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How to ward off the after-school sugar rush

Ceone Fournier, centre, and her kids Owen, 11, left to right, Claire, 9, and Maisy, 6, make a snack in their home in Spruce Grove, Alberta on Thursday, July 24, 2014. Fournier was involved in the Health Canada consultations on the proposed labeling modernization.

AMBER BRACKEN/The Globe and Mail

The first thing most kids want when they run through the door after school is a snack. At the end of a school day hungry kids need an energy boost to tackle homework, fuel a dance lesson or soccer practice, or simply tide them over until dinnertime.

Healthy after-school snacks are an important part of a growing child's diet. Forgoing them can undermine a child's energy, concentration, mood and nutrient intake. Doing so can also make kids feel overly hungry at dinner, prompting overeating.

Nutritious snacks for kids should contain low glycemic carbohydrate for energy and protein and/or healthy fat to slow digestion and keep kids' appetites in check. Low glycemic foods such as fruit, yogurt, hummus and grainy breads gradually raise blood sugar, helping kids feel energized and satisfied longer.

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Snacks made from refined carbohydrates (e.g., sugar, white flour) including cereal bars, crackers, pretzels and candy, have a high glycemic value because they're quickly digested and spike blood sugar. Eating these types of snacks leads to a short energy burst followed by a crash and premature hunger.

Nutritious snacks that tame after-school hunger pangs include fruit and yogurt, apple slices and almond butter, cheese and whole-grain crackers, edamame, raw vegetables and hummus, low-sugar granola bars and homemade trail mix. Even a bowl of whole-grain breakfast cereal offers fibre, protein, calcium and iron.

Eventually, though, kids tire of the usual after-school snacks. If your kids are asking for something new, mix the following six snacks into your repertoire. They'll nourish and energize growing bodies and satisfy sweet and savoury palates. Even better, they'll help prevent an after-school snack rut.

Banana ice cream (dairy-free):

Frozen bananas, loaded with potassium and low glycemic carbohydrates, are good for more than making banana bread. To make two servings, blend two frozen bananas (sliced) in a food processor until smooth and creamy like soft-serve ice cream. You can make this ahead and store in the freezer. (The ice cream will be harder.)

For a fruity ice cream, blend frozen bananas with one cup of frozen strawberries or frozen mango chunks. Blend in one tablespoon of peanut butter for a boost of healthy fats and protein. Or garnish with chopped nuts (walnuts and pecans work well).

Cheese popcorn:

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Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese to air-popped popcorn for a savoury whole-grain snack that delivers fibre, protein and calcium (125 mg per cup) with fewer calories and half the fat as commercial cheese-flavoured popcorn.

To make four cups, stir one-half cup of grated Parmesan cheese into four cups of hot popcorn. Can be made in advance.

Yogurt, strawberry, granola parfait:

This snack packs plenty of protein and bone-building calcium along with vitamin C. In a parfait or tall glass, spoon one-half cup of plain yogurt (Greek or regular), sprinkle with two tablespoons of granola, and then top with sliced strawberries. Repeat.

Can be made ahead. Or, organize the ingredients before leaving for work so hungry teens can prep their own after-school snack.

Chocolate-coconut banana slices:

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Dusted with cocoa powder, these banana slices will satisfy a chocolate craving without the added sugar. Plus, cocoa powder offers iron, magnesium and antioxidants called flavonoids.

To make one serving, slice a banana on the diagonal. Roll bananas slices in cocoa powder and shake off the excess. Sprinkle the top of each slice with unsweetened shredded coconut. To add protein (and calcium) to this snack, serve with a glass of milk or unsweetened soymilk.

Berry Blast Smoothie:

Smoothies are a great way to get fibre, calcium and antioxidants into kids. And they do double duty by quenching thirst and quelling hunger. With few ingredients, smoothies are easy for older kids to make on their own.

In a blender combine ½ cup each: frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, plain yogurt, milk or soymilk and 100-per-cent orange juice. Add ½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger root (for a flavour zing) and one tablespoon of hemp, flax or chia seeds (for omega-3 fatty acids). Purée until smooth.

Dark-chocolate-covered "munchies:"

This fibre-rich snack will satisfy a sweet or savoury craving. It serves up energizing carbohydrates from whole-grain cereal and popcorn along with protein and heart-healthy fats from almonds.

To make two servings, combine one cup of Shreddies, ½ cup air-popped popcorn, ½ cup small pretzel twists and ¼ cup unsalted, roasted almonds. Melt four tablespoons of dark chocolate chips and stir into cereal mix. Spread on a baking sheet and refrigerate until chocolate cools.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct; lesliebeck.com.

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