It’s that time of year when lots of folks are tempted to lay in a big supply of packaged snack foods for kids’ lunches. It’s hard for kids to resist the wide array of colorful pre-packaged snacks and treats, and let’s face it—they are easy for parents to use as lunch/snack time “filler” food. And yes, parents like them too, for keeping in the gym bag for a quick nosh before the gym, etc. My problem with most of these snacks are 1) they usually are not healthful snacks, but merely supply calories, fat, sugar and sodium. 2) They packaging is wasteful. 3) The prices—all those little bags of treats add up fast when you’re quickly tossing a few into a your kids’ backpack or lunchbox.
Here are a few ideas that may help you wean your family off the packaged snacks and onto more nutritious fare, while still providing the convenience you need.
Buy pantry staples in bulk and repackage them yourself
This is the most obvious answer to the problem—purchasing a large package instead of many smaller ones, or using bulk bin items. The trick is to only buy those items that are on the healthier end of the snack spectrum. Opt for whole grain crackers over pretzels, graham crackers over cookies, and dried fruit over fruit snacks/strips (apricots, nectarines and prunes are favorites at our house). Then you can repack a reasonable serving (check for the appropriate serving size on the Nutrition Facts label) of these items into single serving containers or reusable snack-sized bags or pouches and have a week’s worth of snacks at the ready come Monday morning. This is also helpful for adults who are watching their caloric intake, and for self-serve after-school snacking.
Invest in some reusable containers
Pinterest is packed with cute lunch packaging ideas and greener options than plastic baggies.
- Reusable snack baggies, such as these are easy to find online, or make your own (again, lots of instructions available online).
- Ecofriendly silicone pouches are easily wiped clean.
- Stainless steel storage containers in smaller sizes let you portion out wet things like applesauce or yogurt with no chance of leakage.
- Bento boxes with multiple little containers within a larger container make it easy to put together several small portions of foods (and there are lots of neat bento boxes for kids and adults if you search online).
Make snacks ahead on the weekend
Yes, this one requires you to plan ahead a bit and learn to make a few recipes on your own. Here are some of the easier snack foods to produce at home for weekday snacking:
- Granola bars/snack bars/breakfast bars can be easily made at home and the best part is they are endlessly customizable.
- Snack mix using cereal, dried fruit and soy nuts/nuts (check with your child’s school if you want to send this in as many schools do not allow nuts anymore) are fun for kids to help put together and package. This also makes a great pre-gym snack for adults or for kids before sports practice.
- Quick bread such as zucchini bread, banana bread and pumpkin bread are easy to make healthful with swaps such as using white whole wheat flour or alternative flours, and are a great place to add in wholesome ingredients like ground flax or chia seeds. Plus, you can bake the batter in mini-muffin cups (or regular muffin cups) and keep the muffins in the freezer, taking out what you need for the day in the morning or night before.
- Fruit salad is a favorite with kids and adults, and lets you feature seasonal produce along with perennial favorites. You can also make your own fruit leather!