I remember my childhood in the USA, getting home for snack time after school. I remember a lot of granola bars, yogurts, fruit, and cereal. Snacks weren't necessarily balanced, but a chocolate and sugar-laden treat was not in the list of options. It felt shocking to move to Paris and see kids walking around with chocolate sandwiches after school!
The Classic Goûter
Here in France, kids from maternelle and up will often have goûter (afternoon snack) with a parent or caregiver when they are picked up. Traditional after-school snacks often include baguette-chocolate sandwiches (yes, chocolate tablets tucked into baguette sliced length-wise!), pastries from a local boulangerie, packaged cookies from the supermarket, and compote (applesauce) pouches. Some kids also have gouter at school, which often looks like a fruit, a baked good (cookies or small cakes) and sometimes milk or drinkable yogurt.
While there are certainly variations on the theme as well as exceptions, most of the time French goûter is a sugar-laden affair. Not to mention that some kids double down on sugar, having cookies and cakes at school followed by another sugary bakery item at pickup time as well. The idea of a "healthy snack" is not part of the French vocabulary most of the time!
The Benefits of Boulangerie Snacks
There is a positive to note about this French tradition, which is the fact that they get devalued because of the frequency. When we save sweet foods and baked goods only for special occasions and label them as "treats," kids learn that these foods are special in some way and therefore hold a higher value compared to other foods. These foods become the desired prize, and when these foods are available it can be difficult to manage kids' expectations and to keep portions reasonable. Alternatively, with the French method of regularly offering sweet foods, kids understand that these items can be a part of a regular healthy diet and that they can rely on having these foods somethings which reduces the perceived value. Basically, they learn that sometimes we eat broccoli and sometimes we eat chocolate. They serve different purposes and both can be delicious.
That said, the French way isn't the only way! As a dietitian I know the importance of balance, and I believe the classic goûter is lacking in that department. An ideal snack should include some produce and some protein, healthy fats are a bonus. Sweet foods and baked goods can absolutely be part of this too. Let's take a classic goûter as an example of how it could be more balanced: let's say there is a cake on the menu or you bring a bakery treat for pickup time. Simple add some produce (an apple, a compote pouch, carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, some clementines...) and a protein source (cheese, almonds, sunflower seeds, salami, crispy chickpeas, peanuts...) et voila! Balance achieved!
Looking for a different strategy? Here are some fun and balanced ideas and recipes for on-the-go snacks:
Hummus and cherry tomato rollup (Spread a whole grain tortilla with hummus, layer on halved or quartered cherry tomatoes, and roll.)
PBJ rollup + fruit (Spread peanut butter or almond butter and jam on a slice of whole wheat bread or tortilla and roll. Serve with fruit.)
Ham and cheese rollup + fruit (On a whole grain tortilla or bread, spread hummus or mayo if desired, layer a slice of ham/jambon blanc and a slice of cheese, and roll.)
Homemade fresh fruit trail (Mix blueberries or grapes, nuts and seeds of choice, and chocolate chips in a small container.)
Kid-friendly energy bites (A family favorite- pecans and coconut mixed in.)
Mini sandwich crackers (Spread almond butter or hummus between two whole grain crackers to make a small "sandwich" and serve with fruit.)
Chocolate peanut butter banana bites (Thinly slice banana, spread peanut butter or other nut/seed butter on a slice, layer another banana slice on top to make a "sandwich." Freeze 15 minutes, then coat in melted chocolate. Keep in the fridge until school pickup.)
Kid apero plate: strips of comté, almonds, mini saucisson, radishes
Smoothies packed in water bottles or reusable cups with wide straws (try this delicious sweet potato smoothie!)
Crispy chickpeas + cucumber slices
Sweet and salty popcorn + fruit
Share in the comments... what are your favorite goûter selections? What are some recipes that your kids love?
About the author:
Stephanie Rink, MS, RD, LDN is a US-trained Registered Dietitian with nearly 10 years of experience helping expat families feel confident about food choices for themselves and their growing families. She offers nutrition coaching services for families looking to expand, pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children through a family-inclusive and intuitive eating lens. You can find more information at www.littlesproutnutrition.com.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of Message. Message cannot be held responsible for any information contained in or omitted from this article.