When it comes to children’s snacks, there’s no doubt that the vast majority of foods that you make yourself at home are going to be vastly superior to anything you buy from a store. I’ve now assembled a repertoire of snacks that I make myself that the kids (mostly) like. I try to vary what I bake from week to week and I usually bake that little bit extra to ensure I’ve got a few options in the freezer.
We’ve said it before here at Bloom and we’ll say it again, the best way to ensure that you are providing your family with a healthy diet is to plan for it. I always think about what snack I’ll be baking for the week and make sure I include it on my shopping list. I also have a plan for when I’m cooking that snack (generally a Monday, when I also prep my salad bases for the week). I generally pack two snacks – one sweet (this is my home baked option) and a more savoury option (this is more likely to be a store bought item such as wholegrain crackers and cheese), and there’s always fruit, at least one serve, if not two. When it comes to fruit, again planning helps. Children need two serves of fruit each day. I frequently serve fruit smoothies as an after school snack and we also like a fruit platter after dinner. If I know I’m not going to be doing one of those two options, then I definitely pack two serves in the lunchbox. I’ll also pack an extra snack if my kids after school sport. Then there’s always some verge sticks and a dairy item included.
All things considered, none of us are superwoman and there are times when we all need to reach for packaged snacks to fill that hole in the lunchbox. I know for me that as the term wears on, I simply tire of the routine, and find myself reaching for a few more store bought snacks as I just need a break from it all.
So what do you reach for in those times? Below I share with you my top picks for store bought snacks, and few I’d recommend you avoid.
1. Raisin Toast
I really don’t think you can go past raisin toast (or fruit bread as it is also known) as a back up snack. I’ve always got a loaf in my freezer. Sure it has some added sugar, but most of the sugar comes from the added dried fruit. It’s low GI, filling and has around 120 calories per buttered slice (1 slice is plenty for a recess snack). Tip top have also just realised a wholemeal Raisin toast and that’s certainly got my tick of approval
2. Cheese and Crackers
Again another snack option that you can’t really go wrong with. I’m not really a fan of the pre-packaged cheese and biscuit packs as they cost a fortune. Even when you’re low on time you can still still grab a handful of crackers and cut a slice of cheese (or a cheese stick if you really need to). Not all crackers are created equal though. You definitely want to focus on buying a wholegrain variety (look for those with at least 4g of fibre per 100g) and with a sodium content less than 400mg/100g (harder to find).
My top picks would be Ryvita wholegrain crisp breads (I’d suggest breaking two in halves as they are larger), Vita-Wheat crisp bread range and crackers (note these all exceed 400mg of sodium/100g,but most are under 500g/100g) and the Mary’s Gone Crackers range (although please note these are a more expensive option).
Team with your child’s preferred cheese and you have a filling snack option high in fibre, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids (from the seeds), calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.
3. Roasted Chickpeas and Fava Beans
A newcomer to the snack market I think the texture of these products will appeal to many kids.
They come in plain (lightly salted), as well a variety of other flavours. I love that they come in individually wrapped portions so you can simply grab and chuck into the lunchbox. They also hit the mark for fibre content, sodium and overall calories, not to mention they also count towards your child’s daily intake of vegetables!
Another option that’s sure to be a hit with most kids that is filling and high in fibre. I’d recommend you check what type of oil your popcorn is cooked in (or better yet go for air popped, although many kids may find this too bland) and avoid any cooked in palm oil (a saturated fat we want to avoid).
Also look for those with a lower sodium content, ideally less than 400mg per 100g. I’d also stay away from any of the sweetened varieties, children don’t need the extra sugar in these products.
My pick would be Cobs natural sea salt variety. I buy it in the large packs and portion it out to save money, but if you’re really low on time you may prefer the individually packed option.
5. Muesli Bar
I couldn’t really compile this list without including a muesli bar, they’re a staple in many lunch boxes. There are a huge variety of muesli bars on the market and it can be hard to sort your way through them all and make a nutritious choice. In theory there’s lots to like about muesli bars. Made from wholegrain oats that contribute B-vitmains and fibre many have added dried fruit, seeds and nuts. All good. The problem is that they need something to stick them together. Here’s where the sugar comes in, and in many products it’s multiple different types of added sugar (one product I looked at contained glucose, sugar, invert sugar and honey and this is not unusual).
The second problem is that most schools in Australia are “Nut Free” which automatically rules out a lot of the products on the market. For the record I have less problem with the sugar in muesli bars that also contain a large amount of nuts, seeds and wholegrains. If the product overall is contributing lots of beneficial nutrients into the diet (think fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins) I’m more likely to be lenient on the sugar content. As I heard another dietitian say, “I judge sugar by the company it keeps”. I find many of the nut free muesli bars on the market are just oats and a large amount of sugar and are best avoided.
My two picks for commercial muesli bars would be the Nice and Natural Super Grains muesli Bar (apricot, coconut, spelt, and chia) and the Freedom Foods Ancient Grains muesli bar. Both contain just over 1 tsp of sugar per bar and are good sources of fibre.
Finally a word about packaged snacks I don’t like.
The one thing I do try to avoid in my kid’s lunch boxes are highly processed carbohydrate based snacks. I’m thinking savoury crackers that aren’t whole grain (eg Jatz or Ritz biscuits, water crackers and rice crackers). Many of these products have a very high sodium content and simply aren’t filling. Although the calorie content of rice crackers is low, you need a lot to fill you up. My kids could easily devour a packet and be looking for more food. I also prefer to stay away from snacks with a lot of added flavours, e.g. BBQ/pizza flavoured biscuits. In addition to being high in sodium, they represent flavours that simply aren’t present in whole foods. Whilst there is no evidence for this, I think the more kids have these highly flavoured foods, the more they seek them out, rather than learning to appreciate the natural flavour of whole foods.
Similarly, I also prefer to avoid cartoon themed packaged sweet biscuits that are particularly aimed at children. Whilst the calorie content of many of these products are kept low thanks to their small serve size, the reality is that they’re not much more than refined flour, sugar and flavour. Many have an “improved” nutrient profile with the addition of inulin (a form of soluble fibre), but i really think there are much better choices you could be making for your child.
I’d be lying if I said I never bought these snacks. My kids like to have what they see other kids with, so occasionally I do buy them, but for the most part my kids know these aren’t regular choices for them.
If you’d like more information about making good snack choices for your child’s lunchbox check out the rest in our series on School Lunches and Snacks for kids.
Julia @ Bloom 🌿