With back to school coming in full swing, it’s time to get back into the groove of prepping and packing weekly lunches for your family—or more importantly, deciding which healthy snacks are best to include in your kids’ lunchboxes to ensure they get a well-balanced assortment of foods that can fuel them throughout the day.
“Snacks are like meal supplements; they are foods that you might include in your kids meal rotations, but that can also be eaten separately,” explains Jessica Sylvester, MS, RD, LDN, CNSC, CDCES, clinical dietitian, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and owner of Florida Nutrition Group.
Whether your children are picky eaters or mini foodies with big appetites, you’ll want to find healthy snacks that are not only nutritious but also still taste good. This way, you kids can enjoy snacking—and you’ll actually want to join in and have some of their snacks, too.
Why it’s important to pack healthy snacks in school lunches
Additionally, as the parent or main guardian to your children, you are their primary role model in every aspect, including personal diet. Therefore, it’s imperative that you provide healthy snacks to your kids that you would also eat and can enjoy.
“Kids learn by modeling; they are more likely to eat foods that their caregivers eat,” Sylvester says. “If they don’t eat the snacks you provide, you yourself can eat them and feel confident knowing that you are contributing to your well-being and saving money by preventing waste.”
Below are a few healthy snack suggestions selected by some of our dietitians, which are sure to enhance any packed lunch. Whether ready to go or easy to create, each option is a delicious and nutritious snack you and your kids are sure to love down to the last bite!
Sylvester explains that like gas to a car engine, glucose—aka sugar—is what fuels us.
“My biggest recommendation when choosing a snack is to read the ingredient label to make sure there is no added sugar,” Sylvester says. “All carbohydrates break down to glucose. Fruits and vegetables are carbs; they provide an adequate amount of glucose for our system, as well as important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber.”
“When food companies add sugars to packaged foods, they decrease the nutritional value of those foods, and prime our palates to expect extreme sweetness with most meals,” Sylvester says.
Consequently, the expectation for extreme sweet flavors that your mouth can get accustomed to via an excess of packaged foods may mute the natural sweetness experienced from biting into a fresh mango or roasted butternut squash, she adds. For kids, this means a lesser likelihood of food acceptance.
“It’s why we save sugars for dessert and dessert for last,” Sylvester says.
To encourage your kids to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, Sylvester recommends cutting them up into bite-sized pieces. “Cutting them into fun shapes [by using cookie cutters] helps, too,” she says.
If cutting up fruits and veggies won’t do, it’s worth trying a different method.
“Since I first discovered [pureed fruit and vegetable pouches] pouches five years ago, the market for them has exploded,” says Sylvester. “There are so many different varieties, brands, and combinations of foods today.”