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Healthy school snacks

Are you in the process of getting your kids ready to go back to school?

No doubt you are busy getting books, bags and shoes organised...but what about healthy lunch box and after school snacks?

Kids require adequate fuel to get them through a busy and active day at school. They also require nutrients to optimise their growth and development. Snacks are a fantastic opportunity to help meet these requirements, but one of the most common questions I get asked is: “What makes a healthy snack?”

Foods coming from our core food groups almost always make a healthy snack. This includes fruit, vegetables, dairy, grain foods and lean meats and alternatives. If these foods are presented in a minimally processed way, they are one step closer to a healthy snack.

I think one of the most important aspects to consider when organising healthy snacks for kids is to make them interesting and fun. Getting them involved in the preparation process and asking them what they like and what they think is healthy also helps ensure that they don’t swap, or throw out their intended healthy snacks.

Lets take a look at how we can use our core food groups in an appealing way to minimise the number of packaged or processed snacks for kids. Not only will this help to improve your child’s health, but reduce your family’s carbon footprint.

1.  Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetable based snacks can provide fibre, water, phytochemicals and a range of vitamins and minerals. Snacks may include:

  • Frozen fruit such as frozen berries mixed through natural yoghurt
  • Small portions of dried apricots mixed with cubes of cheese or seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds
  • Tinned fruit in natural juices
  • Savoury wholemeal flour or quinoa muffins with grated vegetables
  • Corn fritters
  • Fruit salad OR
  • Veggie sticks with a nutritious dip such as hommous or tazziki – why not make your own?

2.  Dairy foods

Dairy based snacks can help to provide protein, low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates, calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins and zinc. Snacks may include:

  • A container holding a mix of cherry bocconcini and cherry tomatoes
  • Tubs of natural, Greek or flavoured yoghurt –freeze tubs of yoghurt (or small containers of yoghurt) before putting in your child’s lunch box to keep them cold
  • Small portions of flavoured or plain milk (including soy milk) OR
  • A slice of low fat cheddar cheese on wholegrain crisp breads.

3.  Lean meats and alternatives

Lean meat and alterative based snacks provide protein, iron, zinc and B12. Snacks may include:

  • Roasted chickpeas (a nice replacement for chips) – roast canned chickpeas with a sprinkle of paprika and cumin for about one hour on ~150 degrees (fan forced oven)
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Felafels
  • Tinned bean mixes and fish OR
  • Mini vegetable frittatas.

4.  Grain foods

Grain foods will provide fibre, carbohydrate, B vitamins, zinc, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. Snacks may include:

  • Wholemeal lavish bread with a nutritious dip such as beetroot
  • Wholemeal savoury or fruit pikelets
  • Dried cereal such as weetbix biscuits topped with cheese and a thin scrape of vegemite or peanut butter.

Choosing a healthy muesli bar

I often get asked about choosing healthy muesli bars, which can be a great convenient snack, especially for active kids.

My recommendations are to always try and choose the muesli bar that is highest in fibre, lowest in sodium and lowest in saturated fat per 100g. Most will have a little bit of added sugar to increase the palatability of the product without displacing key nutrients, however some bars marketed at children can have way too much sugar than required.

Unfortunately, reading sugar on the nutrition information panel is not always the best indication of a healthier option as the presence of natural sugars such as fruit or yoghurt will be listed under ‘sugars’ on the nutrition information panel. These natural sources of sugar are nutrient dense.

The ingredients list can help you identify added sugars. Look for sucrose, cane sugar, raw sugar, dextrose, glucose, honey, brown sugar, malt syrup, fructose, lactose, molasses, barley malt and caramel. If one of these ingredients is high on the list, this means that there is likely a large quantity of it in the product.

More infomration on this can be found here.

After school snacks

Feeding hungry kids after school can be challenging, especially when trying to find something that is fun, nutritious and easy to prepare. Try:

  • Mini ‘pizzas’ with wholegrain English muffins topped with ‘no added salt’ tomato paste (or homemade tomato sauce), tomato, pineapple and cheese and placed under the grill
  • Freezing any left over fruit to make smoothies – use frozen fruit such as as banana and strawberries and blend with yoghurt and milk
  • Celery filled with your child’s favourite nut butter and a sprinkle of sultanas
  • Baked bean filled toasties OR
  • A platter filled with cubed cheddar cheese, sushi, rice crackers, lavish bread, dried fruit and a nutritious dip.