COLUMBIA, Mo. —Learning is hungry work. Schoolchildren typically eat lunch around 11:30 and then have classes all afternoon. Add an after-school activity or two and by the time they get home they’re running on empty. It’s small wonder that many kids head straight to the kitchen to devour whatever they can get their hands on.

How can you make sure that they’re choosing snacks that are good for them? Just think “inside the box.”

“One great idea that parents can do really easily is to prepare a snack box,” said Ellen Schuster, University of Missouri Extension associate state nutrition education specialist. “Put together a box, one for the refrigerator and one for the cupboard. You can even label it ‘snack box.’”

The snack boxes can be a family activity. Have your kids decorate the boxes and include them in choosing snack items. Take them with you to the grocery store to help your children learn about making good food choices, Schuster said. “The more kids are involved in any kind of food planning and preparation, the more interested they’re going to be in eating what you provide.”

The cupboard snack box might contain whole wheat crackers and pretzels. You can add whole-wheat, low-fat graham crackers. Mix whole-grain cereal with fruit or nuts and you’ll have a healthy homemade trail mix.

For the refrigerator snack box, cut up some carrots or other vegetables. “You can provide 100 percent juice, but be sure to stay away from the juice drinks. You can now find sugar-free, fat-free puddings, and make low-fat cheese available,” Schuster said.

The snack boxes are not just for your children.

“Always remember that you, as the parent, set the example,” she said. “So when you’re reaching for a snack, use the snack box yourself. If kids see you eating that snack they’re more likely to eat it as well.”

Be sure to pay attention to portion sizes when putting foods in the snack boxes. You don’t want them filling up on snacks if you’re going to be providing a meal later in the day, Schuster said.

For more ideas, see the MU Extension guide sheet “Pack a Snack Box” (N357), available for free download at