Do you ever find yourself in a “slump” when it comes to coming up with school snack ideas for your kids? Or do you feel overwhelmed when trying to choose store-bought packaged snacks for your kids that are school safe too? As a dietitian and mom of three, I’ve got you with a list of snack ideas!
This post is written in paid partnership with my friends at Croplife Canada. As always, all opinions are my own.
Back to school is stressful enough, so I’m here to take off some of the pressure. I have a simple and effective strategy that will help you build (and choose) nourishing and satisfying snacks for your kids throughout the school year!
Why are school snacks important?
First of all, let’s talk about the importance of snacks for kids throughout the school day. It’s so important that kids have several eating opportunities throughout the day, not only because they’re growing and developing, but also to ensure that they receive enough nourishment to stay energized, satisfied and focused throughout the day. This means eating opportunities every 2-3 hours, filling in the gaps between meals with nourishing snacks, with one morning snack (between breakfast and lunch), and one afternoon snack (after lunch but before home time).
Ideally, these snacks should consist of nutrients that satisfy hunger (protein, fat, fibre), and nutrients that provide energy (carbohydrates). Not to mention that they also need to be appealing to kids, fun to eat and easy to munch on too (so that they actually get eaten!). Don’t worry – it’s not as complicated as it sounds and I’m going to give you lots of ideas! Getting kids involved in choosing and preparing snacks is a great way to gain buy-in and build their independence and relationship with food too!
Choosing and preparing school snacks is not as complicated as you may think:
As a parent myself, I know just how overwhelming it can feel to plan and build school lunches and snacks, in order to keep kids well-nourished AND make eating at school fun and enjoyable. It’s no easy task – I get it! Sometimes as parents, we can get really caught up in nutrition trends, and fall victim to misinformation about what’s “healthy” or “unhealthy” for kids. We read and analyze labels and claims (Organic? Non-GMO? Gluten-free?), and compare different products for things like sugar content or whether there are artificial colours or flavours or not. That’s a lot of pressure that we’re putting on ourselves!
I want to put your mind at ease and reassure you that it doesn’t have to be this complicated or overwhelming (spoiler alert – you don’t have to stress about GMOs or whether a product is organic or not!). Read on for my top tips on planning, choosing and preparing nourishing school snacks for kids.
1. Set aside dedicated snack planning, shopping and building time
I highly recommend setting some time aside on the weekend to stock-pile school snacks for the week ahead, whether that’s baking school-safe recipes to put in the freezer, or grocery shopping for some nutritious packaged school snacks. There’s nothing worse than realizing on Monday morning, that you’re short on snack options and then having to scramble! I often schedule all of my “food planning” (easy weeknight dinners + school lunches + snacks) at the same time so that I can make one list of groceries that are needed for the week. Often part of this is cleaning out the fridge and freezer, and taking inventory of what I already have, as not to over-buy or waste food.
I try to prepare at least one (if not two) school-safe recipes, such as school-safe muffins, granola bars, or protein bites that I can individually wrap and throw in the freezer for easy packing. And then I fill in the gaps with some store-bought snacks like yogurt cups, cheese strings, crackers, fruit cups, etc. I’d recommend setting aside 2-3 hours on the weekend to do this planning and prepping – trust me – your future self with thank you!
2. Prep as much as you can before the school week starts:
Besides doing a bit of baking, prepare as much as you can ahead of time. This means–after you’ve done your shopping—wash and chop veggies and fruit, slice cheese, make homemade dips, prepare school-safe trail mixes, hard-boil eggs, or make chia pudding.
This is a great place to get your kids involved as well! If they are old enough, they can be in charge of replenishing the veggie tray, organizing packaged snacks in your pantry, or making a school-safe trail mix for the week.
3. Make sure school snacks are nourishing
Each snack should contain 2-3 components: One protein-rich food + fruit/vegetables and/or grain/starch food. The combination of these foods helps to create a satisfying snack that will fuel your child between meal times. Essentially, you’re looking for a nice combo of staying power (protein) and energy (carbohydrate).
Protein is a key component of school snacks as it contributes essential building blocks that are used in growing and repairing tissues such as muscles, hair, skin and nails. Typical protein-rich snacks are things like cheese, yogurt, nuts/seeds and hummus, which also contain all contain dietary fat. Both protein and fat help to slow down digestion, creating a sense of fullness, while stabilizing blood sugar levels for a more sustained energy level throughout the day.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and veggies add nutrition, colour, flavour and staying power to snacks. They are also full of essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and dietary fibre. They can also help to keep kids hydrated throughout the day. Fibre is important when it comes to regulating bowels and preventing childhood constipation too! Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and veggies are all nutritious and great.
Grains and starches
Adding a grain or starch such as crackers, a tortilla, a muffin, a granola bar, or bread provides fuel (in the form of carbohydrates) for your kids to stay energized and focused throughout the day! They also contribute essential B vitamins involved in energy metabolism, nervous system function and normal cell growth. These foods also tend to be well-loved and accepted by most kiddos, adding joy and pleasure to snacks, which is also VERY important and nourishing too! Need ideas?
Here are some of my favourite school-safe snack ideas:
- Yogurt parfait: Greek yogurt + granola + berries
- Banana + seed butter tortilla sushi (spread nut-free seed butter on a tortilla, wrap a banana in it and slice it into “sushi” pieces)
- Chia pudding
- Homemade muffin + cheese
- Homemade protein-rich granola bar + fruit
- Homemade protein bites
- Veggie sticks + hummus + crackers
- Popcorn + seeds + dried fruit
- Cut up fruit + Greek yogurt/seed butter dip
- Dried chickpeas + fruit
4. Keep it simple with no-prep snacks
Snacks don’t have to be elaborate or overly time-consuming to be delicious, nourishing and satisfying. You can quickly throw together a protein with a fruit/veggie or starch snack without needing prep to much in advance. Here are a few examples of quick, no-prep snack options:
- Store-bought trail mix
- Fig bar with a cheese stick
- A banana and sunflower seed butter
- Store-bought roasted chickpeas with an apple
- Snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and mini bell peppers (no need to cut them) with hummus
- Individual yogurt cups with a mandarin orange on the side
- A yogurt drink or tube and an apple sauce cup
- Cheese and crackers + apple slices
- A pear and roasted pumpkin seeds
- Granola bar and cheese stick
Make sure to check out my favorite on the go snack options for both parents and kids.
“Non-GMO” or “Organic” labels on snack foods:
Grocery shopping and feeding a family (including preparing school snacks!) can feel overwhelming in and of itself, but throwing in the additional confusion around GMO’s can make it feel even more complicated! There is so much buzz (and boatloads of misinformation) on this topic, so as a registered dietitian and Mom, I wanted to break it down for you and share a bit of the science behind genetic modification and why it is not to be feared. Right off the hop, I want to assure you that a “non-GMO” or “organic” label does not mean that a food is safer or healthier.
What is a GMO?
Genetic modification is just one form of plant biotechnology which helps to create better crops that are good for farmers, the environment and consumers. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism. They refer to crops that have been developed through genetic engineering or plant biotechnology, allowing scientists to introduce a desirable trait (or eliminate a harmful trait) in a crop – let’s say enhanced nutrition, insect resistance, disease resistance, or drought tolerance. It can help to decrease food waste and has helped make agriculture more productive, efficient and sustainable.
Only 6 GM crops are currently grown here in Canada: corn, canola, soybeans, alfalfa, sugar beets and potatoes. We also have access here in Canada to imported GM foods, like papayas, which have been saved from extinction by a devastating virus, thanks to genetic engineering. All GM foods grown and sold in our grocery stores are approved by Health Canada and have been found to be as safe and nutritious as non-GM foods.
Take the “non-GMO” label with a grain of salt:
When it comes to choosing school snacks, please take the “non-GMO” stamp with a grain of salt. This label can be very misleading, as it’s sometimes found on foods that do not and would not ever contain GM crops, to begin with. It perpetuates diet culture and creates fear and confusion around GMOs (as if there wasn’t already enough of that!).
It is 100% a personal choice whether you decide to feed your family organic or purchase non-GMO-labelled products. You can rest assured that if it is available for purchase in Canada, it is safe to eat! It may be interesting to know that you may be paying a premium for foods labelled “non-GMO” or “organic”, even though they aren’t any healthier or safer than their conventional counterparts.
I hope this post inspires you when it comes to school snacks, and puts your mind at ease when it comes to feeding your kiddos in general. If you focus on dedicating some planning and prep time every week, getting your kids involved along the way, and making sure their snacks are nourishing and enjoyable, you’ve got it made!
Try these recipes from the blog:
Need more school snack ideas? Give these a try!
- Green Monster Blender Muffins – Sarah Remmer, RD
- Chocolate Whole Grain Snack Bars (No-Bake & School-Safe!) (sarahremmer.com)
- Sweet and Salty Chocolate Lentil Granola Bars (sarahremmer.com)– replace peanut butter with sunflower seed butter, and almonds with roasted pumpkin seeds/ sunflower seeds to make this recipe school-safe!