Pack your kids’ lunches with these surefire hit snacks

One mom shares the lunchbox treats that get rave reviews
By Alyssa Walker  Published on 08/30/2018 at 11:57 AM EDT

Welcome to a new school year! Welcome to another 180ish days of making healthy, inspiring, and can’t-wait-to-eat lunches! Gone is the age of a tuna fish sandwich, bag of Cheetos and slightly warm apple juice in a thermos. We’ve entered a new era, with an unprecedented level of Pinterest-inspired lunch box competition: fruit in fun-to-eat shapes, bento boxes, homemade soda water, sandwich cutters, cute ice packs, and lunch box reviews, which, I’ll admit, I love reading. But, fret not. You can do it, and you don’t have to go crazy in the process.

In our house, healthy eating is important, so a packed lunch is the perfect opportunity to not only instill, but to reinforce the idea that nutritious eating can be delicious and definitely not boring. Tired of the usual suspects? Check out these 10 ideas for snacks that my kids love, that have earned my parental seal of approval, and require as much–or as little–as you want to put into them.

Bon appetit!

Hannah Goldstein
Frozen Energy Bites

These frozen protein bites are chock-full of goodness, and the recipe has plenty of room for adaptations for food allergies and personal preferences. My favorite add-in? Chocolate chips. My kids like them covered in coconut! Yum!

I adapted this recipe from the NOLS Cookery, the official cookbook of the National Outdoor Leadership School. It makes about 20-30 nuggets, which can be frozen and defrosted to an edible temperature by snack time!


  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and/or chopped nuts (walnuts, cashews, or almonds, smashed)
  • 1 cup of any combination of raisins, craisins, or small pieces of dried fruit, chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, etc. Experiment with what you like!
  • 1/2 cup hydrated oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup nut butter or sunflower seed butter (I like SunButter)!
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk (regular, soy, coconut)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 cup plain dried regular or instant oatmeal
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • A few drops of vanilla
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup whole wheat flour


  1. Mix all ingredients together except flour and sugar.
  2. Gradually add flour until the mixture becomes less sticky.
  3. Refrigerate for at least a half hour. NOLS tells you to let rest in a cool place for 20 minutes, but longer refrigeration works great!
  4. Pinch off small amounts and roll into small, 2-inch nuggets.
  5. Optional: Coat in coconut by shaking nuggets, 3-4 at a time, in a one-gallon bag with shredded coconut.
  6. Nuggets are ready to eat! Store all in a sealed container or plastic bag in the freezer.
Homemade Trail Mix

The beauty of making your own trail mix? You decide. You can make nut-free, gluten-free or soy-free versions of any trail mix.

Key points:

  • You need equal parts of at least three ingredients. You can go higher than six, but then it gets complicated.
  • Those three ingredients should include a starch, a protein and a fruit (or veggie).
  • Stick with sweet or savory. Don’t mix and match.
  • The kids love shaking the container after they make it!

My kids love having a say in the variations every week, and I pack them small containers in every lunch. The options are nearly limitless.

Some of our favorite ingredients:

Starches: Cheerios, Puffins, multi-grain squares, pretzel bits, dark chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, M&M’s

Proteins: sunflower seeds, peanuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds

Dried Fruit: dried cherries, apricots, raisins, cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, coconut

Shake-up your trail mix-up and voilá! Store in the pantry, or even better–the freezer!

Homemade Hummus

This favorite may require additional refrigeration. Since my kids don’t have the option at school, I pack it with a small, lunch-box friendly ice pack. This year, I’m contemplating these cute penguin ones.

I pack it with cut-up pita and a few carrot and cucumber slices.


  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 3 cups cooked chickpeas (or 2 cans, rinsed & drained)
  • 3-4 Tbsp. tahina (it’s creamier than traditional tahini and delicious)
  • 3-4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 – 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
  • cayenne & cumin to taste—optional
  • paprika to sprinkle on top—optional


  1. Whiz together everything EXCEPT the olive oil in a food processor.
  2. Once the mixture is combined, pour 1/4-1/2 cup of olive oil through the feed tube with the food processor running.
  3. Taste for flavor.
  4. Season to taste, if desired, cayenne and cumin, and correct the salt.
  5. Enjoy!

If your kids aren’t into chickpeas, you can substitute with black beans or cannellini beans.


This requires no preparation, other than finding and purchasing one that you and your kids like.

Seaweed is healthy, delicious, and fun to eat. It’s loaded with nutrients, and nori, the kind typically found in seaweed snacks, is especially high in vitamins A and C.

Concerned about salt content? Don’t worry too much. While seaweed snacks are high in sodium, you can work them into a balanced diet and the pros outweigh the cons by a long shot.

We like SeaSnax. Try all the flavors (including wasabi, chipotle and toasty onion) and pick the one you like best!

Roasted Chickpeas

No, I’m not crazy. These are as fun to eat as chips and pack a crunchy, salty protein punch. My kiddos love them—I pack a handful in a small container with lunch.

Make a big batch and save some for at-home salad-toppers, or just for snacks.


  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder—optional
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained


  1. Preheat an oven to 350ºF.
  2. Whisk everything except chickpeas in a small bowl; add the chickpeas and coat. Spread into a single layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Roast in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally until nicely browned and slightly crispy, about 45 minutes to an hour.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge if you don’t use them all immediately.


Popcorn is fun to eat by itself. If you want to add a protein kick to it with a salty, cheesy taste, sprinkle some nutritional yeast on top.

Nutritional yeast may be the world’s most underappreciated condiment. It’s deactivated yeast, naturally loaded with B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc and protein. Check the label of whatever you buy, but it should be low in fat, gluten-free and additive free.


  • 3-4 Tbsp. oil, or enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Use any high heat oil. Not olive.
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast, or more
  • 1-2 tsp. salt, to taste


  1. Add oil to a large metal pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Place 3-4 individual kernels in the pan and cover. After they pop, uncover the pan and add in the rest of the kernels so that they form a single layer on the bottom of the pan.
  3. Cover, and give the pot a shake so that they all get coated with the oil.
  4. Once the popcorn kernels start popping, shake the pot continuously for even popping.
  5. When the popping dies down, immediately pour the popcorn it into a large container with a lid, and sprinkle with nutritional yeast and salt. Cover, and give it a good shake to combine.
  6. Store in a large plastic bag or container.
Fresh Fruit

It’s healthy, and it’s easy. My little ones love to see fresh clementines, a crunchy apple, or a container full of mixed berries or cut-up melon in their lunch boxes.

If that doesn’t cut it, use these adorable fruit and vegetable cutters to make them into fun shapes. Bonus: You can use them on sandwiches, cheese, and deli meat, too!

Pro tips:

  • To preserve freshness, pack fruit with an ice pack. For cut slices, coat with a squirt or two of lemon juice to prevent browning.
  • Select smaller pieces of fruit, often labeled “minis,” especially for small children.
Sweet Treats

These sweet treats are some of my kids’ favorites:

Fruit leather

If your kid won’t eat a piece of fresh fruit, even in the shape of an elephant, this is a great alternative. Think Fruit Roll-Ups, but better. You can buy it or make it yourself. While they’re easy to make, they’re a bit time-consuming. My kids love them. I use this recipe from the Food Network.

Salted Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

These are dessert-y and delicious, and you should pack them frozen. You can also use sunbutter here, and allergy-friendly soy-free chocolate. This recipe is from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Fast and can be find online on Bittman’s Facebook page.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies

We use a recipe from the Frog Commissary Cookbook. You can also find it online. These are a family favorite. After you make them, you’ll see why. They’re dense calorie boosters packed with oatmeal—and lots of other things.

They don’t translate well in gluten- and dairy-free versions, but you can easily make them nut-free. Make these small and store in the freezer for a perfect snack-time consistency.

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