By Guest Blogger Laura Buxenbaum

School is back in full swing which means hungry kids have probably been running through your front door, frantically searching for an after school snack. In fact, they may also want to pack a snack for school and ask for another snack before bed. After all, statistics show that snacks between meals are the source of nearly 600 calories each day for children – that is 25 percent of kids’ daily energy needs!

With rising childhood obesity rates, it is tempting to consider a ban on extra munching. But don’t put a lock on the pantry yet. Healthy snacking can help children fill the gap between meals with nutrients their growing bodies need, such as protein, calcium, and fiber. So before banning snacks, consider what your child is munching on between meals. Most of us don’t serve our children cookies, chips or toaster pastries for dinner, but this is what they are chomping on during snack time, which adds a lot of extra calories, fat and sodium to their diets, and little to no nutrition.

As a registered dietitian and mom of two hungry boys, I know how challenging it can be to get children to choose healthy snacks. Here are some tips that work (most of the time) in my home:

•First, think of snacks as mini-meals. These mini-meals should include nutrient rich foods such as 100% whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat and fat-free dairy foods. When snacking, children often reach for the closest food at hand. Therefore, we try to avoid bringing a lot of cookies, chips and other junk food into our house. Not only does this help with snack time arguments, but it makes it easy to make a healthy choice. The healthiest and simplest choices include vitamin packed fruits and raw vegetables, which require little if any preparation and calcium rich foods such as string cheese and portable yogurts.

•Make Snacking Fun. One of my son’s favorite ways to eat his veggies is by turning them into fishing poles. I cut up celery sticks, carrots and pepper strips, serve them with a low fat dip (try a yogurt based dip for extra protein and calcium), add wholegrain Goldfish on top of the dip and let my son “go fish” by hooking a fish cracker with his veggie fishing rod. Salad on a stick is also a big hit at my house during snack and mealtime. I layer green peppers, cherry tomatoes, squash, zucchini and cheese cubes on a kabob stick and my son dips it in low fat dressing. If your child is old enough they can make the salad kabob themselves.

•Let kids in the kitchen. Encourage your children to help in choosing and preparing their snack. If they are involved in selection and preparation, children will be more likely to eat it. Some of my favorite snacks to make with my son include yogurt parfaits and fruit smoothies. Low-fat yogurt is an excellent source of calcium and protein, and children love it dressed up. Let your child choose and layer their favorite yogurt, fruit and cereal for a fun and healthy treat. Additionally, fruit smoothies are packed with nutrition and good taste. Kids go crazy over these delicious sippable treats. Let them create their own by choosing the fruit and adding milk or yogurt and other ingredients like pudding or peanut butter. My oldest son loves a peanut butter smoothie made with milk, frozen banana, banana flavored yogurt and peanut butter.

•And finally, set a good example. In order for kids to eat well, it is important for parents to make a commitment to good nutrition. Model healthy eating habits by enjoying healthy snacking with your kids. Both my children want to eat or drink whatever my husband is eating or drinking, whether its broccoli or brownies, Mountain Dew or milk. This has actually caused my husband to improve his eating habits in an attempt to be a better role model.

So moms, as you continue to get organized with school and after-school events, don’t forget to stock up on healthy snacks. Remember, healthy eating will improve the way your child thinks, feels and moves. You’ll see that providing nutrient rich snacks such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat and fat-free dairy now will help your children learn to make healthy choices in the future.