If, like me, you juggle work, kids, home-making (excuse the old-fashioned term, but I struggled to think of a more apt, modern one), kid's commitments and just plain old LIFE, then most of your days are bound to be a little frantic.
In fact, scanning through all the mums I know, I can't think of a single one who isn't stretched almost to her limit!
One of our most critical tasks is to organise the family's daily menu. Dinner takes precedence, lunchbox contents come next and breakfast generally sorts itself out. But after all that, there's not much energy left to think about after school snacks.
And it can be a tricky feeding time to manage. There's a fine line to balance between giving the kids something that will appease their hunger, but not ruin their appetite before dinner.
When my kids were younger and I was home more, I'd often kick dinner off by 4pm or so, to get them fed while they were keen, but before the witching hour kicked in.
This strategy works well – get the nutrition in while they're hungry then before bed, fill them up with an easy supper of fruit and yoghurt. But things change once they hit school age.
Afternoons (thankfully) shift from being quite so fraught, to being plain old busy. Kids shuffle around to activities and need energy to survive soccer/swimming/trumpet/ballet/tennis/scouts.
So they need SOMETHING substantial, but not too much of it.
It needs to be kilojoule dense to match their afternoon energy output and it needs to be nutritious but not laden with additives and nasties.
Finally, it needs to be simple, easily-stored and available in small portions. Phew! Is that all?
Thankfully, there ARE perfect options for afternoon tea. Here are my go-to ideas…
"There's a fine line between giving something to appease their hunger that won't ruin their appetite."
You can't eat them at school, but they are perfect after school food. Full of healthy fats, protein and fibre, each type has its own nutritional benefits. Cashews and almonds are the favourites here, but pistachios and peanuts also get gobbled.
Not particularly sexy, but mix them in with the nuts and you get a great source of protein. Pumpkin seeds are the nutrient winner, packed full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. To make them more enticing, try roasting them and tossing them with spices like cumin.
Cut a block of cheddar cheese into shapes (use cookie cutters) for a quick (and budget-friendly) dairy hit.
WATCH: Tips for dining out with toddlers. Continues after video …
4. VEGIES & DIPS
Celery, mushrooms, beans and carrots dipped in hummus are the perfect after-school treat.
Obviously my kids would prefer a crunchy store-bought cracker, but if I only provide fresh produce then that's what they'll eat (I find hunger is an excellent motivator).
On a good day I can get at least one whole serve of vegies into them at this time of day.
Hummus has the additional advantage of being dairy and gluten free and based on chickpeas, making it full of fibre.
If you own a mini food processor then it's simple to make – just a quick blend of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. But if you don't have the time, then there's a bunch of good supermarket options.
5. SKIP THE SUGAR
Have you noticed that I've avoided adding fruit to my list?
By this time of day, most kids have already eaten up their 1-2 recommended serves. So skip the sugar and get the kids used to a bit of savoury. Then they'll be in the right frame of mind for dinner in a couple of hours time.