Take a Break! 20 After-School Snacks Your Kids Can Make
Teach your kids to be independent and resilient by letting them prepare their own after-school snacks. Here are 20 mostly healthy (and a few not as healthy!) DIY snack ideas that are easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.
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At the risk of sounding like a nostalgic crank, most kids nowadays are missing out on the latch-key kid experience. Back in the day, while Mom and Dad were at work in the office, we children of the 80s were left to our own devices. We entertained ourselves (with the help of GI Joe cartoons), got into skirmishes with neighborhood bullies, and tended to our own skinned knees. And we fed ourselves. If we didn’t do it, nobody would.
Without a guardian present to provide ready-to-eat treats, we had to develop our own abilities to come up with after-school snacks. And yes, for me, that sometimes meant cramming an entire sleeve of Ritz Crackers and leaving the wrapper and a shower of crumbs on the TV room couch. But sometimes I felt more ambitious: tortillas microwaved with butter and cheese. Instant rice pudding made with cold milk over cold rice with white sugar. Ersatz rice krispie treats made from year-old marshmallows and the remnants of four bags of cereal scrounged from the back of the pantry. Those hours spent in front of the open fridge trying to figure out how to fill the emptiness inside prepared me well for my future comfort working in the kitchen.
Norms have changed; many kids rarely experience unsupervised life like I did. But your kids can still develop that kitchen confidence with a little prodding from you. Here are some ideas for things your kids can make for themselves after school. You may need to soak the blender or re-wipe the counter after they’re done with their mise-en-place, but it’s worth it. There’s no age too young to foster a child’s capacity to feed themselves and no set of skills more fundamental for self-sufficiency.
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Kid-made snack FAQs
Learn the basics before giving your kid access to the kitchen for snack time
Does fixing their own snacks really foster a kid’s independence?
Here’s what educator Maria Montessori says about the developmental benefits of kids doing real work for themselves.
“Any child who is self-sufficient, who can tie his shoes, dress or undress himself, reflects in his joy and sense of achievement the image of human dignity, which is derived from a sense of independence.”
She may not have explicitly included food prep on this list of practical activities, but it’s undeniable that setting up for snack time, preparing and serving food, and cleaning up after are a fundamental type of educational work for all kids and a big part of raising a self-sufficent adult.
How can I tell when my kid is ready to use a sharp knife?
There is a cutting utensil for every age group. If your kid is too little to be trusted with a butter knife, have them cut with safety scissors. Or check out other kid-friendly knife options — there are blunt serrated plastic knives that work great for sawing up apple chunks and metal knives with blunt ends and finger guards that can help your kids make the transition to real tools. You’ll need to supervise at first but you’ll be surprised how careful most kids are if you foster safe kitchen habits.
What about the mess?
Kids are messy! That’s why it’s all the more important to start them working with their own food early — help them learn to make and clean their own messes.
Healthy snacks that require no equipment and zero technique
Let’s be real. The best snacks to start with are the ones that are ready to eat. I’m not saying you need a recipe to prepare all the snacks below, but you gotta start somewhere.
I like a banana. Kids do too! Peeling a banana is like a gateway drug. Once they get hooked on peeling bananas, next they’ll feel driven to peel oranges and tangerines, to unwrap mangoes and pineapples. Trimming artichokes and deboning poultry is just around the corner. So leave some bananas on the counter and let your children at ‘em.
A Slice of American Cheese
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
Yes, you can make American Cheese from scratch, but I’m not proposing that you actually make it. Let your kids unwrap and devour a slice of that reconstituted pulverized cheese dust.
This takes a little prep on your part if your kids aren’t up to boiling and draining eggs themselves, but a bowlful of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge is an easy way to make healthy, protein-filled snacks available for your kids after school. In a way, the egg is the banana of the chicken world — just challenging enough to make peeling fun, satisfying and delicious once freed of its shell, and a snack that clearly demonstrates to your kids that good things come from a little patient technique.
Snacks that can be made in a single mixing bowl
OK, a spoon too, but these recipes will ease your kiddos along the path to culinary greatness. Baby steps!
If you’re following my advice, there’s already a bowl of hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. So set your kids up with the recipe for deviled eggs. Kids love taking things apart and reassembling them: Deviled eggs is an arts and crafts project that provides its own snack when you’re done.
The Jello itself is a great independent kid project — so long as your child is ready to handle a measuring cup full of hot tap water and a spoon. Add some Cool Whip and gummi sharks and you’ve got an aquarium-themed self-made snack for the ages.
Recipes for when your kids are ready to wield a knife
Not every kid is ready to handle a 10-inch chef’s knife, but there are age-appropriate options for cutting and prepping for almost every developmental stage. By the time they’re ready to prep in the kitchen on their own, you’ll feel confident that they can slice and dice with the best of them.
A classic for a reason! This healthy snack lets your kids practice easy cuts with an age-appropriate knife, provides fiber, protein, and a hint of sweetness, and offers that irresistible opportunity to pretend they’re eating bugs.
Peanut butter and jelly is often one of the first dishes in a budding chef’s repertoire — with good reason. Sandwiches provide great practice wielding a knife to spread peanut butter, and the jelly component provides lots of choices for customization to let your child’s culinary creativity shine through.
The best kids recipes double as arts and crafts projects. These roll-ups are a great example — start with a few basic refrigerator staples like lunch meat and pickles. Stack ‘em on top of each other and shape them like playdough into your perfect edible artwork. Add tortillas for starch or mix up the insides based on what’s in the fridge. Cut into sushi-roll-sized bites to practice knife skills if you want — or chomp on them whole like a cigar.
Snacks kids can make with a can-opener
Teach your kid to use a can-opener! It’s as practical a skill as learning to tie one’s shoes and way more delicious.
My friend Danielle reports that a can of chickpeas doused with Italian dressing was her favorite DIY after-school snack as a child. But as this recipe suggests, chickpeas are but the tip of the legume iceberg when it comes to canned snacks. With a can opener and a little derring-do, your pantry will become a bottomless well of snack options.
Not every kid loves canned tuna … but I did. The nice thing about tuna salad is that it can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Start with a little mayo, relish, salt, and pepper and build from there. They’ll be chiffonading basil and zesting lemons into a gourmet tin fish meal in no time.
After-school snacks from the blender
This may be a controversial opinion, but I think a blender can be a kid’s best friend. Yes, there is potential for mess; yes, spinning blades are scary. But they are time savers and fun and your little monsters will love making a racket and whizzing up milkshakes on their own after a few hands-on lessons.
With this recipe, your kids will get to flex their can opener muscles and experience the thrill of watching whole ingredients transform into a puree. When they make the salsa themselves, they can customize the level of heat by varying the amount of jalapeño. Blender salsa beats the jar, hands down.
With a basic smoothie recipe, your kid will start to see the bruised bananas and apples in the back of the fruit drawer as the raw ingredients for a tasty treat instead of proto-compost. Banana and yogurt are a great start for a sweet and tangy smoothie, but really any fruit (fresh or frozen) will make a healthy after-school smoothie snack.
Once they’ve got the blender basics down, there is a world of frozen treats available for your kiddos. Maybe they shouldn’t make this Oreo-vanilla milkshake every day. But they could!
After-school snacks from the microwave
Some parents are scared of heat. Who can blame them — nobody wants to burn a child. The microwave is a great tool for starting to instill habits of caution around hot foods. Try out these healthy and not-so-healthy microwave snacks that kids can assemble themselves.
When it’s cold out, a quick bowl of warm oatmeal is a great snack. Show your kids how to assemble this satisfying bowl of fruit and oats and they’ll have a warming treat in their repertoire for after-school snack, breakfast, or a midnight snack.
I concede, encouraging your little ones to try this recipe may leave you with a counter in need of a good wipe-down. That said, individual-sized brownies are so fun and the microwave works surprisingly well for a moist and gooey treat.
Air fryer recipes for after-school snacks
If you don’t have one, don’t worry, your little ones can use your toaster oven for these recipes, too.
Your kid can assemble these air fryer bagel pizzas in the basket of your air fryer with ingredients right from the fridge.
Yes, it’s true that a stick of string cheese is a perfectly good snack all by itself. But sometimes even kids like to make it a little fancy. Let them perfect their cheese pull with these easy and tasty air-fried delights.
Advanced snacks prepared over a burner
You know you’ve done a good job preparing your kids for their future success when you see them managing ingredients in a frying pan with a spatula on the range. Workshop these recipes with your kids; after a few rehearsals, they’ll be ready to work with an open flame on their own.
A basic cheese quesadilla is a marvel of efficiency and an easy place to start with cooking over the stovetop. You don’t need hot fat, just a hot pan, a spatula and a little patience.
Scrambled eggs was the dish that made me feel most accomplished as a kid in the kitchen. I remember trying to imitate my mother’s rapid egg-beating motions and working to refine my technique to get the eggs cooked just as I like them. With the proper foundation, your kids can scramble eggs on their own. Let them cook!
Your kid will never starve if they know how to convert leftover rice into a satisfying meal with an egg and a vegetable or two. Egg Fried Rice should be a part of any young chef’s repertoire.
More kid-friendly ideas
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