You know it’s back-to-school season when the front door swings open at 4 P.M. and a gaggle of boisterous, hungry kids come bursting into the kitchen. Most kids make a beeline for the fridge the second they get home from school. But if you’re tired of your kids ransacking the pepperoni earmarked for Friday’s pizza night for their snack, consider setting up a snack station with dedicated (and healthy) treats they can nosh on to their hearts’ content. You’ll guarantee they eat something delicious and nutritious—and that you won’t need to make a last-minute dash to the store for dinner fixings. Just in time for the new school year, learn how to easily build a back-to-school snack station the whole family will love.
Designate a Space
Dedicate a shelf in your fridge for fruits, veggies and other perishables. Remove other food from this space so it’s clear to kids that this is just for them. If you’re not able to devote an entire refrigerator shelf to snack items, purchase a large, flat storage container, about the dimensions of a cookie sheet that can be used to hold the snacks selections. Then, portion out snacks into single-serving containers, and place those within the larger unit.
For a pantry snack station, start by using a turntable, which minimizes the mess by making it easy for kids to see snack options toward the back of the shelf without a lot of reaching and grabbing. As with the perishable items, portion out crackers, pretzels, and other pantry items into single-serving allotments, then store them in clear containers with an airtight seal that can be stacked for maximum space efficiency.
Some next-level parents also set up special after-school snack stations near their kids’ studying spot in the den, including a dorm-sized fridge stocked with goodies and a basket on top for pretzels, granola bars, and other healthy nonperishable snacks. And yes, it’s OK to offer a treat once in a while. (Maybe this amazing apple cake, for starters?) Consider it a reward for homework done!
Go for Variety
Kids love to have options, so give them the opportunity to pick and choose. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Fruit (berries, apples, oranges, grapes, pears)
- Veggies (sliced bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Hummus or guacamole
- String cheese or cheese cubes
- Crackers or pretzels
- Peanut butter
- Raisins and dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Fruit leather
- Applesauce pouches
- Veggie chips
- Breakfast cereal
Make Grab-and-Go Snacks
If you want to train your kids to reach for the fruits and veggies first, make it as painless as possible by washing, peeling and slicing them in advance. Similarly, whole-wheat crackers, dried fruits, and other healthy options should be portioned out and placed in easy-to-grab Smart Seal containers that can be easily stashed in a sports bag for after-school activities without snacks getting squashed. For other after-school options, check out these on-the-road snack ideas for inspiration.
In addition to doing a great job protecting snacks from getting smushed in backpacks, snack-sized containers are good for the planet (and your budget, too) since you can reuse them again and again. Get different sizes for different treats—small ones like the containers for baby food are perfect for dried fruits and nuts, while you’ll want larger-sized containers for bulky snacks like popcorn.
Set Snacking Rules
Even the best-mannered kids find it hard to resist an unlimited snack station. Avoid a snacking free-for-all (which could lead to full stomachs by dinner time) by implementing a “Fruit First” rule (at least one fruit or veggie has to be eaten before other snacks) or establishing a two-snacks-per-day parameter. Another approach: Agree snacking will cease starting two hours before dinner, so no one ruins their appetite.