Looking for healthy yet affordable after-school snacks for children? You've come to the right place.
Over the years, I've often fed multiple hungry - and picky! - children their after-school snacks (that's a pic above from my kitchen of the snack line-up one afternoon). My children's friends are always welcome at snack time and because of this, I'm often feeding kids who I might not know their tastes so well, and often a bunch of kids at once. At the same time, I don't want to break the bank or sacrifice healthy eating. So here are some great solutions for healthy yet cheap snacks that I thought I'd share with you.
My usual rule is to offer 3 "snacks of the day" of which each child is welcome to choose as much as they want of 1, 2, or all 3 of these snacks. Each day, I change what the 3 snacks are. This especially helps if you have multiple children to feed and they don't all like the same things. It means there will be at least one item that each child will find appetizing.
1. Plain unsweetened yogurt with just a little jelly, OR honey, OR granola
The large 1 lb tubs are usually by far the best value for money, and often are the only format that most stores stock of unsweetened yogurt. Sweetened yogurt has a surprisingly high sugar content. I therefore use the Dannon brand plain unsweetened yogurt - it's very cheap, low in sugar and nice and thick. It comes in a non-fat version too, although I prefer to use the regular version for my growing kids. Unsweetened yogurt can taste pretty tart on its own, so you may need to sweeten it lightly with a little jelly, honey or granola. Kids love the ability to pick the topping - but you control the amount you add in.
I make home-made cornbread from scratch so I always know exactly what's in it. The low cost of ingredients and uncomplicated recipe makes this a cheap and easy option. Cornbread is surprisingly low in sugar (at least with the recipe I use) as compared with other sweet breads.
Any leftover cornbread work well as lunchbox items. Or make it as a side at dinner and serve up the leftover cornbread at snack time after school the next day. Homemade cornbread has a short shelf life, so it's best to use it up quickly. My kids and their friends have made sure that's not a problem!
I prefer all-natural microwave popcorn - this is harder to find, since the artificially flavored versions of popcorn are more prevalent in stores. Still, all-natural microwave popcorn is available in many generic store brands at a very cheap price. One bag of popcorn will easily go around several children, and it smells so delicious and appetizing.
I like to get unsweetened applesauce because it's pretty low in sugar, but regardless of what kind you get, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing they're getting vitamins and minerals from the apple content. This is a pretty cheap snack.
5. Pancakes with a little butter
You can easily make pancakes ahead of time and freeze them, or just buy frozen ones from the store. Then heat them up in the microwave when the kids come home from school. I used to make my pancakes from scratch. These days I use frozen, but either way, it's a quick and cheap snack.
6. Fresh or canned fruit
Although higher in sugar than I'd normally like, fresh or canned fruit come packed with plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making it a good choice for growing children. If selecting canned fruit, it's healthier to opt for the "lite" version that are canned in fruit juice, not in heavy syrup.
Like pancakes, I usually serve these with a little butter, or plain, depending on the child's preference. These can also be made ahead of time and frozen until needed. Frozen ready-to-bake biscuits also work well, although they are not as cheap as making your own. Also be aware that even the store bought ones take awhile to bake, so you'd have to plan on baking them before the kids get home. Once baked, you can freeze them if you wish. Still, on sale, these can be relatively cheap snacks, and are low in sugar (although high in fat).
8. Bread rolls with butter or a little jelly
I usually buy whatever bread rolls are on sale in the bakery section of my local grocery store. This usually works out quite cheaply per serving, and makes for a fun and filling snack. Paired with different choices of jelly, even the pickiest eater will find a combo they enjoy.
If you want to save even more, check out the sale area in the bakery, but note that these items will usually need to be frozen or used immediately.
9. Granola bars
There are so many options for granola bars in stores, or you can make your own. If you're buying store bought and wish to stick to a budget, go straight for the store brand granola bars. There is such a wide price range among other brands, but typically a store brand pack of chocolate chip granola bars is surprisingly cheap.
10. Homemade muffins or quick breads
Make ahead, and freeze and reheat as needed. To be healthy, use a recipe low in sugar (no more than half a cup of sugar per 12 muffins). My crew enjoy orange muffins, and they are very cheap and easy to make. Or make banana bread: it's a little heavier in sugar but an ideal way to use up ripe bananas that you can't otherwise use up in time: the picture at the top shows some of my banana chocolate chip bread, which all 4 picky eaters gobbled up!
11. Hardboiled eggs
You can boil eggs up to a day or two ahead of time and store in the fridge. I always wait until just before eating to remove the shell for freshness. Serve with a little salt and pepper to dip into. This a cheap snack as is, and furthermore it's a healthy way for them to get some protein.