Sunday, March 6, 2016

Surviving School Snacks

My middle daughter started Kindergarten this fall, and it was requested that she bring a small snack in each day.  Sounds easy enough, right?  I mean, she had a small afternoon snack at home every day, so sending one in should be no problem. 

Yea...  I found out pretty quickly how easy it is to fall into the trap of sending high calorie, low nutrition snacks based on either carbs and salt, or sugar.  These snacks are so easy, because it's what they sell individually packaged in every grocery store.

Determined to find a better alternative, I've come up with some great options.  For starters, don't ditch those store bought snacks all together - there's a reason they're so popular - because kids love them!  This is especially important for picky eaters.  We want our kids to eat healthy snacks, but what good does it do them to send the most nutritious snack with them if it ends up in the trash?  If your child will only eat applesauce and cheese crackers, make sure you're getting no sugar added applesauce, and try cheese crackers with peanut butter for a bit of protein.

Here's how we've managed to survive school snacks:

1. Invest in a small insulated cooler pack, and reusable ice pack - like the kind used for baby bottles.  Keep it small to reduce the bulk in their backpack.  Having the availability to keep food chilled until snack time means you can pack things like yogurt, cottage cheese, sliced fruit and veggies, or cheese
2. Those prepackaged little portions are so unbelievably expensive, and while buying in bulk and using zip top snack size bags might seem like a perfect solution - we found that most foods you'd want to put in them ended up crushed and undesirable.  We invested in reusable cups with lids (that were like $2 for a 6 pack) and it's allowed me to save money by buying large quantities of foods like crackers, nuts, berries, chips, and even breakfast cereal and divide them up. 

3. Don't be afraid to send veggies.  Baby carrots, celery, cucumber sticks, bell pepper slices, and grape tomatoes all hold up well during transport.  If your child really needs ranch, you can squirt some in the bottom of your Tupperware, then put your veggie sticks in and close it up.  But skip the ranch if you can get away with it.

4. This may seem silly, but talk to your child about snacks. Thanks in part to changing dietary standards in schools, your child will likely spend a little bit of time talking about healthy eating in school.  Use this to your advantage by asking her what healthy snacks are her favorites, what healthy snacks other children are taking, and what unhealthy snacks children are taking and why she shouldn't have them every day.

6. Set up a "snack station" and let your child choose each day.  Have lots of options ready to go so you're not scrambling every morning, and just let your child choose one of the healthy options you've already prepared for them. This might be the single most important key to healthy snacks for us.  My daughter loves dried fruit and nuts and will choose this every time over generic fruit snacks or cheese crackers, but if the chips or crackers are already packaged and the nuts and fruit are not - guess which one I'll put in her bag... If the healthy choices are ready to go, then they DO go!

5. Don't look on Pinterest.  Just don't. 

I think, above all, I learned that I have to pack what I know my child will eat, and how much my child will eat.  I can pack all the gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, corn-free, oven-baked barley biscuits I want - but it doesn't make me a better mother if my child is just throwing them in the trash and going hungry...


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