How to Manage After-School Snacking

February 2016 By: Lisa Giles, MS, RD, LD, CDE Registered Dietitian, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
girl looking in pantry
School Age

Lots of parents deal with “pre-dinner pantry raiders,” I'm here with my top strategies for managing the hunger-raids during and after long days at school!

Q: Help! My kids are starving after school and raiding the pantry before dinner! They snack almost non-stop when they get home, but are still so hungry at dinner they eat second helpings. How do I help them stick with reasonable portions during snack time and at dinner without them feeling deprived?

A: Part of this “I’m starving!” phenomenon is that the kids are adjusting to a new routine as they start back to school. This is a good time to ask a few questions to see why your kids are so hungry … then determine a plan of action!

For example, is your child eating breakfast before school, and lunch and a snack during school hours? If so, what are they eating?

And how long are they going between meals and snacks?

Kids need to eat every three to four hours to keep that “I’m starving” feeling at bay, and they need to eat the right foods—processed foods like chips and cookies don’t have the staying power to truly satisfy hunger.

The good news is there are lots of ways to help your kids manage the hunger during and after long days at school. Here are my three favorite tricks:

  1. Schedule, don’t starve! Setting a consistent time for eating meals and snacks is key to fending off that super-hungry feeling. Start the day with a healthy breakfast that includes both protein and a high-quality carbohydrate. Help them pack or choose a healthy school lunch, and send a nutritious and healthy snack to school to bridge the gap between meals!
  2. Lean Protein + High-Quality Carb = Staying Power. This may be the easiest equation your kids learn all year! Make sure every meal and snack has a lean protein (think turkey, string cheese, Greek yogurt, peanut butter, nuts) and a healthy carb (whole grain bread, fruits and veggies are all great choices). Meals and snacks with a protein and carb combo have staying power to keep kids satisfied until the next meal.
  3. Plan Ahead. Kids love having lots of choices when it comes to snacking. Preparing several healthy snack options into single serving sizes encourages them to reach for something nutritious when they walk in the door from school. It also helps them eat reasonable portions and shows them the right snack can keep them satisfied until dinner!

If you plan healthy, balanced and consistent meals and snacks for each school day, pretty soon you’ll notice your kids will stop saying “I’m starving,” and are better able to eat reasonable portions for their after-school snack and at the dinner table—and that’s the most satisfying solution of all!

girl looking in pantry