Given the hectic weekday schedules of all members of the family, it’s difficult enough to get a healthful dinner on the table, much less worry about what kids are eating for snacks. Combined with different afterschool activity schedules, appetites, and palates, it’s near impossible to find a snack (and snack time) that will work for everyone.

Which is why it might be time to transform a shelf of your refrigerator to a “self-serve snack station.” This shelf, preferably at a lower height so everyone can easily see what’s on it, is filled with nutritious goodies that your kids can help themselves too—no need to ask their parents (and no need for parents to tend to doling out snacks). Parents instead prep the snack shelf on Sunday or Monday with enough food to last until Friday afternoon.

This allows mom and dad to have control over what the kids are snacking on, while allowing the kids the freedom to eat what they want when they want. (Within reason—you might want to have a “closing time” an hour or so before dinner.)

Having the ability to choose their snack helps sell a lot of snacks that might have been groaned at otherwise. The key behind the snack shelf is to stock it with plenty of foods that are good for your family (when was the last time you were worried your child was eating too many carrot sticks?) It takes a little prep work but it is well worth the effort.

First, start with the staples. Every week try to have a variety of items from the list. All food should be ready to eat (you’ve already done all the peeling, slicing, or other prep work necessary) and are preferably finger foods. Here are some staples to consider:

  • Ants on a log (celery sticks filled with peanut butter topped with raisins)
  • Carrot sticks, with ranch dip in a small Tupperware container
  • Edamame
  • Bags of apple slices
  • Melon wedges
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • String cheese
  • Mini low fat yogurts
  • Dried peaches
  • Individual bags of raisins or dried cranberries
  • Individual bags of trail mix

Then once or twice a week, surprise them with one of the “specials” of the house. The element of the unknown makes hitting the snack shelf even more fun—and makes sugary, processed foods a thing of the past. Here are a few ideas:

Homemade Guacamole

  • 3 avocadoes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa
  • 2 tablespoons low fat sour cream

Using a knife, remove the avocado pits. Then using a spoon, scoop out the avocado flesh and cut into two-inch cubes. Place in a mixing bowl and add lemon juice, salsa, and sour cream. Mix on low speed until the dip is well blended and creamy.

Turkey Rollups

  • 1 sheet of hye roller flatbread
  • 4 ounces of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons low fat ranch dressing
  • 4 slices turkey
  • ½ cucumber, thinly sliced

In a small bowl, whisk together the soft cream cheese with the ranch dressing. Using a small butter knife or offset spatula spread the cream cheese mixture to completely cover the top side of the flatbread. Lay slices of the turkey and cucumber atop the cream cheese. Roll up from the short side and slice into two-inch mini rolls. To store in the refrigerator, place a damp paper towel on top of the sandwiches (this prevents drying) and cover with plastic wrap.

Cashew Crunch Parfait

  • 2 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup cashew pieces
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained
  • low fat French vanilla yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl add the oats, cashews, vegetable oil and maple syrup and stir until well combined. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the oat mixture over it evenly. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring the mix every five minutes for even cooking. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

To assemble parfaits, use small clear glasses. Alternate layers of yogurt with layers of the berries. Leave room at the top of the glass and your child can sprinkle the cashew crunch on top to finish off the parfait (store in a plastic container next to the refrigerator for easy access).