Finding the time and energy to make trips to specialty stores for healthy foods that your kids will actually eat, or desperately prepare lunches on a Sunday night that will ultimately end up coming home in the school bag at the end of the day can all feel like too much sometimes.
And although one of my core philosophies when it comes to working with kids is to start with a ‘food as medicine’ approach, meaning lots of fresh, whole foods, I still appreciate the need for convenience when it comes to running a busy family.
So, I’ve rounded up my top picks for lunchbox friendly snacks that are quick, easy, and guilt-free for those weeks when you are completely flat out but still want to give your kids the best. Everything listed below can be purchased from your local supermarket.
1. The Happy Snack Company – Roasted Chickpeas & Fava Beans
Move over kids, because I am personally obsessed with these snacks! They are absolutely delicious and tick the box for any little ones who like savoury snacks – they are crunchy, salty, and flavoursome, coming in kid-friendly options such as salt & vinegar or pizza.
These crunchy snacks are loaded with fiber healthy gut function and happy, healthy gut bacteria. They are also an excellent source of protein – a key building block nutrient required for just about all body functions, particularly focus and concentration for kids by way of the neurotransmitters they produce. Legumes like chickpeas and fava beans are also high in micronutrients like calcium, zinc, and magensium, among other goodies.
Where to find them: health food aisle
2. Rice cakes
No doubt we’re all familiar with the humble rice cake. My vote goes to these guys because of their versatility in a lunchbox – they act as a great carrier vehicle for other healthy ingredients.
Some kid-friendly toppings can include:
- Vegemite (or Freedom Foods Vege Spread – gluten and yeast free, for a better option)
- Seed butters – for example, sunflower seed butter or tahini (with a drizzle of raw honey) if your kids’ school is nut free, otherwise almond butters and ABC spreads are great
- Cheese slices – natural, unprocessed
- There are loads of ideas online and on Instagram if you type in “rice cake toppings” or #ricecake
Although not inherently high in nutritional value, when combined with other healthful foods rice cakes are a convenient, non-perishable, pantry staple that you can turn to on even the busiest mornings.
Always opt for the plain cakes without any flavouring, as the flavourings can transform this otherwise innocent snack into just another processed food. Find them in the cracker section and health food isle of the supermarket. My top pick would be Ceres Brown Rice Cakes.
Where to find them: found in both the health food isle and the cracker isle
3. Air Popped Popcorn
I’m yet to meet a child who doesn’t like popcorn, so it doesn’t get much easier than this crowd favourite. There are a few good options available in the supermarket, which come in a range of kid-friendly flavours such as lightly salted, salt & vinegar, cheddar cheese, and classic butter.
A bit like rice cakes, popcorn isn’t overly nutritious, but if your kids are chip or cracker addicts (like many are) then popcorn can be a great alternative and limit the intake of nasty flavourings and additives from chips, shapes, and flavoured rice crackers.
Popcorn still delivers some fiber, which is good for gut health and for keeping kids fuller for longer between snacks or meals
Where to find them:
- Cobs Popcorn – find the single-serve multipacks in the chip aisle of the supermarket.
- Woolies make their ‘wholefoods’ brand, Macro Air Popped Popcorn, usually found in the health food aisle
- Freedom Foods – make ‘Messy Monkey’ popcorn in lightly salted and lightly sweet & salted flavours, found in the health food aisle
4. ThinkMunch Pumpkin Seed Bites
These super simple but super yummy sweet crunch bites have only 5 ingredients – pumpkin and sesame seeds, rice malt syrup, sugar cane, and sea salt.
Pumpkin seeds are full of protein and healthy micronutrients like zinc, calcium, and magnesium, which keep little bodies running all day long by assisting energy production, muscle function, and brain activity. Although they have added sugar, it is a very small amount per serving size – MUCH lower than muesli bars or biscuits.
Where to find them: in the health food aisle
5. Greek Yoghurt
The trick with yoghurt is to go for a plain, unflavoured option. This is the most nutritious way to consume yoghurt, or rather, the best way to limit unnecessary sugar intake for your kids. Check the ingredients list for any added sugar; true plain yoghurt should have only 2 or 3 ingredients – milk, cultures, and cream only!
You can buy a big tub and dispense into smaller lunchbox friendly containers with berries and a drizzle of raw honey, or buy some of the single serve sachets for the ultimate convenience. A quick word of warning with the prepackaged sachets – they often contain unnecessary ingredients like rice starch, gums, artificial thickeners, and gelatin to modify the consistency in the pouch.
- Farmers Union Greek-style Yoghurt Pouches
- Chiobani Honey Yoghurt Pouch – although this has added honey, it is the only extra ingredient, keeping it super simple
Yoghurt is a nice mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, providing a very balanced food option for kids lunches.
Where to find them: fridge section
6. Baby Bell Cheese
Delivered in the perfect serving size and portable packaging, the classic Baby Bell is a lunchbox all-rounder. If your kids tolerate dairy, then having a few packets of Baby Bell cheeses in the fridge can be a lifesaver on those mornings when everyone is running late!
Like other good quality dairy products, Baby Bell cheese will provide kids with a good hit of protein to keep them full and powered up throughout the day. Cheese is also a good source of calcium.
Where to find them: fridge section
7. Freedom Foods Barley+ Muesli Bars
I declare the muesli bar game to be totally transformed by Freedom Foods and their new range of ‘Barley+’ products. These seedy bars are absolutely loaded with nutrition and are impressively low in sugar – with less than half the amount of sugar as your average muesli bar. They are fairly fibrous and chewy, so they might not get past some of your more selective eaters, but I definitely think they are worth a shot – you can always have them for your own lunch if your kids don’t approve.
Where to begin with these bars?! They are loaded with fiber and will keep your kids full for a long time during the day. They also contain a special type of fiber – resistant starch – that our good bacteria in our guts use as a source of energy. With 7 different types of seeds and 2 whole grains, you can rest assured that your kids will be getting a substantial hit of essential nutrients with each bar.
Where to find them: health food aisle, only sold at COLES
The humble egg; kids either seem to love them or hate them. If your kids are on board with eggs then consider them your new lunchbox bestie. They can be used within countless recipes, such as lunchbox muffins bits (great recipe here) or frittatas and quiches, or simply boil up the dozen at the start of the week, store in the fridge, and send of whole boiled eggs as a lunchbox snack (pre-peeled for quick and easy eating).
Always choose free-range eggs. Opt for the best quality you can afford for optimal nutrition and chicken-friendliness.
I like to think of eggs as nature’s original superfood or our daily multivitamin, as they contain so many essential nutrients it blows my mind! A great source of protein, fat, and micronutrients like vitamin A, zinc, iron, choline, B12, selenium, and iodine.
Where to find them: usually in the fridge section at the supermarket
9. Eat Rite Tamari Seaweed Brown Rice Crackers
With just three ingredients, these guys are a clear front-runner in the rice cracker market. Most other rice crackers contain unwanted additives, processed flavours, MSG, filler ingredients, and highly processed vegetable oils. But not Eat Rite crackers!
Just like their friends the rice cakes and popcorn, rice crackers aren’t going to win any nutritional awards. But they will deliver some fiber and, because these are brown rice, a small amount of vitamins and nutrients. They are also a great alternative to the other less desirable options that saturate the rice cracker shelves.
Although it is a very small amount, the seaweed factor provides some iodine, an essential mineral needed for healthy brain growth and development, especially in the early years of life.
Where to find them: health food aisle (not with the other crackers in the cracker aisle).
10. Kez’s Kitchen Naked Bars
These nut-free, healthy alternatives to the classic muesli bar should become your new pantry staple for lunch box snacks. Made from ONLY wholefood ingredients, including a range of seeds, dates and some spices and vanilla for flavour, these are a great bliss ball-esque option that aren’t laden with nuts and don’t cost an arm and a leg
These bars contain three types of seeds – sunflower, sesame, and chia, making them real nutritional powerhouses. Seeds contain a wonderful mix of fats, protein, and carbohydrates, along with a range of micronutrients needed to support energy levels throughout the day
Dates are a great source of potassium, making them a nice choice whenever sweetness is needed in a recipe
Cocoa is regarded as a cognitive enhancer and may help to improve the focus and concentration of kids in the classroom throughout the day.
Where to find them: health food aisle
I am pleased to say that this is just the top 10 of what is becoming an increasingly longer list of healthy options available in the supermarket. Better nutritional awareness and increased demand for whole food based products has influenced many food manufacturing companies to clean up their products and offer more healthful options. It has also meant that the door has been opened to other companies who have been making healthy, wholefood products the whole time – but who now have the opportunity to stock their products in the supermarket due to customer demand.
Happy shopping and lunchbox prep in the coming weeks!
Please note: I am no way affiliated with any of these products. I only recommend them based on my personal experience and nutritional expertise, and in the hopes that I can help you find some healthy lunchbox options that your kids actually enjoy.