Healthy lunchbox snacks seem to be one of the frequent requests from our readers. I’m generally a from-scratch girl, but life–and lunch packing–with two little ones can get hectic. Despite my dedication to all foods homemade, I rely on a pantry stocked with healthier packaged snacks for when we’re in need. These may not be as wholesome as homemade, but they are among the best of the bunch in their category. And easy, too.
If you’re going to hit the supermarket for kiddo’s favorite snacks, these healthier picks are the way to go. – Stacie
The Best Veggie Chips: Danielle Veggie Chips
Fruit and veggie chips are kind of tricky. Most of the vegetable kind have just a wee bit of veggie powder mixed in with potato and sometimes even fried–not the pinnacle of vegetable nutrition. And fruit chips–you know, like those delicious banana chips that you, or uh, I, picked up at Trader Joe’s and couldn’t stop eating? Totally deep fried. (No wonder they are so tasty!) Enter Danielle Fruit and Veggie Chips. These all-natural, preservative-free chips are fried in a healthier way, if you can imagine. Fruits and veggies are sprayed with nonhydrogenated palm oil and “vacuum fried,” a method that allows the produce to retain its flavor and absorb little oil, according to the company. The chips get crispy, but stay relatively low in fat and calories with zero grams of trans fat. Can’t argue with that.
Microwaving popcorn takes a little longer than opening a bag, but just barely, and the payoff is warm, just-popped corn. Too bad microwave popcorn is also packed with chemicals. Chemicals on the kernels. Chemicals coating the bag. It’s a serious chemical fest, with the exception of newcomer Quinn Popcorn. Quinn Popcorn has ditched the teflon, hydrogenated oils and artificial flavorings and stripped microwave popcorn to the basics: a compostable paper bag and plain old organic, non-GMO corn kernels. Each bag, made with five ingredients or less, comes with a package of expeller pressed canola oil and all natural flavor to shake on. Choose from Vermont maple sugar and sea salt, dried meyer lemon powder and salt, or Parmesan cheese, rosemary and salt. Every flavor is rockin’–the kids and I can’t get enough of this stuff.
The Best Peanut Butter AND Best Cheddar Crackers: Late July
We’re longtime fans of Late July, a family-owned company run by a mom of two young boys, thanks to their dedication to using whole, organic ingredients to make their kid-approved snacks. We mentioned their new line of organic chips in our Back To School Guide, but think it’s also worth mentioning that their Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers are lower in sodium and sugar compared to most others. While we’re at it, their Cheddar Crackers come out ahead of their animal-shaped competitors, too.
The Best Granola Bar: Kind Mini Fruit & Nut Delight
Most granola bars are jammed with sugar. You’ll notice the obvious sugar on granola bar labels (e.g., cane juice, honey), but then there’s the sugar in disguise (e.g., apricot puree, maltitol). On top of it, many contain ingredients like “natural flavors” and soy lecithin. Not so harmful, but not necessary either. The easiest way to make sense of it all for the little ones is to stick to a smaller, all natural granola bars like the Kind Mini Fruit and Nut Delight Bar. Unlike other popular “kid-sized” granola bars, this one actually satisfies, and has relatively low sugar for the portion size. You’ll also recognize every item on the ingredients list.
The Best Graham Cracker: Back to Nature Golden Honey Oat Grahams
Store-bought graham crackers might be my biggest store-bought snack disappointment; it’s so hard to find a brand without high-fructose corn syrup. But hard does not mean impossible thanks to Back to Nature and their Golden Honey Oat Grahams, a super tasty classic graham cracker made without fake stuff and even some whole grains. A quick heads up, though: while better than many other brands, Back to Nature Honey Graham Sticks don’t quite measure up to their Oat Graham Crackers.
The Best Fruit Snack: Archer Farms Freeze Dried Cinnamon Apple Slices
Many natural and organic food brands are making fruit gummies these days and while they make a more natural substitute for traditional gummy candies, they are still candy. Freeze dried fruit snacks are a way healthier everyday option. Just Tomatoes, Etc.! brand carries a ton of dehydrated fruit snacks, both organic and conventional, and even some dehydrated veggies. My kids are also super into the new Freeze Dried Cinnamon Apple Slices by Target brand Archer Farms. The cinnamony flavor gives this snack a little extra something without added sugar!
(Just Tomatoes, Etc.! snacks are available on their site. Archer Farms Freeze Dried Cinnamon Apple Slices are available in select Target stores.)
The Best Squeezie Snack: Revolution Foods Mashups
Squeezable fruit and vegetable blends have taken over the snack the world and with good reason, since most brands don’t have added sugar (though check the label to be sure). We’re fans of Plum Organics Second Blends Fruit & Grains because of the added, well, grains, but Revolution Foods Mashups are also among the best of the lot and have more big-kid appeal, even though we like some of the simpler toddler brands too.
(Check out the Plum Organics site to find out where to purchase their products. You can find Revolution Foods snacks online, including through Amazon.)
The Best Kids Yogurt: Stonyfield (plain, adding your own sweeteners) or Chobani Champtions (flavored)
Kids yogurt has become serious business with nearly every major brand offering kid-specific options. In its pure form, yogurt is super healthy and a great snack for kids, but it pays off to be a careful shopper. A lot of the yogurts geared towards kids are packed with a surprising amount of sugar. Plain is a good bet and can easily be sweetened–to your specifications–with jam or honey. Stonyfield Farm makes a small container of Stonyfield plain yogurt that’s just right for little ones or a little something extra in a big kid’s lunchbox. They go perfectly with these Nektar Honey Crystals which allow you to send kiddo to school with honey, but without the mess. Genius!
If you your kids prefer flavored yogurts, Chobani Champions scores higher marks with me for lower sugar per gram–even compared to those little bottles of flavored kefir–and a just right portion size.
(Search for a store near you that carries Stonyfield products on their site and Chobani Champtions on their site. Nektar Honey Crystals are available at these select stores.)
The Best Rice Cake: Earth’s Best Pop Snax
My kids have never taken to rice cakes, especially the plain kind. (Maybe–just maybe–that’s because mom has never taken to rice cakes either.) But, thanks to Earth’s Best Organic Pop Snax, we have a new, light, go-to carb-y snack. These flavorful snacks (at least compared to rice cakes!) are fortified with vitamins and minerals and are, according to my kids, totally satisfying. They are relatively low in sugar and though they have more sodium than rice cakes, they are still considered a low sodium food as long as they are portioned out. My kids dig the Sweet Potato Cinnamon flavor, but they also offer a Veggie Crisps option.
There’s no way that I can do a post about kiddie snacks and not mention cheese puffs. Truth be told, cheese puffs are pretty worthless nutritionally speaking. Emotionally, though? Worth their feather weight in gold. They are a reliable kid-pleaser and in moderation, that’s enough for me. I tend to go back and forth between the organic and all-natural brands. Turns out that they pretty much match up nutritionally, though some have probably innocuous, but also unnecessary ingredients like citric acid. The ubiquitous Pirate’s Booty comes up ahead of the pack with its simple list of ingredients. Veggie Booty does even better, though don’t be fooled: they’re not a substitute for actual veggies. But they are pretty yummy at snacktime.
(You can buy Pirate Brand snacks on their website.)
PS: If the fact that the cheese puff has zero nutritive value is a deal breaker for you, fear not. Cheese popcorn may not be a superfood, but it is a satisfying and slightly healthier substitute. The classic White Cheddar Smart Food, believe it or not, remains a favorite in my house.
Stacie Billis is Managing Editor of Cool Mom Eats. She's known for her focus on nutrition and organics, her salad-loving sons, and her non-judgy approach to feeding kids that does not preclude Nutella.