Not all of the lunch box snacks I pack come from the work of my own hands in the kitchen.
Does this surprise you?
The Modern Mother is in one of the most unique and challenging positions – ever.
Not only must she cook, clean, and take care of the family as generations of women did before her, but now she must also frequently head up the household on her own and even if she is fortunate enough to have a partner who helps, usually works outside the home to meet the family’s financial needs or because she finds her work fulfilling.
Here are a few of the sobering statistics about how the family unit has drastically changed just since I was in grade school:
- About 25% of children are being raised by a single biological parent – almost always the mother.
- In over 15% of homes with both parents, the woman is the primary or sole breadwinner. This trend is on the increase.
- For households with children under the age of 18, the financial burden is primarily on the shoulders of the mother 40% of the time.
- Single mothers are disproportionately poor – about 4 times as often as married households.
- Single mothers are more likely to be receiving government assistance.
- According to the US Department of Education, approximately 40% of children in the United States in grades 1-12 now live in homes without their biological fathers.
- Most mothers today have no close relatives living nearby to help them. The days of Mom, Grandma, aunties and cousins all within the same neighborhood to help out are long gone for most women.
It may take a Village to raise a child, but for most mothers, that Village just doesn’t exist!
These changes represent enormous social upheaval in only a single generation. In short, the home is becoming increasingly maternalistic in nature meaning that mothers are more often running the show either economically, socially or both.
While I am fortunate to have a very involved, wonderful husband of 23 years who actively helps out in the household, I still find it extremely challenging to source and prepare nutritious meals for my family every single day.
Most women I know regardless of their social situation report the very same thing!
There is no more frequent time I need the help of some healthy, prepared food items than the daily and very important task of packing lunch boxes.
I do my very best to make sure all the lunch box snacks consist of unprocessed, whole, and preferably organic ingredients. However, I do buy prepared lunch box snacks and I buy them fairly often to round out the whole food selections and for emergencies in the morning during the sometimes mad rush to get out the door on time (which is very early for us).
Here are my current top ten that I buy either from a local store or an online vendor. What are your healthy lunch box snacks to buy for school or outings?
PLEASE NOTE: I’ve linked to the brands I mention below so you can see the packaging and the look of the product. This makes it easier for you to spot them on the shelf at a local healthfood store. The prices via these online sources are not always reflective of prices locally. For example, the potato chips linked below I buy for $5 for 2 large bags … very reasonable!
My Top 10 Lunch Box Snacks
Most potato chips and corn chips are a definite “NO” in my book for lunch boxes for two reasons. They either contain GMOs or use an unacceptable fat like soy, corn, canola, safflower, cottonseed or sunflower seed oil for frying. This is the brand I prefer which uses avocado oil, which is one of the best for frying and potato chips in particular as it is extremely high heat tolerant and non-genetically modified. They are also budget friendly!
My philosophy has always been to focus my time in the kitchen making what I cannot buy for a reasonable, budget friendly price. Jerky does not fall into this category as there are brands now to buy that are good quality and reasonably priced. I used to have to make jerky myself, but now no longer have to. Yay!
I purchase 3 types of jerky – buffalo jerky, grassfed beef jerky, and free range turkey jerky. We’ve tried many different brands and these are my children’s favorites as well as ones that are free of MSG, chemicals and additives.
Kelp or Kale Chips
A crunchy, tasty alternative to potato chips if you are avoiding starch or on the GAPS Diet are chips made out of kale or kelp (this is the brand I buy).
There aren’t a lot of cookies I will buy as lunch box snacks. Most really just aren’t up to snuff in my opinion even at the healthfood store. I much prefer to make my own cookies if at all possible! In a pinch, however, there are a few brands (find them here and here) that I consider good enough (notice I didn’t say perfect) to pack as lunch box snacks on occasion.
Nut Butter Crackers
I never buy the peanut butter crackers at the store as they are loaded with additives, chemicals and GMOs. I buy a good quality cracker (I buy this one) and spread with either sprouted/soaked nut butter (find them here) or organic peanut butter myself (this is the brand I currently use).
Good snack bars are hard to find. That being said, my favorite brand is Larabar. Only dates and nuts for the most part in the wide variety offered. The Key Lime Pie, Lemon, and Blueberry Muffin are our favorites (find them here). While the nuts aren’t soaked, sprouted, or even organic, they are good enough as occasional lunch box snacks in my opinion.
Organic Apple Sauce
Apple sauce is a perennial favorite for lunch box snacks. Fortunately, you can buy many different brands that use organic ingredients. Unfortunately, every single one I’ve ever checked contains ascorbic acid as the preservative, which is not true Vitamin C. But, on occasion, an organic apple sauce snack cup is fine. This is the brand I buy.
Carob chips have a bad rap, but the truth is that they are yummy (this is the brand I use) and packing 20 or so in a small cup is a nice treat for your child. I don’t recommend organic chocolate or chocolate chips in the lunchbox as the caffeine is not good for children’s growing bodies on a regular basis and could definitely affect learning in a negative way. When I was growing up, my Dad, who is a retired MD, never let us have caffeine. He said it would harm our developing kidneys.
Conventional fruit leathers are a very misinformed choice for lunch box snacks due to the GMO sugar, artificial flavorings and colorings they contain. Organic fruit leathers are another matter entirely. I like this brand (find it here) which has a wide variety of flavors. Skip the ones that say “natural flavors” just to be on the safe side and opt for those that just contain fruit.
I used to always pack a thermos of fresh milk in my children’s lunch boxes when they were younger. But, this lunch box item doesn’t go over so well in middle school and high school! My favorite now is a coconut water. Raw coconut water is the very best choice (this is my favorite), but this is a very expensive lunchbox item, so if budget is a concern, this brand is high quality and more reasonably priced.
Raw Fruit Juice
Pasteurized fruit juice even if organic is a nutritionless, high sugar choice for the lunch box. Best to skip it – always!
On the other hand, there are a few vendors (this is my current fave) that now offer unpasteurized, cold pressed organic fruit juice in small containers for the lunch box. Note that these brands are only found in the refrigerated section and you must use a cold pack in your child’s lunch if you use them.
These choices are on the pricey side, but occasionally, they make for a nice variety for children. I am all for teaching children that not everything in a package is bad .. you can find good quality if you know what you are looking for and are a savvy shopper. It also helps them blend in with their peers and not stand out too much with their (in most cases) very different type of lunch.
Oops! I just counted and realized there are 11 lunch box snacks in this list instead of 10. I guess that’s probably fine as folks would prefer more ideas than less, so I’ll just leave it as is!
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
How to Pack a Healthy School Lunch
Lunchables Creator Won’t Feed Them to His Own Kids
* This post contains affiliate links
Sarah, thank you for revealing some of the short cuts you take. Your list is very similar to the items I sneak into my children’s lunch boxes. The most common addition to your list that I use is 4505 Pork Rinds – they are as clean or cleaner ingredient wise than most snack foods, and they are purely fat and protein. Two thumbs up in my book!
Nice post. Thanks for sharing these great snack ideas. The fruit leather seems to be interesting and I would love to try it as I have never heard of it before. Keep sharing such tasty ideas.
It’s so hard to avoid soy. The LATE JULY crackers have SOY LECITHIN (it doesn’t say if it is organic) in them. They also have organic oleic safflower oil and/or oleic sunflower oil in them. From everything I’ve read on this blog, these oils are denatured during the cooking/heating process.
I have a question about the caffeine for kids and it effecting their kidneys (like you mentioned with avoiding chocolate). Would Kombucha be too much caffeine to growing kids then? what is your opinion with giving young kids kombucha?
I think small amounts are fine after age 1 which is what I followed for my children. The caffeine is essentially gone when kombucha is properly brewed. I am sensitive to caffeine and have no issues with it.
Hmm, the potato chip choice is non organic potatoes which I feel is important. Also, Larabar is owned by a bigger company who supports GMO’ s….And even though Late July crackers are organic they contain gluten.
Oops, most of this was already said…apology..And I do appreciate your guidance Sarah…I’m not a perfectionist, yet prefer the best choices for my money support.
Hey Sarah, Great list especially as we enter the back-to-school window. You definitely need to check out Amazon’s Subscribe & Save program. Plus they have a Prime Pantry program that is worth checking out for the really bulky items, etc.
I have no problem buying Larabars. Let’s be honest, speaking with my wallet is going to do a lot more than signing any petition will. “Evil” General Mills will make healthier food if we buy it. You can talk about clever marketing gimicks and guys in dark suits planning to destroy us all with crap food…but the reality is these are publicly traded companies trying to make a profit for their shareholders. General Mills didn’t buy Larabar to destroy the health movement. They invested in a profitable venture. We should support those efforts. Just saying…
Sarah, I noticed that the avocado oil potato chips have sugar in them – do you know if it could be GMO or not?
I just looked at the label of the ones I buy (I have a couple bags in the pantry) and linked to in the post .. no sugar added at all. The ingredients say: potatoes, all natural avocado oil, sea salt. Not sure where you saw that but it wasn’t the brand of potato chips I buy and mentioned in this article.
This was so helpful. Thank you for sharing it. I homeschool but I am homeschooling 7 children so I need quick snacks that I put in reach of my younger kids when it’s time. I am going to look into some of these. Oh, and Amazon subscribe n save is awesome!!!! I’ve used it for several years now to get some toiletries and most of our paper products. I am excited to look and see if some of your recommendations are on there. The nice is yiu can select the intervals that yiu want them delivered. I have some items that are only delivered every 6 months.
Hi,Karen, I just wanted to encourage you as you homeschool your seven children. I have also homeschooled seven children ,but mine are all grown up except one (she graduates next year).
It is so worth the hard work and sacrifices.
As far as food goes, I always had veggie sticks available (cut the night before). Dinners were more strategic, my husband is more picky then the kids ever were! I seemed to either have the crock pot going or throw together a casserole.
Sometimes I would let the kids write out meal plans and use it to teach nutrition. They loved being part of this and would sometimes get very creative.
Just do your best, don’t let small stuff get to you. Focus on family. That’s what it’s all about.
Jennifer Perez via Facebook
Stonewall kitchen crackers use butter- they are delicious but pricey. The cheapest I’ve found them is for $5.99 at a local supermarket.
Christena Wood Mekkelsen via Facebook
Thanks for acknowledging single moms and the challenges we face. I feel so often the subject is not touched on and that we struggle alone as we work hard to meet the same needs and expectations of married family units.