Many of us are excited about our kids going back to school, but the fall always adds more to our to-do lists. In the rush to get out of the house on time, it’s easy to fall back on stuffing snacks like chips and cookies into our kids’ lunchboxes.
However, packing healthy (and yummy) snacks can be pretty easy. The key is to plan ahead by having the foods that you want your family to eat stocked in your cupboards. That means making a grocery list and getting those foods into your house before school starts. When you’re meal planning, make sure to think of healthy snacks, too, as you make your grocery list.
At the grocery store, head for unprocessed foods. Americans’ average daily fiber intake falls far below the USDA’s recommendation, so we need to focus on foods that contain fiber: fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and starchy beans. But how can you turn these goodies into snacks? Here are a few ideas:
- Fruity and nutty: Pair fruit with some nuts or a nut butter or, if your child has a nut allergy, a seed butter such as sunflower seed butter.
- Hype up veggies: Keep fresh vegetables on hand. When your children are hungry, it’sa great time to tempt even the most vegetable-resistant ones with veggies you’ve already prepped: baby carrots, raw pieces of broccoli, sliced cucumbers or slivers of colorful bell peppers. Offer a dip to make the vegetables more appetizing. Hummus is a great option because it’s made from garbanzo beans, a great source of fiber. For a heartier snack, add whole-grain pita, flatbread or crackers.
- Smoothies to the rescue: It’s easy to stay stocked up on frozen fruits that you can pop into your blender with your child’s choice of milk options, whether that’s low-fat dairy or one of the many milk alternatives such as oat, almond or soy milk. If you’re using a milk alternative, look for an unsweetened version with a short ingredients list.
- Muffin mania: Making muffins with fruit and whole wheat flour is a healthy alternative to buying the muffins at the grocery store that have a lot of added sugars and are made with highly processed white flour.
- Corn tortillas are a comfort food: Corn tortillas, especially with some low-fat refried beans on top, are a great snack. For a pop of flavor, add some pico de gallo or salsa on top. Consider making it crispy like a chip, but without the extra oil, if you have an air fryer or oven.
- Yummy edamame: I love edamame as a portable snack idea, especially when you buy it in the pods. It’s fun to pop the seeds out and eat them. And the nice thing about edamame is that it’s a balanced food with protein, fat, complex carbohydrates and fiber.
- Don’t leave out leftovers: When you cook dinner, make more than you need, store it in the fridge and let it be the next day’s lunch—or snack.
- Breakfast on the go: A whole-grain waffle or bagel can be filling snacks. Top the waffle with some fruit or applesauce. To the bagel, add a nut butter, seed butter or hummus.
- Mix it up: Trail mix is always a quick favorite. Try customizing your own with your child’s favorite nuts, dried fruits and low-sugar cereals.
- Go pop!: Popcorn, a whole grain that also contains fiber, is a fan favorite! I recommend that you pop your popcorn from a kernel and avoid the processing that’s involved in microwave popcorn.
There’s a recurring theme here: Stick with unprocessed foods and try to get fiber from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. There are so many fast and delicious options that your family will enjoy on the go. Happy snacking!
Shannon Martin, RDN, MPH, has more than 20 years of experience in the nutrition field. As the mother of three active teenagers, she’s also an expert on healthy snacks that keep her daughters fed and energized while on the go. She is a partner at KidShape, a childhood wellness program.