One Mom’s 5 Rules for After-School Snacks

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

I grew up in the ’80s, when a lot of our mothers were dieting and some of them — in spite of their best intentions — were passing their feelings about weight down to their children. I thought my mother was overweight. Reader, she was not, but she said she was so I believed her. In retrospect we can all acknowledge that as a size 6-petite she was rather small. But she worried about her weight and wanted to make sure we were all healthy. (We were.)

I didn’t think about it at the time, but she also worried about money, and how much of it she and my dad had to spend to feed four children. Both of those things influenced what we learned about snacks. And some of that information was great. (No, really.)

These days, we know better than to conflate weight with good health, so I’ll spare you the lecture. I do take a page or two from Mom’s book when it comes to snacks, though.

Rule #1: Keep the healthy stuff within reach, and make it easy.

We usually had a carton of ice cream somewhere in the freezer, and I remember occasionally having pudding after supper, but snacks were supposed to be more or less healthy, and Mom made that easy. We always had carrot and celery sticks — peeled and sliced — in a bowl in the fridge. And there were always apples and bananas on the table. Popcorn was homemade, and we didn’t use butter — a little bit of seasoning salt did the trick. And Mom bought granola bars (the hard, crumbly kind) before that was a thing.

I’ve been known to set out bowls of raw vegetables on the counter because the kids won’t even notice themselves eating them. If it’s within arm’s reach, it’s probably going into their mouths.

Rule #2: Buy the snacks on sale.

My mother was frugal and so am I. Snacks, while sort of important, are not strictly necessary. As long as you feed your children the basic meals, you’re good. Snacks are nice, but no child has ever keeled over (barring specific health concerns) because they didn’t get to eat for a few hours. But as a former child myself, I can attest to the fact that hunger can come on fast and furious when you’re growing, so I believe in snacks. And snacks cost money.

We buy a lot of fruit, and a fair amount of crackers and crunchy snacks, and everything is either on sale or from Trader Joe’s. No one has ever suffered because they had to eat a gala apple instead of the more expensive pink lady. Besides, those pink ladies will go on sale soon enough. Choosing snacks partially based on price teaches kids not to be precious about food.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Rule #3: Fruits and vegetables come first.

“Mom! I’m hungry!” “Have a piece of fruit!” This was the refrain of my childhood. Then we’d be offered carrots and celery, with peanut butter if dinner was going to be late. After that, maybe dried fruit, crackers, or that delicious homemade popcorn. I don’t deny my kids food, because I am a child of the ’80s and I didn’t like feeling judged for my choices so I won’t judge them for theirs, but there’s nothing wrong with opening the discussion with fruit.

Those were my mother’s rules. I’ve added a couple of my own.

Rule #4: Never fear the disappearing appetite.

Do you remember coming home from school and inhaling a bowl of Cheerios with milk? Then pouring yourself another? I do. And Mom would worry out loud that I’d spoil my appetite. Never fear the disappearing appetite! For a growing child, another one is just around the corner.

I think we all make worse food choices when we’re very, very hungry. For an adult, waiting another hour for the next meal is no big deal, a minor annoyance, but for a child who’s been at school all day, followed by sports practice, and maybe some calorie-burning laughter with friends? An empty stomach renders them useless. And trust: They will absolutely be hungry when it’s time for dinner. And if they aren’t? They can still sit at the table and socialize, because it’s not just about the food.

Rule #5: Don’t leave an empty bag. That’s just rude.

With all my talk about healthy eating, I do like potato chips. But usually in fairly small quantities. If I buy chips on a Sunday when we usually do our grocery shopping for the week, and they’re gone by Tuesday, I feel sad. But I get it. It happens. (Like I said, I like chips. When I see them, you never know. I might just be compelled to eat the whole bag.) But you need to tell me what you did.

Around 4 p.m., when I’m still at work and thinking about what I’ll cook for supper, I may also be thinking that I’d like a small glass of rosé and a ramekin of chips while I cook. And Mama’s chips better not be gone. And I better not find my bag of chips wrapped tightly and closed with a chip clip with only one whole chip and crumbs left. Not, cool, kids. Not cool. And, no, you don’t get points for using the chip clip. Just text me and tell me you ate all the chips, so if I really need some I can get them on the way home, m’kay? Rules are rules.

As long as the snacks are healthy and not too expensive, I’m good. (Well, as long as you don’t eat all my chips without warning me.) Do you have rules about snacks at home? What are they?