It’s almost that time of year again — back to school.  With both older boys in school full days this fall, the annual conundrum starts to haunt each parent: what can I keep in the fridge/cupboard for lunches and snacks? 

Most schools now-a-days have peanut butter bans… there are alternatives,a lthough maybe not so kid-friendly, such as tahini (sesame seed butter), pumpkin seed butter (which I am using), and all kinds of other types of butter spreads.  The problem with most of these is that kids like the sweetness of crappy Kraft or Jif or Skippy… so how do you get kids to try something outside the box?  Use honey… or agave nectar.. to sweeten up the spread.    My 2nd boy likes both with his peanut butter.  I like honey with my pumpkin seed butter.   Using alternatives to peanut butter will get around the “peanut-free zone” that most classrooms and schools now have.. and you can still send them to school with an ol’ staple that we grew up on.

What else?  All the conventional cereal bars are junk disguised as “health” foods.  I mean, really, why do you have to add colour to a granola bar?  Why do you need to add fake sweeteners?  You can make your own at home, it’s really simple, cut them up in little granola bar rectangles, and voila-a truly healthy snack.   You control what goes in it ((honey, oats, sugar, a little butter, and whatever other good stuff you want to put in there… just stay away from refined sugars–try coconut sugar… it’s healthier for you)), so you know EXACTLY what is in each bar.  AND, have your kids help you pick out their favorite granola ingredients.

Fruit.  Fruit is always a good thing to put into snack boxes.  The problem is that most fruits go bad when exposed to air (apples, pears, bananas), so keep some lemon or apple juice on hand… throw some sliced fruit in a baggie with a bit of juice…giver ‘er a good shake.. and then pack it in a container for snack.  Kiwi is an excellent sliced fruit as it does not turn brown once exposed to air.  That is why it is great in salads!.. AND it’s a super-powered little fruit.  My personal favorite is the kiwi imported from New Zealand.   It just has a nicer colour and flavor than what is imported from Chile or wherever else it gets imported from. 

Other lunch ideas?  Buy a good small thermos cup and heat up some soup in the morning… or use it for heated leftovers.. or even just a little hot chocolate.  

Things to avoid??  And I know kids will hate me for this: avoid Snackables, lunch meats, those little snack packs with the cheese and cracker stick things….   Why??  Read the ingredients.   Snackables are junk disguised as health food…  those little rounds of lunch meat are packed with sodium nitrates (very bad for you)… fake sugars in teh crackers… artificial flavours and colours in some of the cheeses… and a candy bar?  That’s a healthy snack??  Some include little bottles of water — but don’t tell you that the water used is tap water in a bottle, whose waste water is disguised as “fertilizer” and pawned off to poor people in third world countries to use on their crops which they need for survival.   Some Snackables have juice packs–which are full of artificial flavours, colours, and packed with artificial sweeteners. .. sounds pretty tasty, no?  …  Nevermind the snack packs–which I have the same issue with as I do with snackables. …  And lunch meats?  Like I said a few sentences ago, they are loaded with sodium nitrates, which are extremely bad for you. .. like most foods on the market these days… 

So how to avoid the nastiness that is “health” food — you know, like Quaker oat bars, or Kelloggs Special K bars, or even Nature’s Valley (which I like, until I read the ingredients) and even some Kashi bars.. Now, don’t get me wrong, Kashi is my fave brand of cereal, but their bars are not so healthy for you.  This is why I mentioned earlier–make your own.   If you have an oven that is newer–it likely has a low setting–say 100F – 120F–that you can use to dehydrate your own foods, and pack them in lunches.

Fuit snacks?  You know-like Gushers, or Scooby Doo, or whatever other junk is out there.  The only one I actally think is halfways good for you–SunRype.  They use fruit juice concentrate to make their little yummy bites that taste like candy (yes, I like them too).  There are other ones I haven’t tried, but again, look at the ingredients.  You HAVE to be an ingredient-savvy parent to keep your kids eating healthier in school.   If there’s anything other than fruit juice used to sweeten the fruit snacks… leave it on the shelf.  If there’s any artificial colours.. .leave it on the shelf. …  Even better–make your own fruit leathers.  Instead of fruit roll-ups, which are just a load of sugary crap–you can make your own.  Seriously–it’s this easy:  puree  your favorite fruits (or your kids’ favorite fruits), spread it out onto a cookie sheet with edges (you may want to use parch paper to keep it from sticking to the pan), and use the oven’s low heat setting to dehydrate. … Then you cut it up into strips, long or short, roll it up if it makes your kids feel better, and stick it inside their lunch pack. … it’s not only healthy, but super yummy. …  AND your kids will beg for more…  or if you have small cookie cutters, make shapes out of them before you wrap them up for lunch/snack…

Other ideas??  Those are the first ones that come to my head right now. … It’s really a challenge when you want your kids to eat healthy at school, but you don’t really know what to pack them.  You can buy organic apple sauce (not Motts–Eden Organic is a good brand)… in the US, you can buy Vermont apple sauce with raspberry.. or make your own. …  I like the Vermont Organic applesauce, so next time I’m in the US,  I’ll be searching it down high and low… that one is my absolute favorite brand. 

As for drinks??   It’s hard to avoid the juice packs… they are just so darn convenient.  Me? I have a great quality juicer (see my review on juicers) so i’ll be making the boys juice and packing it in a smaller travel cup for them to drink at school.. and be the envy of all their friends. *LOL* … For juice packs, again, READ THE INGREDIENTS.   I can not emphasize enough about being an ingredient-savvy parent when choosing foods for your kids.   

Happy food hunting… and good luck with the snacks!!   I think maybe I’ll add a recipe tab sometime and publish some of my favorite recipes, including where I got them… and how to make them more organic and healthier for your family.