Packing school snacks every morning can be hard work. It’s convenient to toss a few single-serve packaged options into your kids’ school bag, especially if that’s what they ask for. And why wouldn’t they? Snack foods are widely promoted on TV and online ads directed at children.
But cookies, pretzels and gummy bears miss out on the nutrients children need to fuel their busy school day. The good news? Healthy whole foods can be just as convenient for school snacking.
Why snacks matter
With smaller tummies than adults, children get hungry between meals.
More than a third of a child’s daily calories come from foods they eat between meals. That’s a big chunk of the food that they eat each day! So, it makes sense to get some protein, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in at snack time.
The truth is that many packaged items are treats, not snacks. A treat has more sugar, salt and fat than a snack, and is typically made from ultra-processed ingredients.
What constitutes a healthy and nutritious snack for a child? Here’s what I look for:
- The snack is an unprocessed, whole, real food, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds or cheese
- If the snack is packaged:
- it is only minimally processed, like milk made into yogurt (not ultra-processed, like corn made into multi-coloured sugary cereal)
- it does not have refined flour, starch, sugar or hydrogenated oil as the main ingredient (it’s not a treat like candy, chips or baked goods)
- the Nutrition Facts panel shows at least 3 grams of fibre or protein, or ideally both!
- it contains no more than 160 mg sodium per serving
- most of the sugar is natural – from fruit or milk.
Whole food choices: It’s just as easy to toss an apple into their school bag as it is to add chips. These whole food snacks are good options:
- any fruit: apple, pear, banana, strawberries, grapes, etc.
- easy vegetable sticks: cucumber, carrot, celery, peppers, etc.
- cheese string
- air-popped popcorn
- trail mix with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and raisins (add nuts if allowed at school).
Better packaged snacks: Sometimes you don’t have time for homemade snacks, and that’s okay. Not all packaged snacks are ultra-processed foods! Here are some great options if you’re short on time:
- hummus and whole grain crackers or baby carrots
- roasted chickpeas
- Greek yogurt cups
- bean or lentil crackers
- kale chips.
Any of the above options are great for a post-school snack. But with a fridge nearby, you can add a bit of pizzazz with these ideas too:
- Banana wraps with nut, seed or soy butter
- Fruit skewers dipped in Greek yogurt
- Steamed edamame (green soy beans you buy frozen)
- Homemade snack bites (mixtures of seeds and dried fruit with nut, seed or soy butter, rolled into balls)
- Low-salt whole wheat tortillas and homemade guacamole.
And finally, here are some substitutes to boost the nutrition of standard fare:
- Chocolate- or yogurt-coated granola bars
- Fruit chews, gummies or roll-ups
- Chips or pretzels
- Packaged cookies or cereal bars
- Fruit drinks or juice
- Veggies with ranch dip
- Toaster pastries
- Uncoated granola bars
- Raisins, figs or dried apricots
- Air-popped popcorn
- Homemade whole grain muffins
- Fresh fruit
- Veggies with Greek yogurt
- Whole grain bread with nut, seed or soy butter and jam