Let’s face it, kids are picky when it comes to food, especially at school. When they open their lunch boxes they want to see what all the other school kids have: Dunkaroos, Le Snaks and Roll-Ups -- not smelly old fruit, gross.
While these snacks are sure to make your kids jump around with joy, most popular store-bought snacks are high in added sugar and low in fibre, and aren't going to give your kids the sustaining energy they need throughout the day.
“It’s important for children to eat nutritious food at any time because they are growing and making new cells at a rapid rate, but school time is also when you want their stomachs satisfied and their brains in gear,” accredited practising dietitian Amanda Clark told The Huffington Post Australia.
When kids don’t eat nutritious food at school and eat foods high in sugar, processed carbohydrates and saturated fats, it can have both short and long term health effects.
“Over-consumption of processed foods leads to poor concentration, distracting other children and poorer long term health outcomes, such as appetite dysregulation and obesity,” Clark said.
According to Clark, it is during childhood that parents are setting the foundations for what becomes normal eating for their child. Because of this, it is extremely important for children to eat more whole foods: fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
“Forget the cake, biscuits and chocolate treats when it comes to lunch boxes -- save them for an occasional treat at home,” Clark said.
“Nutrition surveys show that children are not consuming enough fruit and vegetables, and that dairy intake declines in the upper school years, so these are good targets to fill with healthy snack options.”
Giving your kids the right school snacks will help them concentrate and give them sustained energy.
The easiest way to make sure your children are getting enough nutritious snacks to eat at school is to make them yourself.
“Focus home-made snacks around fruit, vegetables and dairy,” Clark said. “Nuts are also good but they may be discouraged at school.”
Some quick, easy healthy snack ideas Clark recommends for kids' lunches include:
- Vegetable sticks and two tablespoons of hummus
- Cherry tomatoes
- Fresh or dried fruit
- Cheese cut into fingers
- Chicken wrapped in lettuce
- Celery sticks with three teaspoons of peanut butter
- One large piece of fruit (e.g. banana) or two small fruit (e.g. kiwi fruit)
- Fresh peas in the pod
“These are all that’s needed for a simple addition to the lunchtime sandwich -- just remember to go for variety rather than the same tuna sandwich and green apple for five years running,” Clark said.
However, many kids may not want to eat only these healthy snacks every day, especially when they see other kids eating brightly-coloured packaged snacks. There's good news: while many store-bought snacks are not healthy, there are good options out there.
To ensure you’re buying the healthiest store-bought snacks, Clark recommends looking at the nutrition information panel and using the following criteria:
Using this as a guide, the popular store-bought snacks that don't meet all the criteria (and should thus be avoided) are:
- Dunkaroos -- too high in sugar, no listed fibre
- LCM bars -- too high in sugar, low in fibre/whole grains
- Arnott's Pizza Shapes Minis -- no listed fibre
- Nice and Natural Supergrain Bar Almond Choco -- too high in sugar
- Le Snak Cheddar Cheese Dip -- low in fibre/whole grains
- Tiny Teddies Honey -- low in fibre/whole grains, high in sugar
- Uncle Toby’s Chocolate Chip Muesli Bar -- too high in total fat, saturated fat and sugar
The better options include:
- Yoplait Petit Miam Squeezie yogurt Fruit Salad
- Mini Babybel Cheese
- Uncle Toby's Roll-Ups
"You may be surprised to see that Roll-Ups are one of them. This product has changed its content significantly over the years and meets this set of criteria due to its high fruit content," Clark told HuffPost Australia.
Here are 10 other packaged snacks featured in Clark's Australian Healthy Snack Bible which meet all the criteria and can help boost, fruit, vegetable or dairy intake:
- SPC Fruit Crush, 90g sachet
- Gobble Sultana boxes, 35g
- Spiral fruit puree, 113g tub
- Pauls Kids Yoghurt tub, 90g
- Calciyum Kids Yoghurt pouch, 120g
- That! Milkshakes pouch, 120g
- Pauls Custard pouch, 70g
- Dairylea Cheese pods, 20g
- Mainland Tasty Light On the Go, 30g
- The Happy Snack Company Roasted Fava Beans