Kids need energy to focus on their schoolwork and enjoy active play. Junk food and sweet treats may shut down hunger for a short time, but empty calories don’t satisfy for long and can cause mood swings in some children. A power snack helps kids stay full longer and gives them sustained energy to go from school to after-school activities, play dates, and sports.

The ideal power snack is like a tiny meal. It includes some protein and fat, as well as  carbohydrates. Processed and packaged snacks don’t often fill the bill by themselves, but you can pair a small bag of pretzels with a cheese stick and have a good combination. Add some grapes or apple slices, and the power snack gets a solid A.

Here are more ideas for great power snacks:

  • Sliced apple or banana spread with peanut or almond butter
  • Whole-grain crackers and carrot sticks with hummus dip
  • Plain yogurt, sweetened with jam or honey, with a handful of dried fruit, nuts, or granola
  • Small tortilla roll-up spread with refried beans and shredded cheese
  • Gorp made from semisweet chocolate chips, air-popped popcorn, dried fruit, and nuts

It’s important to keep power snack portions snack-size, which is about one-third the size of a regular meal. Some kids might enjoy a portion of a traditional meal, such as half a sandwich served with half an apple, or a portion of leftovers, such as half a chicken breast with half a sweet potato.

Water is a perfect beverage, though some children prefer low-fat milk. Beware of fruit smoothies, sports drinks, fruit punch, and soda, as these drinks are often high in sugar and calories. Fruit juice is OK in small quantities, but whole fruit has more fiber and nutrients. And you can make your own healthier power-snack smoothie by blending plain yogurt, milk, fresh fruit, and a little bit of jam or honey.

Breakfast as a Power Snack

Many kids like having breakfast for lunch or dinner. So why not repurpose traditional breakfast foods as power snacks? Here are some favorites:

  • High-protein, low-sugar cereal with milk and berries
  • Hard-boiled egg with cheese cubes
  • Whole-grain waffle spread with peanut or almond butter
  • Oatmeal topped with dried fruit, nuts, and a sprinkle of brown sugar
  • Tortilla filled with scrambled eggs and cheese

Some breakfast foods, such as pastries and doughnuts, are too high in sugar and void of nutrients to work as power snacks. Keep in mind the importance of protein when turning a breakfast favorite into a snack—that’s what keeps your child fueled during the stretch from the carpool line to the dinner table.

Making Healthier Choices

Kids are surrounded by junk food options, and they often reach for less healthy treats when they have the urge to snack. By helping them make smarter choices, they can enjoy occasional treats without feeling deprived.

Here are some treats you and your kids can enjoy in moderation:

  • Baked potato chips
  • Baked sweet potato fries
  • Frozen yogurt topped with fresh berries and nuts
  • Fresh strawberries dipped in semisweet chocolate
  • Baked tortilla chips with salsa
  • Popcorn tossed with parmesan cheese

Many vending machines now stock healthier snacks, like mini protein bars and trail mix. But beware of items such as fruit-flavored gummies that appear healthy but have no real nutritional value. And teach your kids to keep portions in check, as a single bag of potato chips from a vending machine might actually contain three servings.

Power snacks provide great fuel for students’ active brains and bodies. By making sure your kids have access to power snacks, you’ll make sure they feel their best at school and at play. And by teaching your children to make smart snack choices, you’ll equip them with a skill they can use for the rest of their lives.

Stop Mindless Snacking

Most kids need a healthy snack after school, but mindless snacking can contribute to obesity. Here are some ways to encourage healthy snack habits:

Make healthy snacks accessible. Keep cut-up vegetables in the fridge, along with low-fat ranch dressing for dipping. Keep fresh fruit on hand, washed and ready to eat.

Offer individual portions. Divide a bag of pretzels into individual bags of about 100 calories each. You can use a kitchen scale to measure the right amount, or use the package’s label as a guide. Let each child have one bag, then place the others out of reach. Add fresh fruit and cheese or nuts for a well-rounded snack.

Use a plate. Offer your child a small plate and let him assemble a snack that fits on it. Teach your child to include some protein, fat, and carbohydrates as well as fresh produce. Once the plate is full, that’s it. No seconds.

Close the kitchen. Once your kids have had a snack, close the kitchen. Put a sign on the fridge if you have to. Some kids can sit at the kitchen table and do homework without being tempted to overeat, but others need to do homework elsewhere.