With lunch box season almost upon us, your inbox and social feeds will soon be filled with creative “beyond the sandwich” ideas. Like me, moms across the country are frantically Googling “Kids lunch box ideas” and deciding between a Christmas vacation and new bento boxes.
The most talented among us are making bocconcini Olafs and turning our Babybels into lady bugs. We’re writing sweet little notes (since when is feeding them not enough?) and shopping for the latest in Japanese anime condiment containers.
But no one’s talking about the lunch box’s neglected sibling: the after school snack. In fact, when it comes to searching out creative, kid-friendly food ideas, lunches and after school snacks are the Alec and Stephen Baldwin of the food world: one earns millions and hosts the Academy Awards and the other makes Bio-Dome with Pauly Shore.
The fact that its acronym is ASS should surprise no one. Trust me, I get it. By late afternoon we’ve lost our enthusiasm for food prep (not to mention our will to live). Constructing a Gruffalo out of sushi rice isn’t high on our list of priorities, especially when we’re still trying to figure out what the &%$ to serve for dinner.
And coming up with ideas is the worst, right? It’s not the shopping or the prep, it’s the mental exhaustion of trying to think of something healthy, tasty, relatively simple and minimally despised by at least half of those who’ll be eating it. Because trying something new only to have someone shorter and less intelligent yell “What? YUCK!” is pretty much the worst. Every time I tell my six-year old her after school snack is raisin toast she screams and collapses on the floor like she’s suffered multiple organ failure. So now I make it once a week just to remind her who she’s dealing with.
And it’s not just me. All my mom friends struggle with the after school snack. Should it be healthy food only? Can we sacrifice healthy for quick and easy? Will it ruin their dinner? Is 4:00 too early for Merlot? Okay, the last one was mine.
Last week I asked a group of friends about their go-to after school snacks and not surprisingly, our quest for the perfect ASS (sorry, couldn’t resist) is driven by the after school schedule as well as the age of our kids and whether or not we’re going to be there to prepare and supervise. The overwhelming majority of us want something that’s quick, easy and, ideally, can be made themselves. So whether your kids come through the door five minutes after the bell rings or hours later, here are some of our favourites, for kids and moms:
Cut-up veggies. This one’s a no-brainer. Whether it’s cucumbers, carrots, snap peas, cherry tomatoes or green beans, very little prep is required, and most kids will be able to get them out of the fridge themselves. The best part? It takes the pressure off of forcing kids to eat their veggies at dinner, especially if yours, like mine, prefer crunchy to cooked. Hummus, ranch dressing, and guacamole can help veggie-phobic kids get a little more excited about a plate of greens.
Pairs well with: spicy bloody Caesar.
Fruit. I’ve almost given up sending fruit to school for lunch because I can’t seem to find a way to keep it cold, un-squished and appetizing. But between breakfast smoothies and cut-up fruit after school, my kids seem to be getting enough. (I’d know if they had scurvy, right?) Cherries, strawberries, sliced peaches, pineapple … a fruit plate is a great, colourful after school snack that can be prepared well in advance so they just have to open fridge and insert arm.
Pairs well with: Sangria
Cheese and Crackers: I plan to spend my retirement researching, procuring and eating cheese so it’s important that my kids learn to appreciate it. Sliced, cubed, string or shredded, cheese is right up there with fruits and veggies in terms of simplicity, and most kids love it. Serve it with crackers, kielbasa, fruit or veggies. Older kids can melt it in the microwave over just about anything.
Pairs well with: Crisp, cold Sauvignon Blanc.
Lunch box leftovers. I LOVE THIS. I’m usually so grossed out by the squished remains of whatever’s left that I pitch my girls’ lunch box contents immediately. I’ve thrown out perfectly good food because I didn’t have the time or the inclination to clean it up and make it edible again. But several moms swear by this as a way to minimize food waste and help kids learn some hard life lessons about the resiliency of apples and ham sandwiches.
Pairs well with: Warm beer from a can.
Smoothies. Depending on how comfortable you are letting your kids operate rotating blades in close proximity to their siblings, smoothies may be a great snack option. Frozen fruit, Greek yogurt, coconut water, almond milk, spinach, kale, chia and ground flax are staple ingredients. Let kids experiment with different combinations then simplify prep by bagging the solid ingredients ahead of time so they can dump them in the blender with their liquid of choice and some ice.
Pairs well with: a shot of peach vodka. No one will know!
Smashed avocado with Tostitos. A friend of mine has a rule: “No chips without something green on them.” Smashed avocado - with or without a dash of sea salt and lemon - is great on chips, crackers, veggies, toast and much more. If your kids want a salty, no-so-healthy treat like nacho chips, this is a good compromise.
Pairs well with: Bud Light Lime. Close your eyes and pretend you’re back at Senor Frogs on Spring break…
No-bake energy bites. Typically made from peanut butter, oats, coconut, chocolate chips, chia and flax seed, honey or maple syrup, these are favourites in my house. I’ve been on an anti-added sugar kick for a while so I switched to brown rice syrup and sugar-free peanut butter and no one noticed. I love these because when they’re craving something sweet, they’re much better than a store-bought granola bar, cookie or muffin. Google “no bake energy bites” for a variety of recipes.
Pairs well with: Baileys and coffee.
What did I miss? Tweet me your favourite after school snacks @wineandsmarties (my actual Twitter handle as well as my favourite ASS combo).
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