It’s a struggle to get kids to eat well at home, let alone when they’re out of the house and in the school cafeteria. Ice cream calls. French fries beckon. And that carton of chocolate milk looks like a health drink, compared to that can of Coke.
Sure, celery is a nutritious snack and water a wonderful way to cleanse the body, but not if they end up in the trash. Help your kids resist temptation by tempting them yourself! Stuff your child’s lunch box with some secret weapons—fun snacks that will stave off the math class munchies, drinks that won’t shoot them into sugar stupor, and recipes that leave the old fashioned PB & J in the dust, but still pass the picky palate test.
Organic Pop Alongs This whole grain snack has the satisfying crunch of a potato chip, but it's popped, not fried, so although it tastes bad for you, it's not! Made with a blend of organic corn, brown rice, and oat flour, with a yummy cheddar flavor kids will love, the whole snack bag rings in at just 90 calories. There are no trans fats, high fructose corn syrups, or artificial ingredients in this package. So stick a bag in the lunchbox and feel good about giving something that tastes this delicious.
Margaret's Artisan Bakery Date and Walnut Crisps This half-cracker, half-chip is just a little bit sweet, and a lot delicious. It has nine ingredients, all both familiar and pronouncable-- including organic wheat flour, dates, walnuts, brown sugar, buttermilk and molasses. The crisps taste great on their own, but slap on a little bit of peanut butter, or a thin layer of goat cheese spread...Wow!
Falafel Chips This is a great alternative to the traditional chip, because it packs in the whole grains—with only 110 calories and 5 grams of fat. Underneath that crunchy goodness lie 5 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, so kids are secretly stocking up on some of the nutritional biggies while they munch away. The chips have a nutty, layered flavor-- they are to chips what pumpernickel is to bread. In other words, they're hearty. The perfect companion for a tupperware filled with hummus or bean dip. And while it may be tempting to buy the spicy flavor, be warned: these things are hot! If you don't want fire coming out of your kid's ears, go with the sesame or original.
Kaia Foods Buckwheat Crunchies Premium Raw Granola Cocoa Bliss These organic little nuggets are like gold for the body, containing buckwheat, agave nectar, raisins, coconut, flax seed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, plus a little cacao powder and spices for good measure. It's the healthiest version of granola we've found, and makes for an interesting snack. It's also considered raw, meaning all the materials are treated below 115 degrees Farenheit, keeping the vitamins and antioxidants in good form. Don't expect your local grocery store to stock this stuff-- you'll mostly find it in natural food stores.
Sonoma Crisps Apple Sticks These sweet and tangy goodies look like shoestring French fries (bonus), but are fat free with only 70 calories (double bonus!) While they're crunchy, they contain no oil. A nice standin for fruit leather, the crisps don't get stuck in teeth the way traditional dried fruit does, and they have a less sticky consistency. A fun add-on for kids with a sweet tooth, with parents who want to keep them eating healthy.
Meterobites: Blueberry Yogurt Flax A cookie with only ten ingredients? A cookie chock full of flax seeds and omega-3s? A cookie with all that, that kids will want to eat? Believe it. These organic bite-sized circles are baked in apple puree, rather than oil, and full of healthy ingredients like blueberries, apples, flax seeds, cinammon, yogurt, rolled oats, and lemon juice. Sweetened with agave nectar and topped with a thin line of "frosting", they get a thumbs up from kids. But parents will love the nutrition facts: 3 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and just 1.7 grams of fat. Each little bag has only 105 calories. Shhh. No one needs to know...
Barbara's Whole Wheat Fig Bars Got a fig cookie fan but looking for something a little more natural? These fig bars are made from whole wheat flour and sweetened with pinapple juice, date paste, and raisins. Super moist, they have an extra thick fruit center. At 60 calories each, no fat, and 8 grams of sugar, these guys are an almost guilt-free pleasure. A chewy treat, for when you want to stick a cookie in your kid's lunchbox.
Lara Bar: Gingersnap or Lemon (skip the apple!) Nothing annoys me more than grocery store whining. And like most moms, I get my fair share of it on a weekly basis. Hats off to the Lara bar, a snack to which I can say “yes” without an ounce of guilt. Unlike its sugar coma-inducing neighbors in the energy bar aisle, this guy has ingredients I can actually pronounce. Things like dates, almonds, pecans, ginger, and cinnamon. All the sugars and carbs in the bar are from the fruit it’s made with and nothing more. Snack manufacturers say it’s impossible to make something good without refined sugar and hydrogenated oils. Shame on them.
Guiltless Gourmet Mucho Nacho Tortilla Chips While no chip is exactly health food, Guiltless Gourmet has managed to create something both kids and parents can cheer about. At a mere 120 calories for 18 full-sized chips, it's easy to pack a sizable portion, without feeling the need to go to confession afterwards. And since these chips are baked, not fried, a lot of the grease of the typical crunch-satisfier is gone, and the chips sport just 3 grams of fat per serving, compared to their 10 or 12-gram brethren in the salty aisle. Kids won't care about that, because they won't notice-- these things taste like Doritos. As they munch away on their fat little handful (made from stone ground organic yellow corn, and ingredients you can actually pronounce), and as they thank you for finally packing them some "junk", try not to gloat. You can smile a guiltless smile, and enjoy their happiness. And even grab a few when they're not looking...
Doctor Kracker Sunflower Cheddar Flatbreads We must say that we were a little dubious when we read the ingredients on the box. Spelt flour? Flax seeds? 8 grams of whole grains? What kid in his right mind would touch these things with a ten foot pole? Then we opened the package and changed our tune. With a crunch so robust it might disturb the neighbors in the school cafeteria, and a chunky shape just begging for a swipe of peanut butter, or a dip of hummus, we think this cracker might have just the yum-factor to keep the lunchtime food doldrums at bay. An excellent way to sneak in some whole grain goodness when your kid refuses to eat any bread other than Wonder White.
Lesser Evil Krinkle Sticks Kids like chips. You can moan all you want, but get used to it. Why not prevent the inevitable carrot stick—potato chip trade by sticking in some chips of your own? Unlike the 10 grams of fat in the old-fashioned oily favorite, these sticks have just 2.5 grams per serving and 110 calories. They’re baked, not fried, have no trans-fats, and no preservatives. But more importantly (to kids anyway), they come in a cool crinkled shape—kind of like crispy French fries.
Kashi Tasty Little Cereal Bars These snack bars do the trick when you need to round-out a meal. Pack this bar with a bowl of fruit and plain yogurt, and you've got lunch covered. Unlike a lot of other cereal bars on the market, these are missing highly refined sweeteners and hydrogenated oils. Each portion contains only 110 calories, 3 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar. Plus, each soft-baked bar packs 7 whole grains, 2 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber, tucked into a Fig Newton-type snack full of real-fruit filling in flavors like apple spice, blackberry and strawberry. Because they're soft and a little sweet, they make a great dessert or special treat. And since they're whole grain, this is fuel that will last past recess.
Nairn's Mixed Berry Oat Biscuits With the no nonsense hardiness of a Scottish oat biscuit plus a hint of scone-y sweetness, these berry-studded biscuits make for a delicious and nutritious cookie stand-in. Two of these slim 100% whole grain biscuits contain only 3 grams of fat and 2 grams of sugar, but you wouldn't know it judging from taste alone. Great dunked into a glass of milk or nibbled plain, the biscuits come conveniently separated in 4 six-biscuit packages per box - perfect for slipping into a lunch box or serving up as an after school snack. So swap the cookies for this tasty alternative - your kids might even thank you!
Newman's Own Chocolate Alphabet Cookies Let's face it: kids want dessert in their lunch box. Parents want to keep fat and sugar out of mix. Newman's Own Chocolate Alphabet Cookies may be the happy medium you've been looking for. These crunchy little goodies are made with organic flour, organic sugar, and organic palm fruit oil--a type of oil which isn't hydrogenated, contains no trans-fatty acids, and is low in saturated fat. 10 cookies packs 120 calories, 9 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of fat--less than most cereal bars--yet your child will swear he's had dessert. And, because each square-shaped cookie has a letter imprinted on it, your child will be getting in a little extra reading practice over lunch. For fun, write a riddle for your child's lunch box, then hand-pick the answers from the Newman's Own package and put them in a baggie for your child's lunch box. Can he find the hidden answer in his dessert? He'll get lots of letter practice trying!
Wild Planet Tuna With the state of the ocean's fisheries in dire straits, it's hard to pop the top of a can of tuna without feeling guilty. And that's before worries about mercury transform a simple tuna sandwich into a moral minefield. Rest easy with this line of sustainable, safe, and delicious tuna products. Wild Planet catches smaller fish to fill BPA-free cans with tuna containing less than half the mercury of their mainstream competitors. Cooked just once, this tuna retains all of its Omega-3 juices: key nutrients for nurturing growing brains and bodies. And sustainable fishing practices help to ensure that these fishies will still be around when our kids have kids of their own. Because what's lunch without tuna?
Gojilania Goji and Mangosteen Goji is revered for its health benefits, yet it's often a tough sell for kids. This drink, mixed with the pear- like fruit mangosteen, is a sweet way to get your goji on. It has 120 calories and 27 grams of sugar, so while it's certainly not sugar-free, it's also a kid-friendly source of vitamins and antioxidants.
Vita CoCo Coconut Water with Tangerine Coconut water is naturally loaded with good-for-you properties, but it's not exactly a kid-magnet. This version is flavored, making it a nice option for the lunchbox. Our favorite, the tangerine flavor, looks like fruit juice in the glass, but it's light, refreshing, and not nearly as sweet. This baby packs more electrolytes than a sports drink, with the potassium of two bananas, only 70 calories, and no fat. It has about 1/5 less sugar than a typical juice box, but it still contains about 17 grams of the sweet stuff. So make this an ocassional treat, not a daily addition.
Honest Tea Black Forest Berry All we can say is...yum! Considering that a serving of this stuff contains a mere 30 calories, way less than the 130-calorie-wallop of most kids' drink pouches, this drink tastes darn good. Honest Tea has a line made specifically for kids, but this bottle isn't one of them. Still, it's caffeine-free and just sweet enough to get the sweetie in your life interested. Plus, there's no high fructose corn syrup, just organic cane sugar. The drink is a fruit-infusion, or tisane, according to the package. But forget the fancy talk, this is just a long, thirst-quenching swallow of berry-licious goodness. And it's got 1/3 the sugar of a standard iced tea.
Honest Kids Most kid’s drink pouches pack more sugar than a can of soda. We’re talking as much as 130 calories and 31 grams of sugar per serving. Honest Kids, the makers of the very popular adult Honest Tea line, have just come out with a version that has 40 calories and 10 grams of sugar. We all dream that our kids will beg for nothing but nutrition, but when the need for a lesser evil arrives, this is a good choice.
Bossa Nova Acai Juice A few steps up on the sugar scale, these drinks ring in at about 90 calories each, but their main ingredient is wild acai berries, which contain more antioxidants than any other fruit on the planet. Antioxidants are all the rage in the health community because they reduce free-radicals, which have been shown to cause everything from cancer to aging, and the acai berry sports a knockout punch five times more powerful than blueberries, and a third stronger than the previous antioxidant darling, pomegranate. While this drink is "lightly sweetened" according to the package, we found it very sweet, so you might consider watering it down a bit in a thermos. All the flavors were mighty tasty, but raspberry and passion fruit were particularly popular with our taste-testers. The Bossa Nova has too many calories to make it a daily lunchbox staple, but for those times you're planning on packing juice, this Brazilian bottle is sure to add a little samba to your kid's step.
Metromint Everyone knows you're supposed to drink 8 glasses of water a day. But for most kids, that can get, well... boring. Curb their whining by tucking one of these bottles into their lunch. From peppermint and spearmint, to citrus-y flavors that incorporate lemon or orange, to a new chocolate addition sure to be a hit with Junior Mints fanatics, there are lots of minty incarnations to keep H2O interesting. Our favorite by far was the peppermint version, but all the flavors, except cherry, had their fans. Whatever bottle you choose, this stuff has no artificial flavorings and not a hint of sugar or sweeteners, just purified water and pesticide-free essential oils steamed out of the leaves in question, in a mysterious double-distillation process. How do they do it? Who cares! This is a drink you can feel good about. And research shows that mint may even increase motivation. So beyond better breath, your kid may just put in a few more hours hitting the books...
Michael Season's Baked Cheddar Cheese Puffs Looking for a healthy take on Cheetos? These Baked Cheddar Cheese Puffs from Michael Season's line of "feel good snacks" fit the bill. Light and crispy and super cheesey, these puffs are all natural and low in fat. And they're wheat and gluten free to boot! A serving size is a whopping 2 cups—decidely more than most servings of sinful snacks —and the calorie count is delciously satisfying, with only 130 calories per serving and only 40 of those calories from fat. And these puffs are delicious and nutritious with zero transfats, no cholesterol, and a good amount of fiber and protein. The best part is, you'll still get the satisfaction of licking that delectably orange cheese dust off your fingers when all is said and done!