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Cooking with Kids

After School Snacks
By Chef Mary Sue Milliken

I'm not sure what kids do in school all day, but it sure increases appetites. Every kid I know comes home from school starving!

It takes some grown-up strategy to keep children from grabbing the first bag of chips or cookies they see when they walk in the door. Let's face it—convenience is appealing when your stomach is growling.

Easy to Reach Munchies

My first line of defense it to hide the chips and cookies somewhere that little hands can't reach. (Yes, my home is not a totally chip-free zone.) The next step is to stock the house with easy snacks that just happen to be healthy:

  • Lots of fresh fruit including melons and pineapple, cut into bite-sized pieces and kept where kids can see them in the refrigerator
  • Bowls of finger foods like grapes and berries
  • Cut-up vegetables such as cucumbers, carrots, sweet bell peppers and crunchy jicama
  • Healthy dips for veggies
  • Easy-to-grab yogurts

The Family who Cooks Together...

Another great strategy is to spend some time cooking with your kids after school. Cooking with a family member or the babysitter satisfies much more than hunger pains. It's a great way to help children relax and reconnect with the people who love them after a hectic day at school. A babysitter who likes to cook and knows how to follow a recipe is a great plus if you want to keep the kids from bee lining to the computer or television the moment they walk in the door.

One of my son Declan's favorite snacks is homemade hummus. At this point, he's such an old hand that he hardly needs any help. He just tosses a can of garbanzo beans into the blender along with a generous squeeze of lemon, a couple of garlic cloves and some of my trusty extra virgin olive oil or tahini and whizzes up a great dip in minutes. I help by cutting up vegetables for dipping. Then we sit down and share our war stories of the day.

A Kid Twist on Old Faves

There are lots of other fun, healthy, after school snacks that kids can make themselves with just a little help: quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches, trail mix and smoothies. For those who crave a sweet treat after school, homemade muffins are quicker than cookies. Plus they're a great way to sneak in a few more fruits and vegetables. It's the rare kid who won't be happy devouring freshly baked blueberry or cranberry muffins, a not-too-sweet carrot muffin with raisins or my latest discovery—the peanut butter and jelly muffin. All are perfect with an ice-cold glass of milk. And they freeze well for breakfast and lunch box treats.

These days, we've been experimenting after school with a healthy and delicious home version of nachos. Declan spreads a layer of refried beans on a plate and sprinkles it with cheese and salsa. Then he heats it through in the microwave until bubbly and sticks his favorite tortilla chips in for instant dipping. Nachos are the perfect portable snack to bring to the desk when it's time for him to hit the books—and for me to start thinking about supper.

Beat the after school munchies with these neat treats:

Peanut Butter and Jelly Muffins
Carrot Raisin Mini Muffins
Bean and Cheese Nachos


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