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.
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!
Shake-up your trail mix-up and voilá! Store in the pantry, or even better–the freezer!
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.
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
Whiz together everything EXCEPT the olive oil in a food processor.
Once the mixture is combined, pour 1/4-1/2 cup of olive oil through the feed tube with the food processor running.
Taste for flavor.
Season to taste, if desired, cayenne and cumin, and correct the salt.
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!
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
Preheat an oven to 350ºF.
Whisk everything except chickpeas in a small bowl; add the chickpeas and coat. Spread into a single layer on a baking sheet.
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
Add oil to a large metal pot over medium-high heat.
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.
Cover, and give the pot a shake so that they all get coated with the oil.
Once the popcorn kernels start popping, shake the pot continuously for even popping.
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.
Store in a large plastic bag or container.
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.
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.
These sweet treats are some of my kids’ favorites:
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.
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.