed with antioxidants and brain food), a banana and Greek yogurt. Add sugar to taste. A spoonful of frozen orange juice concentrate adds a dose of vitamin C. To make it 'fun,' add a dollop of whipped cream on top."

Trail Mix
Registered dietician Lauren Schmitt suggests trail mix as an after-school snack as it is full of antioxidants, unsaturated fats, and heart healthy. "Children love to give their input on foods they eat so have them design their own trail mix. Give them a little bowl and let them pick a type of cereal, dried fruit, and nuts, or seeds to create their personalized mix."

Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables
According to Connie Holt, a registered dietician, "Seasonal fruit and vegetables always make for healthy snack before or after school. September is a wonderful month for finding flavorful cherry and grape tomatoes. There are also staple items like broccoli [florets,] carrot sticks, and celery sticks dipped in a low-fat dressing, or peanut butter and whole-grain crackers that make for good snacks." This snack is a great source of antioxidants, dietary fiber, and complex carbohydrates.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips
Nutrition coach Traci Mitchell advises that baked sweet potato chips can be a fun and nutritious snack that can be easily prepared the night before school. "Thinly slice a peeled sweet potato, toss with a tablespoon of coconut oil, bake at 350 for about 25 minutes (or until brown), sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy. This is a cost-effective and easy way to get kids to eat healthier. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin B5, D, and magnesium, all of which are important to growing bodies!"

See all 12 of The Daily Meal's healthy back to school snacks here

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