OK, parents. Let’s be honest. You’re sorry to see those carefree days of summer go, but you’re pretty psyched to pull out the backpacks and lunchboxes again. The truth is that having a routine in place with set hours makes raising kids easier. The only challenge is having to pack 180 lunches each year. I have three school-age kids, so that’s a staggering 540 lunches!
Depending on whether they have after-school activities, kids are at school for at least six hours a day, and some are there for nearly 10 hours. That means they need two to four snacks, in addition to a main dish or sandwich each day.
Every parent wants to pack healthy snacks that will fuel their child’s brain and provide the nutrients they need to grow and flourish. But lack of time and creativity can sometimes thwart our best intentions, and we can find ourselves just throwing various “kid-friendly” options into those brightly colored lunchboxes. After all, we have to get out the door too.
To help us all out, I’ve rounded up five nutritious snacks that are great for kids, nutritionist approved and are suitable for adding to your own work lunch too.
These crunchy, dried sheets of nori are the same type of seaweed used to wrap sushi. They’re just cut into bite-size pieces for snacking. The seaweed is roasted and lightly salted to enhance its flavor. They sometimes come in teriyaki or wasabi flavors.
Why I like it: Kids love crunchy snacks like chips, but most chips don’t provide any nutrients that kids need, other than calories. Seaweed contributes iron and vitamin A. And most seaweed brands don’t go over 65 milligrams of sodium, compared to a 1-ounce bag of potato chips, which may have over 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American children are not getting enough fruit or vegetables. Depending on their age, school kids need 1 to 1.5 cups of fruit each day. And gummy snacks don’t count! Make sure to pack a serving of fruit as at least one of the snacks in your child’s lunchbox.
Why I like it: Sweet, juicy and mess free, grapes provide a ton of nutrients in a hydrating package. Each ¾-cup serving provides over 200 milligrams potassium and vitamin K, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols for heart health. The polyphenols in grapes may also help with diabetes prevention. And at 82% water, grapes can help kids meet their daily hydration needs too.
Packing frozen grapes in your kid’s lunchbox can help keep the rest of the items cool. To freeze grapes, just give them a rinse, pat them dry and then place on a baking sheet and freeze for two hours.
3. Whole Grains.
Kids love carbs, but they’re still falling short on whole grains. According to the most recent Dietary Guidelines, kids should be getting two to three servings or more of whole grains each day.
Need a refresher on what makes a grain whole? A whole grain includes the fibrous outer bran, the inner endosperm (where the starchy carbs are) and the tiny germ, which holds the B vitamins, vitamin E, healthy fats and phytochemicals. A refined grain product is only made from the endosperm — the rest of the grain is stripped away. To know whether a product is made from whole grains, look at the ingredient list: The number one ingredient listed should be whole wheat, whole barley, whole rye, whole oats, etc. The color of the product isn’t an indication of whether it contains whole grains.
You can find snack bars, crackers (even those shaped like fish and bunnies), sandwich wraps, bread and cookies made with whole grains. Keep in mind that lots of whole grain breads contain added sugar in the form of honey, cane sugar or brown rice syrup. It’s OK if a slice of bread contains a gram or two of added sugar, but keep in mind that you’re generally using two slices of bread per sandwich, so added sugars can add up quickly. The same is true for sodium. Most slices range from 115 milligrams of sodium up to 200 milligrams, so it can add up quickly, especially if you’re adding higher sodium ingredients to the sammie, like cheese, meat and spreads.
Also, try to change up your whole grains. Just like fruits and veggies, each grain has its own unique benefits, so it’s smart to get a variety. Go for a mix of whole oats, whole rye, whole barley, quinoa and other whole grains.
Why I like it: Whole grains provide fiber, which has benefits for blood sugar, diabetes prevention, blood pressure and of course, digestion. Depending on their age, kids need between 19 to 26 grams of fiber daily, and teens require even more. Whole grains also offer up other nutrients, including B vitamins, iron and zinc and also help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol. Whole grains also help kids feel full and satisfied, and that may just be the best reason of all from a parent’s perspective.
4. Applesauce in a Pouch.
When I was a kid, applesauce was pretty boring. It was mushy and plain, and I much preferred munching on an apple. I love giving my kids apple slices, but let’s be honest — some mornings we’re all racing against the clock. Taking extra time to wash, slice and package up apples just isn’t feasible. We’re fans of applesauce pouches, which don’t require refrigeration, so kids can eat them at any time of day.
Most applesauce pouches have really basic ingredients: apples, apple puree concentrate (for flavor and sweetness) and lemon juice or ascorbic acid as a natural preservative. Some have additional natural flavors added. Avoid ones that are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. They can have up to 24 grams of sugar (a combo of naturally occurring and added sugar) per pouch!
Why I like it: Applesauce pouches are super convenient and generally deliver about 70 calories and 3 grams of fiber per pouch. And they also help kids stay hydrated, so they’re the perfect snack for before or after sports.
Probiotics are the good bacteria that help keep our bellies happy and properly functioning. New science is showing that our gut health not only impacts our digestion, but also our mood. The gut-brain connection is amazing! In fact, 90% of the neurotransmitter serotonin is made in the digestive tract. And the probiotics in yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi help to keep our intestinal microflora humming along, while also lowering stress and even boosting brain function.
Since your kids may not be thrilled if you pack them a container of kraut, I recommend packing a yogurt, yogurt drink or kefir for a probiotic boost.
Why I like it: In addition to a probiotic punch, these fermented dairy products also contribute protein for active muscles, calcium for growing bones and teeth and vitamin D for a healthy immune system. Look for yogurt products — tubes, cups, pouches — with no more than 10 grams of sugar per serving.
Here’s to a healthy start to the school year and easier lunch packing for moms and dads!
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5 Easy Snacks for School Lunches — That Grown-ups Will Love Too originally appeared on usnews.com