Friday, September 16, 2016

Back-to-school snacks that break the mold

The back-to-school season is upon us, but that doesn't mean that healthy and tasty lunch options are off the table. Break the pattern of peanut butter and jelly or pre-packaged snacks, and start a new pattern of local, healthy eating. The trick is to offer vegetables they’ll eat, provide plenty of protein, something to comfort their sweet tooth, and enough carbs to keep them running without crashing later.  

The West Milford Farmers Market in New Jersey, and other farmers markets nationwide, are still going strong and offer deliciously healthy, local options available for your kids' school lunch boxes this season. In places like the Aquidneck Grower’s Markets in Rhode Island, you can also find locally caught fish year-round. A stroll through the natural food aisle will offer some great options, too.

Great for lunch

Forget the lunchables.  We make our own version by getting creative with cookie cutters and good quality deli cheeses and meats (when we don’t feel as creative, we make “roll ups” instead). Pair this with your favorite crackers, a homemade cookie, and a cute tupperware, and they’ll be the envy of every kid at the lunch table.

Although this isn’t always the case, what I like most about gluten-free is that by getting creative with different types of grains, companies have come up with some fantastically nutrient-dense alternatives to traditional wheat products.

For example, Organic Superseed Crunch, is a light, sweet and crispy snack made from organic, whole flax, chia and sesame seeds, which they claim provide Omega 3s, gut friendly prebiotic fiber, antioxidants and lignans, and comes in three different flavors.

Although not technically gluten-free, Food For Life’s Ezekiel bread is a favorite at our house. They use sprouted grains (including spelt, which is sometimes substituted in gluten-sensitive diets, although it does contain gluten) and legumes to create an easily digestible, high nutrient bread that substitutes nicely for traditional multi-grain.  This is our go-to for school-time favorites like almond butter and jelly, or ham and cheese sandwiches.

Banza is one of my favorite gluten-free pastas. Made with chickpeas, it’s full of nutrients, and has a nice texture that holds up in pasta salads. Add chicken, salmon, or shrimp to your salad for those complete proteins.

Here are some other great lunch options:

  • Free range egg salad sandwich on artisan bread from your farmers market, and a pickle or olives on the side,
  • Nut butter sandwich drizzled with local, raw honey, or no sugar added apple butter,
  • Hard boiled egg and sliced cucumber. Peel alternating strips for a striped effect that doesn’t lose all those valuable nutrients,
  • Smoked salmon or cod on artisan bread with sliced tomato and arugula tossed in olive oil and lemon.


Snack is an important break in many elementary schools.  And why not? Eating every 2-4 hours is recommended, so why not skip the sugar and provide a hearty and healthy option to pull your child through the rest of their day?

Here are some of our favorites:

  • Cherry tomatoes and a snack bag of beef jerky,
  • A scoop of plain yogurt garnished with cinnamon, fresh or frozen blueberries, and homemade granola,
  • Dips like hummus and guacamole from your local farmers market, paired with carrot and cucumber sticks,
  • Single serve peanut or nut butter cups with Mary’s Gone Crackers and apple slices,
  • Applesauce and a handful of pecans or almonds,
  • Kale chips and cheese.

After school snacks

Who has time to prep a healthy after-school snack?  Kids need good fuel as much after school as they do during class. Here are some of our quick and easy ideas.

Did the kids love dinner from the night before?  This is my go-to lunch as a work-from-home mom, but it makes a great after-school snack as well.  Heat up some taco shells, and get creative about the leftovers you put in them!

Speaking of leftovers--if there’s anything left in the kids’ lunchbox, guess where it goes? In their bellies as an after-school snack. Sometimes I’ll dress it up like I did today, putting cream cheese on my little one’s ham sandwich, or turning leftover carrot and cucumber sticks into a salad with some oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

We love “nachos,” and made this way, they’re more of a meal than a treat.  Spread some tortilla chips on a baking sheet, and cover with shredded cheese.  Pop in the oven while it preheats to 375 degrees.  By time it’s pre-heated the cheese should be melted.  Meanwhile, open a can of fat-free or vegetarian refried beans into a pan with about a quarter cup of water or broth, stirring constantly until heated through.  Pour over the “nachos”. Top with guacamole, salsa, or sour cream. Sometimes this doubles as a dinner-on-the-run, or as a weekend lunch. It is easy enough that the kids can help, quick enough to be done in ten minutes, and if you use aluminum foil on the bottom of your cookie sheet, clean up is a snap.  Win-win.

Some more after-school snack ideas:

  • Sliced apples or grapes, cubed swiss, and a handful of almonds or walnuts,
  • Yogurt and unsweetened apple sauce topped with slivered almonds,
  • Smoked salmon with crackers or pretzels and green grapes,
  • Sliced melon and proscuitto or ham.

Looking for more real-food ideas for your family?  Visit my Facebook page [] where I’ve been posting some of my on-the-fly recipes each week.

What are some of your favorite lunch and snack ideas?

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