Thinking about the space between meals is also important. The biggie is the after-school snack, considering that many students eat lunch before noon and have a long break until dinner. Registered dietician Nan Jensen says after-school snacking can go a long way toward impacting the health of students.
Jensen, a family and consumer sciences extension agent with the Pinellas County Extension office who travels to different communities offering nutrition and cooking programs for families, relies on a list of recommended snacks from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Kids Eat Right website. It includes recipes like a parfait with layers of vanilla yogurt and mandarin oranges in a tall glass topped with a sprinkling of granola; an 'inside out sandwich' of mustard spread on a slice of deli turkey wrapped around a sesame breadstick; and peanut butter and cornflakes mixed together in a bowl and shaped into balls that are rolled in crushed graham crackers. (See full list ----)
Jensen and her staff also often consult a list of "Anytime Wraps" that work for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks. Try pairing different flavors of tortilla, from whole grain to cinnamon apple, with a variety of proteins, dairy, fruit and vegetables for stuffing. Ideas include turkey and low-fat cheddar cheese rolled with apples and bell peppers, or beans and ricotta cheese with pineapple and tomatoes.
Pediatrician Pamela M. Patranella also advocates these between-meal meals, especially when they are homemade.
"An after school snack is important for winding down before homework or sports," Patranella says. But she cautions about too many trips to the drive-through because of the unwanted calories and lack of nutritional value in many fast-foods. It also can ruin a student's appetite for a healthy dinner.
"Keeping it fun is important," said Patranella. "Presentation works on kids when things are cute and funny. Food is an art form which should be embraced."