Picture this scene that plays out across America each day after school: Tired of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and hungry for some treats, children scurry off school buses toward home. No sooner do they rush in the front door than they head for the kitchen and start munching on ....
Wait a minute. Just what are they munching on? Does the list of ingredients contain words five times as long as those they're learning in school? Will the kids have moved up to another school before this preservative-heavy food reaches its expiration date? If so, it may be time to reevaluate snacktime to find foods that are fresh and healthy - and that kids will enjoy.
For Sheila Ellison, mother of four and co-author with Judith Gray of ''365 Foods Kids Love to Eat'' (Sourcebooks Inc., unpaged, $12.95 paperback), after-school snacks take on many forms: simple foods (like crackers), more-elaborate fare that requires some preparation, nutritious foods (which she says have to be eaten before anything else), and more traditional treats.
While her children are snacking, Ms. Ellison says, ''I can hear things that go on at school.... You get to hear some great stories.''
When parents can't be home to participate in snacktime, Ellison suggests they plan ahead with their children and leave out what they should eat. And, she says, ''Do not put anything in the house that you don't want the kids to eat.''
Another opportunity for kids to develop good habits for in-between meals is snacktime at school. Some schools have developed innovative snack activities - such as James Russell Lowell School in Watertown, Mass., where kindergarten/first-grade teacher Lynne Tarr created a ''Healthy Snacks'' project that last year received federal funding.
''I think it's important to introduce kids to healthy foods'' and show that eating well can be fun, Ms. Tarr says.
It was apparent one recent morning that Tarr's objectives were being enthusiastically met. After learning about the ''food pyramid'' through coloring activities and plastic play food, the children eagerly gathered around a small table - as Tarr, armed with bananas, yogurt, and Grape-Nuts cereal, began the main event.
Between smiles and laughs, Tarr and her students followed a simple recipe for ''banana popsicles'' - banana halves dipped in strawberry yogurt and rolled in the crunchy cereal. As the kids nibbled on the snacks, Tarr said of her program, ''It really affects the snacks they bring from home themselves.'' She notes that some children who initially shied away from the snacks are now more adventuresome, and that several kids have asked at home for more nutritious foods.
Like Tarr's program, many children's cookbooks - such as Ellison and Gray's and ''The Children's Step-by-Step Cookbook'' by Angela Wilkes (Dorling Kindersley Inc., 1994) - emphasize the significant role kids can take in fixing foods for themselves. Ms. Wilkes's cookbook is especially geared toward kids, with photos that are not only appealing but also instructive.
These authors don't ignore the importance of kitchen safety. They offer several practical tips and also note that skills like peeling, cutting, and oven use require guidance from a grown-up. But by making their own snacks, children learn big lessons like resourcefulness and creativity.