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
* This post contains affiliate links
Sarah Pope has been a Health and Nutrition Educator since 2002. Her work is dedicated to helping families effectively incorporate the principles of ancestral diets within the modern household. She is a sought after lecturer around the world for conferences, summits, and podcasts.
Her work has been covered by major media including USA Today, ABC, NBC, and many others.