Put snack packing on auto-pilot with this list of 15 portable healthy snacks for kids that you can rotate!
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School snack time…my nemesis…
Ok, so that might be a strong word. But if you have been around this space long enough, and have read my other school snack posts (my very first snack post, written when I had littles, all about preschool snacks here, and the ever popular, healthy store-bought school snack post here), then you know that I have kind of a love hate relationship with the morning snack at school.
A vital necessity
It isn’t that I don’t think the kids need it. Many of these kids are having breakfast at 7:30 am or earlier and don’t have a lunch period until 12:30pm or 1 – the morning snack helps bridge that long gap. It has more to do with the time and thought going into packing one…more…thing…for the day. We spend time packing thoughtful, balanced lunchboxes, and the morning snack matters too. Popping an easy bag of pretzels or crackers in their bag is tempting, but defeats the purpose of helping kids focus until the lunch period. Carb loading without a balance of fat or protein only sugar crashes these kids who rapidly use up whatever energy their body is given as their brains work hard in class, and their bodies work hard at playing and growing.
Busy momma, I see you.
I get that it is one more thing to pack. I understand that you are already trying to balance their breakfast and lunchboxes for school, and the snack seems insignificant. But I am here to tell you I have seen the kids in these classrooms carb crash with my own two eyes. These teachers are doing their best to help the kids make it to lunchtime, and could use a little help. Packing a balanced snack does NOT need to be hours of homemade “Pinterest Mom” creations. It can be as simple as adding a protein or fatty rich sidekick to that bag of crackers, such as hummus cups, cheese, guacamole cups, boiled egg, or nut/seed butter. The protein/fat will slow the carb burn and satiate their hunger for that extra hour or two until lunch. It really can be that simple…
So I say, let’s simplify it
A few years back I was getting burned out from snack packing, and decided that my oldest was old enough to be in charge of her morning snack (she was in 2nd grade at the time). One less thing off my plate! Since she was still learning how to pair the right foods as a balanced snack, I made her a list of options she could choose from each day. That rumpled up piece of paper is still in the cupboard, and now my middle kiddo has joined her in independently packing her own school morning snack. It is a list of simple, easy pairings filled with variety, and the best part is that each snack idea requires ZERO help from me. Two kiddos down, and 1 to learn! I’ve almost got this whole school snack packing thing completely off my plate!
My gift to you, dear momma
I want to gift this to your home. I spent some time making a kid friendly, colorful chart filled with my morning snack time ideas that you can use for your own kids. The chart can hang inside a cupboard in the kitchen for your big kids to refer to when packing their own snacks, and if you have littles in the house, they can help pick their snacks from the chart as well. And because I know this list of snacks is not all inclusive, and you may have different diet restrictions we do not have, I am also gifting you a blank chart that you can fill in yourself. You can tailor each snack choice to your household and the kids can pick from your list. If you have access to a laminator, you can mark up your chart with a dry erase marker week after week with new choices based on what you have in the house!
So here is a breakdown of these snack choices so you can see them up close and give the kids a visual for how this can be packed. I would recommend supervision the snack making/packing for a bit so that you can help them choose appropriate portions for their age/appetite, and also help them with strategies for cleaning up. Remember, you can adjust the portion sizes in these snacks for your kids’ ages and appetites. No 2 kiddos are a like! Be sure to check out the TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL SNACK PACKING below the snack visuals!
1. CRACKERS & HUMMUS
Use snack pack hummus cups, or make your own hummus for a dip container (my own super simple, super smooth hummus recipe will be in the Staples chapter of my new cookbook, “The Little Lunchbox Cookbook,” on pre-order now!) and pack your favorite crackers! I prefer to keep an eye on the oils in store bought hummus to avoid rancid oils like sunflower, canola, soy, or safflower oils, and I’ve found the Lilly’s hummus cups to be the best using olive oil. The crackers pictured here are Mary’s Gone Crackers GF crackers. (Snack box pictured below is the Sistema Small Split)
- UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2020 :: I found these really great Go-Go Dipper hummus and black bean dip cups this summer and they taste so good! Another great option using olive oil!
2. CELERY WITH SPREAD OF CHOICE & RAISINS
Spread options are endless here! Nut butters or seed butters are typically the go-to, but spreadable soft goat cheese is a favorite here, and cream cheese is yummy too! (Snack box pictured below is the Planetbox Round container that comes with Planetbox lunchboxes. They can also be sold separately.)
3. COCONUT CLUSTERS
Store bought or homemade for this one, dear momma! Do what you can! I will say that the homemade version is very cost effective AND super fast to prep – just 5 minutes! These sweet, crunch clusters are super kid friendly and packed with fat and fiber from the coconut! (Snack box pictured in this post is the Sistema Snacks To-Go)
4. MEAT STICK/JERKY WITH CRACKERS & CHEESE
These are my favorite kid friendly meat sticks, but you can use anything you like! Just watch those ingredients. As far as the crackers and cheese go, use your favorite crackers (pictured here are the Simple Mills Almond Crackers) and the best cheese you can afford. Pictured here is a spreadable goat cheese my kids love – you can spread or dip! (Snack box pictured below is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the medium size. I used our Planetbox condiment container for the goat cheese.)
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2020 :: We found these little Duke’s meat sticks at Costco this summer and love them too! You can get them on Amazon as well just in case your Costco doesn’t have them!
5. YOGURT WITH GRANOLA
Get whatever is the best full fat yogurt you can afford (coconut milk yogurt would be a great option for dairy free kids). You can make your own granola (very cost effective and easy!), or purchase a quality store bought granola for the pantry. (Snack box pictured below is the Sistema Snack Capsule To Go)
6. VEGGIES WITH FULL FAT DIP
I find raw veg to be slower to eat for little ones, but as your kids get older, this makes a great crunchy snack! Let them use a crinkle cutter to make the veggies super fun dipping vehicles too! You can see a full list of kid friendly dips here to make at home, or these are a good store bought brand with healthy oils. (Snack box pictured below is the Sistema Snack Attack To Go)
7. HEALTHY GRANOLA BAR
The sky is the limit here. Since my kids started school, the demand for healthier granola bar options has sky rocketed, and companies are hearing you, dear momma! There are many brands out there using heathier oils, less sugar, and better ingredients all around! My favorite store bought granola bars are the Autumn’s Gold and these Healthy Warrior nut free bars. Of course making your own will almost always be more cost effective – and I’ve got 2 on the blog you can try! This nut free chewy granola bar, and this nut free crunchy buckwheat and apricot granola bar! (Snack box pictured below with the homemade bar is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the small size)
8. FRUIT SLICES OR FRUIT CHIPS WITH NUT/SEED BUTTER OR COCONUT BUTTER
From fresh apple slices or apple chips to a banana or banana chips, this is always a fun snack. The pantry dried fruit chips make winter packing much more affordable when fresh fruit is expensive. Sunbutter will work best for nut free school zones, but I encourage you to also try coconut butter – it is basically the flesh of a coconut blended into a smooth butter. It is sweet and creamy – so good! (Snack box pictured below is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the medium size.)
9. MUFFIN LEFT FROM BREAKFAST WITH BUTTER
Tuesday’s are muffin mornings here, and with a pan of a dozen muffins, there are leftovers for snacks! Our favorite breakfast muffins that pack well for snacks are these protein banana muffins, GF blueberry muffins, GF paleo mini banana muffins, GF oat bran muffins, and these GF baked oatmeal muffins. Get a big smear of butter on those muffin halves and that is one easy peasy snack! (Snack box pictured below is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the small size.)
10. HARD BOILED EGG WITH FRUIT CHOICE
Every Sunday, I hard boil a dozen eggs so that there is a container of easy to grab snacks in the fridge. They keep for 5 days so it is perfect for the school week. Let the kids pick whatever in season fruit you bought for the week, or dried fruit from the pantry. Figs and dates are so rich in minerals, so I always keep a bag of those in the pantry! (Snack box pictured below is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the medium size.)
11. HEALTHY TRAIL MIX
Homemade or store bought here, dear momma! Do what you can! Homemade will tend to be more cost effective, and you can control the ingredients in bit more if you are in a nut free school. There is one really great seed based store bought trail mix that we love though from Enjoy Life! If you need that convenience, these are great, and they come in snack pack bags or larger trail mix bags to pack yourself. (Snack box pictured below is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the small size.)
12. UNSWEETENED FRUIT POUCH WITH CHOICE OF FAT/PROTEIN
We love these fruit and veggie pouches and chia squeezes, and there are so many other safe/organic brands to choose from, so get whatever is the best that you can afford. You can give the kids a choice of fat/protein to go with their pouch based on what you have for the week. Things like hard boiled eggs, jerky, cheese, olives, or nuts/seeds are all great choices. (Snack box pictured below is the Sistema Small Split)
13. NUTS OR SEEDS WITH FIG OR DATE AND CHEESE
Super simple, and easy to eat! This is a popular one in my house. Figs and dates are rich in minerals for busy kids and keep in the pantry well. (Snack box pictured below is the Kid Basix Safe Snacker in the small size.)
14. MINI LARABAR OR ENERGY BITES WITH FAT/PROTEIN OF CHOICE
Larabars are great snacks. If you have older kids you could pack them a full size Larabar, or if you have younger children, the mini Larabars are great. Since they are mostly dates (fruit), I like to pack the minis with a fat or protein of choice such as olives, cheese, jerky, or boiled egg. Energy bites are also fun to make (there is a chocolate covered banana energy bite recipe in my new cookbook, “The Little Lunchbox Cookbook,” on pre-order now!). (Snack box pictured below is the Planetbox Round container that comes with Planetbox lunchboxes. They can also be sold separately.)
15. GUACAMOLE CUP WITH TORTILLA CHIPS OR CRACKERS
We get these little guac cups at Coscto, but just about every grocery store carries them now! Pack them with some tortilla chips or crackers and this super fun snack will become a quick favorite! (Snack box pictured below is a Lunchbot Duo)
Tips for successful snack packing
A little planning goes a long way, and I want to see you succeed in this, dear momma. Here are a few tips that I have learned throughout the years to make snack/lunch packing smooth and fast.
- Food prep. On Sundays I typically hard boil a dozen eggs for the week, and make a jar of dip or dressing for veggies. It takes me all of 15 minutes and really sets me up for easy packing. The girls know where the container of eggs is for quick snack packing, and always have a veggie dip available as well. Once a month (yes just ONCE a month), I’ll stock my pantry with “something” – sometimes that “something” is granola or granola bars, and sometimes it’s trail mix. I have a shelf for these in my pantry in a spot that is easy to access for the girls to pack their own snacks.
- Snack access. The rest of the snack items (such as nuts/seeds, pouches, and bars in the pantry, and then fruit/veggies, cheese, etc in the fridge) are kept in easy to reach spots in the pantry or fridge so that they don’t have to go digging through my things making a bigger mess. The time it takes to quick organize a shelf of snacks in the pantry and fridge is SO worth saving your frustration, dear momma!
- Easy to use gear. Let me tell you…I have been through a LOT of lunch gear and snack box gear. I get things sent to me to try out all the time, and I have also purchased a lot on my own. Have a cupboard or drawer designated for your snack boxes that the kids can reach without your help so that you don’t have to search around for things. I have linked each snack box you saw in the snacks above – the ones pictured are my favorite brands.
- Set them up for success. Explain your snack packing expectations. If you have older kids packing their own snacks, use the “Notes” section on the side of your chart to list your expectations. For instance, maybe you want to say that they can only repeat the same snack twice in one week so you can ensure they are getting variety. Or maybe you have a certain day of the week that you want something used up. Or maybe that week you don’t have a certain item on the list, so you want to let them know that that isn’t an option this week. My girls know that my rule on packaged, store-bought snacks (such as a packaged granola bar, jerky, or pouches) is 2 per week; it isn’t that they aren’t healthy – it is for saving my budget! For your littles, you can help them pick what snacks on the chart they want to eat for the week. Do NOT send new food to school without trying it at home first. This will end in un-eaten snacks and frustrated kids.