Mastering the art of the after school snack

As if lunch duty isn’t hard enough… Parents also have to master the art of the after school snack. And as most of us will attest, it’s harder than it sounds.

Snacks have to be fast and easy because the clock is ticking. Homework, chores, sports and other activities are all demanding attention from your child (and probably you). They have to be nutritious because… Well, they just do. And they have to strike the right balance of fueling your kids through the rest of the afternoon without leaving them too full for dinner.

For all those reasons, my No. 1 go-to after school snack for my son is yogurt. It’s healthy, filling (but not too filling), fast and easy (he can even get it himself), and if he’s truly starving, he can even add fruit to it.

But for days when I’m willing and able to do a little more, I’ve come up with three fun and delicious after school treats my son loves and I can (mostly) feel good about giving him.

  1. Mango ice cream: No, not real ice cream. This is ice cream I’d be OK with my son eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Some days I really do let him eat it for breakfast. And snack. Here’s how it works. I keep bags of frozen mango chunks in the freezer. When he wants “ice cream,” I pop a bag of it into the food processor along with a tiny splash of orange juice or water, then process until it hits the consistency of soft serve. This usually takes about 1 to 2 minutes. That’s it. I scoop it into ice cream bowls and, if I’m feeling indulgent, let him put a few candy sprinkles on it. That’s it — a 100 percent fruit snack your kid thinks is a treat. This also works with frozen bananas. Also, if you child doesn’t finish the ice cream (as if!), don’t waste the excess. Pour it into a glass and store it in the refrigerator. Add it to a breakfast smoothie the next day.
  2. Lemon ice slushie: This one is perfect for the end of the school year, when kids arrive home hot and tired. I put about 1 1/2 cups of ice in the blender and 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice. I then add a squirt of liquid stevia sweetener (a no-calorie, no-chemical, natural sweetener) and about 1 cup of seltzer water. I blend until the ice is slushie smooth, then pour into glasses and serve with a spoon. This also works with lime juice, a blend of lemon and lime, or any juice concentrate (think frozen orange juice concentrate, cherry juice concentrate, etc.). If you don’t like stevia (some people object to it’s mild aftertaste, though I find the lemon juice masks this), you certainly could use honey, maple syrup, agave syrup or sugar.
  3. Homemade tortilla chips: Seriously. These are so much easier than they sound. And so much more delicious than anything you can buy. But because they are slightly more trouble than opening a yogurt cup (though not much), I keep these for days when we aren’t rushing out the door to karate or some other activity. Usually, I have Parker do his homework at the counter while I fry up fresh tortillas. I start by cutting whole-wheat flour tortillas into wedges. Then I heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a deep saute pan. It should be hot enough that if you set the tip of a wooden spoon in it, it bubbles a bit. Then I gently drop a couple wedges into the oil at a time and fry them for about 10 seconds, turn and cook for another 10 seconds. Use tongs to pull them out and set them on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and eat as is or with salsa or hummus. Fried? Yes. But also whole grain and insanely delicious. I actually make giant plates of these for my son and his friends during play dates.

J.M. Hirschis the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at His upcoming cookbook, Beating the Lunch Box Blues, will be the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking and Venturesome Vegan Cooking. He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.

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