Class Act: Healthy Snack Ideas to Bring to School
Help your little ones and their classmates snack smarter this year.
When it comes to bringing snacks in for your kids’ class, fun and nutritious don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Here are some tips and A-plus snack suggestions to keep kids’ bodies and brains fueled well past recess when they're in school. Bonus: Many of these healthy snack ideas are also portable, making them ideal for on-the-go snacking, travelling, eating at work or stashing in a backpack.
Eat to fuel your brain
Carla Contreras, a New Jersey-based chef, certified holistic health coach and mom of two, says that snacks should contain a mix of healthy fats, carbohydrates and protein to help keep kids fuller longer and maintain sustained energy — and that includes energy for your brain. “Your brain needs calories,” she says. “It burns about 20 percent of your calories per day.”
One of Contreras’ go-to smart snacks is homemade trail mix, especially ones that include a mix of healthy fats and hit the sweet-salty-spicy trifecta. Her favorite combination includes whole almonds, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, wasabi peas and salted and roasted pepitas. Whip up a big batch, then let the teacher divvy out the mix to kids at school (you may like to omit the wasabi peas for younger palates).
Make school party snacks special
If you’re assigned snack duty for a class party, make healthy snacking feel fun and celebratory with mix-and-match options. Diana Reid, a registered dietitian-nutritionist, owner of The Global Dietitian and mom of three, suggests:
- Crudité plate with dips Include a rainbow of cut-up veggies including bell peppers, carrots, celery and cherry tomatoes, to serve with a variety of dips like hummus, tzatziki and ranch dressing.
- Fresh fruit plate with yogurt dips Cut up fruit such as apples, bananas and strawberries, then serve with an assortment of yogurt-based dips such as chocolate, key lime or apple-and-cinnamon. Add a few crumbled graham crackers to the dip or serve squares on the side for added crunch.
- Apple “nachos” Slice apples and fan them out around a plate, then drizzle with school-approved nut butter and chocolate. Serve with DIY toppings like shredded coconut, diced strawberries and mini chocolate chips.
Nothing is totally off-limits
In her personal nutrition coaching practice, Reid never says “never” when she’s advising clients on their diet. Still, she explains that many packaged snacks can be nutritionally challenging; some are too high in sodium or fat and some are nothing but carbs. Instead of ruling out some of your kids’ and classmates’ favorite (and convenient) packaged snacks like crackers, granola bars or popcorn, incorporate a small amount along with some nutritious options that fit the “mini meal” model (see below). Some of Reid’s favorite combinations that incorporate carbs, protein, a little fat and a bit of fiber include:
- Small handful of Goldfish crackers + one string cheese stick and a few apple slices
- Beef jerky (ideally one lower in sodium) + fruit
- Single-serving packet of trail mix + a handful of carrot sticks
- Protein bar + one piece of fruit
- Granola bar + one piece of cheese
- Kefir or yogurt drink + a small handful of veggies or apple slices
Treat snacks like mini meals
Reid likes to treat snacks like a mini meal.
“I think it’s best to always include some protein in a snack, as it helps with satiety and keeps you from getting hungry again in an hour,” she explains. “Snacks are also a great way to get in one of your “5-a-day” fruits and veggies. I usually have clients pick one high-protein food and one fruit or veg as a snack.”
Some of her favorite combinations include: a hard-boiled egg and a granola bar; Greek yogurt and fruit; nut butter with sliced apples; or hummus with veggies.
Make your own
Though it takes a little extra leg work, making your own snack staples helps you control the quality of the ingredients and keep sugar and sodium levels in check. Here are some of our favorites, guaranteed to send you to the head of the class.
Trisha’s no-cook energy bites come together easily in a food processor — the longest part is waiting for the mix to chill before forming them into balls. The oat-based balls get a protein boost and satisfying texture from extra-crunchy peanut butter.
This riff on hummus swaps in edamame for chickpeas, but it still packs a protein punch (and the edamame add a fun pop of green, too). Serve as part of a crudité platter with cucumber sticks, baby carrots and grape tomatoes.
Ree’s layered cereal bars are a fan-favorite that are packed with fiber-rich, heart-healthy oats. They get a touch of sweetness from a layer of strawberry preserves; just be sure to choose a jar that has no added sugar.
With Claire’s easy recipe, it takes just twenty minutes to toast up a healthy and satisfying mix of pumpkin seeds, almonds and sunflower seeds, all pulled together with a touch of maple syrup. Once the mix cools, add in dried cherries for a chewy, fruity pop (or swap in other unsweetened dried fruit such as cranberries, golden raisins or chopped apricot).
A handful of raw nuts is a go-to healthy snack option, but Ellie ups the ante by roasting them with spices to give them an extra toasty and flavorful bite. Tweak the spices according to your kids’ preferences, say subbing in cinnamon or omitting the cayenne.