Give yourself some grace, dear momma, and stock your cupboard with these 11 healthy packaged school snacks for kids to help you balance homemade food with real life!
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So here we are…
The start of the school year! I’ve got a handful of amazing back to school fall recipes up my sleeve that I just can’t wait to share with you. But first…my favorite packaged morning school snack ideas for back to school!
*Cue the real food police*
Packaged?! *Gasp!* Yes, my friends. Three kiddos into this school thing, I have discovered one key to keeping a happy household. That one thing is keeping momma sane. Keeping momma from burning out. Keeping momma…mentally healthy. And sometimes (for this momma at least), that means pulling a “better than most” packaged snack from my cupboard to take care of that dreaded morning snack for school.
Grace, dear momma…
Because we don’t give ourselves enough of it. Like, at all. Give yourself some grace dear momma who was up all night with a newborn and needs to get her preschooler to playgroup. Let up on yourself dear momma who has a brood of kids to get into the van by 8 for school. Take a deep breath and give yourself a break dear momma of that busy teen that you stayed up talking to just trying to help them figure out…life.
Because they are watching.
The kids. They are watching you. They are not only watching how you take care of yourself by choosing healthy meals to cook day in and day out, they are learning from you what self-care means. And sometimes self-care means taking a break from making things from scratch, admitting you cannot, in fact, do it all, and make some careful choices on some packaged items to reach for when life gets busy to avoid burn out.
I think most elementary school aged children have a morning snacktime. I struggled with this concept for years when the girls started school, because I typically never “snacked” my kids. They ate really balanced breakfasts, and when they got hungry again, we ate lunch, and then dinner. I found out real quick that doing a morning snack lead to un-eaten lunches, and that gets super frustrating. I bagged snack time all together…that is until school started. And truthfully, these school aged children do need a small snack most of the time to get them until the lunch hour. Eating breakfast at 7am and expecting a young, growing child to make it to noon without a snack is not going to happen.
Snack time goals
“Make every bite count” has always been a goal of mine, and if you have been around this blog long enough, you know that is always my mantra when it comes to anything kids are taking in as nourishment. You can check out my “9 Fast Prep School Snacks Post” for my favorite rotation of morning snacks that take some preparing. These work well for every age, are filling, nutritious, and satisfying. But in the last couple years, I have made a few packaged snacks a part of the morning snack rotation to give myself some grace on needing to prep *everything*. I use these packaged snacks for 2-3 out of the 5 school morning snacks during the week. Will that change as the years go by? Possibly. Is that what you have to do? Absolutely not. If you choose to make the morning snack something packaged every day, no one (at least in this community) is judging you.
How to make it into my approved packaged snack list!
I can guarantee this list is NOT inclusive of every packaged snack that has a great list of ingredients and is safe, nutritious, and satisfying. I find new items every year, which is fun and exciting, actually! The real food community is growing, and manufacturers are listening to where we are spending our dollars – and responding with making really great packaged choices for those times we just don’t have time to make things from scratch. Here are some of my criteria when I’m looking at something packaged:
- Zero high fructose corn syrup
- Very little to no added sugar
- Healthy fats only (no sunflower, safflower, soy, vegetable, canola oils)
- Zero food dyes
- Natural or zero preservatives
- Some sort of fat or protein for satiating – not just all fruit or all grain.
- Gluten free (many of these snacks are also dairy, grain, and egg free)
- Under $1.25 per snack to keep my budget happy
- And finally…something my kids will eat 😉
Couple final notes…and some ground rules
- Please, use the “shopping cart method” while browsing my snack list. If there is something you don’t agree with as “healthy,” simply leave that item “on the shelf” and move on. Pick up ideas from the list that appeal to you and check on out!
- Also, I realize that some of you are in nut free school zones. Our school is not a nut free zone, so I am able to use all of these. More than half of this list is nut free, so there is plenty to choose from.
- Finally, keep in mind this is a snack. Not a meal. My goal is not to make the girls “full” with this – it is something to give them some quick burning fuel, so they can make to lunch time. Meaning…I want them hungry at lunchtime! Morning snack time is a great break from classroom time – it’s a brain break and should be enjoyed!
I grab for Chia Squeeze Pouches over plain fruit pouches not only because of the mix of veggies with the fruit, but the added chia seed brings some satiating sustenance to the snack. They are nice a filling and taste great!
There are a lot of options to squeeze the nut butter pouches onto! My girls love dried banana chips to dip, so I’ll just toss some of those in our favorite snack container with a pouch. My only note to take on this one would be that the pouches works best for older children. My youngest (age 4) is messy with the pouches. You can scoop some nut butter from a jar into a condiment container to make this same snack, but again, I’m trying to keep the prep and wash up time at a minimum, so my older girls will take these for a morning snack. Also, keep in mind some of the Justin’s nut butter pouches are a bit high in sugar and other ingredients – just watch for that. I usually just get the plain almond butter, but occasionally our Meijer will put the Maple one on sale for a really great price and I’ll grab those (as you can see pictured!)
A staple for many real food families. There are so many options here now as well. The girls have really been loving the Fruit & Greens Larabars in addition to their regular flavors. They also enjoy the Nut & Seed Crunchy Larabar (they are so good!).
These were tough for me to find for a while, but in the last couple years there are some great brands out there that are also affordable. We like the SoGo Grassfed Beef Sticks, Field Trip Grassfed Beef Sticks, and we just got a brand new product from New Primal Brand called “Snack Mates” Meat Sticks For Kids, and they are fantastic! The New Primal brand also has meat sticks using chicken or turkey if your little one can’t have beef. The girls pack these alone, but if you have older kids, you could toss a slice of cheese or piece of fruit in there as well.
- UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2020 :: We found these Duke’s meat sticks at Costco this summer and have been enjoying them too! You can find them on Amazon as well if you don’t have Costco!
Guacamole or Hummus Dippers
Costco is my best friend on these items, but you can find them just about any store now. I like the Organic Wholly Guacamole Minis, and the Kirkland Organic Hummus. Pack along veggie sticks if you don’t mind the prep – I tend to load up the girls’ lunchboxes with veggies, so I toss Simple Mills Crackers (I get the crackers at Costco too), or Plantain Chips in with these. The dippers and crackers fit in the medium size of these snack boxes we have had for years and love! (Please note the hummus does have sunflower oil. The Kirkland hummus is organic/non-gmo so to use for every once and a while, I don’t worry about it. I have yet to find a hummus dipper mini with good oils – please let me know if you find one!)
- UPDATE AUGUST 2019: I FOUND ONE!!! We are seriously in love with these Lilly’s brand hummus cups and they are a GREAT portion size for kids – perfect for packing and the best part is that the hummus is made with organic chickpeas AND olive oil instead of junky oils!!!!
- UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2020: I found another great hummus AND black bean dip single pack that uses olive oil and great ingredients! These Go-Go Dippers are so great and they taste so good!
I like the ingredients on this Calm flavor and Purify flavor the best, and these are my oldest’s favorite snack. One note for you on these would be that they are bigger than most pouches. My youngest (4 years old, almost 5) rarely finishes a whole pouch. I tend to opt for the Chia Squeeze above for her if we want to do pouches. But because these are bigger, they make a great option for older children that might not feel filled up after the smaller pouches.
The Enjoy Life Seed & Fruit Packs are fantastic especially if you are in a nut free school zone and the kids want some trailmix! This is the only snack on the list that has some added sugar in the form of a few mini chocolate chips per pouch – super minimal. My kids love these. My only hang up with them, is that my youngest cannot open the pouch easily. When I pack it for her, I dump it in our favorite snack box. You can also buy the seed & fruit mix in a big pouch to take handfuls from for snack boxes.
Salty and crispy, Seaweed Snacks are a fun one to munch on, and full of nutrients! Be very mindful of ingredients when you look for seaweed though. Many seaweed snacks use questionable oils and have soy or other flavorings that do not meet my criteria for a snack to use regularly. In this GimMe brand I go for the one that says Olive Oil, and the ingredients are minimal and safe.
These granola clusters are super tasty, and I love that the nuts and seeds are sprouted. Great ingredient list too. I just toss a handful into our favorite snack box for the girls to take along to school.
The Kind Pressed Fruit & Chia bars are just fruit, veg, and chia seed! That’s it! These are nice portions, filling, and taste really good! Our Meijer puts them on sale a lot so I snag them that way most of the time, but the Amazon pricing is decent too.
UPDATE AUGUST 2019!
Isn’t it so cool that companies are coming out with healthy packaged snack ideas all the time! Mommas they are LISTENING!!! Since this post was written, I do want to let you know that I have found another new bar that we just love with super clean ingredients. These make a great morning snack or lunchbox filler! The Health Warrior Pumpkin Seed bars are GREAT! Super simple ingredients and we have tried both the honey and maple syrup flavors with all 3 girls giving them thumbs up. My middle kiddo thinks the honey flavor is “too sweet” for her – but that is coming from kiddos that truly don’t get a lot of sugar. I think these will be a great addition to your pantry. They are nut free, but the packaging does say that they are processed on machinery that handles nuts, so keep that in mind.