5-Minute After-School Snacks That Are Nutritious

published Aug 19, 2021
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Snacks can be another one of those unexpected pressure points for parents. “I’m responsible for three meals a day AND snacks?!” It’s easy for it to become an afterthought. Puffs in the stroller, a bar in the car, a pouch in the grocery store cart. Busy schedules sometimes call for convenience. But I really like to build intention into snack time, prioritizing thoughtfulness whenever possible. Eating is the event, not just something that happens in the background.

For school-aged kids especially, snacks are an opportunity to have a little bit of freedom to do their own thing. After-school snacks are a chance to play around and do what they want to do. It is a first step into feeding themselves. When you’re expected to be at the dinner table and eat whatever is being served, that space to do your own thing can be really meaningful. (Not to mention removing some of the pressure of responsibility from me.)

Mindful snacks don’t always have to be complicated and time consuming. These eight snacks all come together in minutes either with a helping hand from you, or as something you can hand off to your 10-year-old.

Apple “toast” 

Apple slices and peanut butter is a pretty classic combo, but I do a tiny little upgrade that my kids absolutely love. Spread apple slices over a plate, and drizzle any nut or seed butter over the top. (If yours is too thick to drizzle, microwave it for a few seconds to make it easier.) Use a Microplane to grate a chocolate chip or two over the whole thing. It’s a small hit of chocolate, but it makes a big impact. You could even add other options, like shaved coconut, or slivered almonds; It’s customized and special, without requiring loads of effort.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Cheese crisp

Growing up in Arizona, I couldn’t tell you what a quesadilla was. We ate cheese crisps, which are essentially just an open-faced cheese quesadilla. I’m not raising Arizona kids, but we still eat our fair share of this classic. I up the nutrition by first smearing a tortilla with canned refried beans, then topping with shredded cheese. Toast in a covered skillet so that the bottom crisps and the cheese also melts. (Or slide the whole thing into a toaster oven.) Cut into wedges before serving. Kids can top it with avocado cubes, black olives, or cut up grape tomatoes if you want to get fancy with it, but it’s great as-is. This is also a great quick lunch for the preschool set. (Or to be honest, for myself with hot sauce as a quick oh-my-gosh-it’s-2 p.m. late work from home lunch.)

Avocado toast — with a twist

What kind of millennial mother would I be if I didn’t introduce my children to this wonder of the world? Jokes aside, it’s super simple to make. Take some whole grain toast, smash half an avocado with a fork on top, sprinkle over some salt. Sure, you can get fancy with the toppings, but keeping things simple is sometimes all you need. Plus, it’s filling and energizing, with tons of healthy fats and fiber to keep them going until dinnertime. 

Banana burrito

I cannot even begin to guess how many hundreds of these I have made over the years. They’re a snap for kids to make themselves as well. Start with a 10-inch tortilla (I like to use a whole grain one), spread some peanut butter across the surface, add half of a peeled banana, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Fold the ends over and roll it up. The hand-held  shape makes it even more appealing for little ones.

Credit: Faith Durand

Steamed broccoli

Hear me out on this one. Baby carrots and hummus are sort of a “meh, if I must” with my kids. Raw vegetables are the things I pack in lunchboxes and hope they come home eaten. What veggies do I know my kids will always eat? Steamed and buttered broccoli. There is so much steamed broccoli at our dinner table. But why limit it to the evening? There’s no rule saying steamed greens are only allowed at dinnertime. There’s no mandate stating all vegetables eaten before 6 p.m. must be raw and eaten with dip. Microwave some broccoli florets, pair with some string cheese, and a handful of crackers for a satisfying snack that goes beyond a veggie plate. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Popcorn and hot cocoa

I’m not sure how it happened, but this particular combo has become our rainy-day go-to. Popcorn sometimes gets pigeon-holed into a movie night snack, but it’s packed with fiber and perfect after a long day of tape diagrams. I bought my son this fun popcorn maker a few years ago and he uses it a few times a week, rain or shine. While not necessary, it’s an easy way for him to make it for himself without relying on microwave popcorn bags or turning on the stove. A jar of make-ahead hot cocoa mix stashed in the pantry makes it easy to stir up a steamy mug of comfort that’s just right for a Tuesday afternoon.

Credit: Sarah Crowley


The rice cooker is just sort of always on in my house. I set it up earlier in the day and it holds warm, cooked rice for hours. The kids can help themselves when they get home, making for easy after school snacks like musubi. Chances are you’re familiar with SPAM musubi — rice topped with canned lunch meat and wrapped in nori. Musubi (also known as onigiri) can be filled with whatever sort of small bits of leftovers you have hanging out in the fridge. The molds are inexpensive and easy for kids to use, either the traditional triangles, or even hearts or smaller round ones. From leftover fried chicken to avocado to tuna salad, there’s really no limit to what you can stuff into a ball of rice. Fresh rice works best for this, but if you don’t always have the rice cooker on, you can try using leftover short grain rice. Reheat it with a wet paper towel on top of the rice to preserve the moisture.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

Eggs and rice

There are many forms of eggs and rice in my house, but one of the easiest for the kids to do on their own is a hard boiled egg over rice with soy sauce. Hard boiled eggs are one of the few things I batch cook ahead for the week. My daughter loves using the egg slicer. Rice hot from the rice cooker will warm up a fridge-cold egg, or use leftover grains from dinner and give it all a spin in the microwave for a minute. Splash over some salty, umami-rich soy sauce and eat with a packet of nori (seaweed snacks).