8-20-13
J.M. Hirsch

Nobody Eats Lunch at Lunchtime! 11 Fast and Easy Snack Ideas

At least that’s what it feels like when you talk to kids these days.

I blame our culture of constant snacking. And the trend of ever shorter lunch and recess periods in schools.

Because when I was in school, snack time was something that happened only in kindergarten. As of first grade, if you got hungry before or after lunch you were expected to suck it up.

And there was no such thing as not finishing your lunch during lunch period. Our lunch boxes were inspected before we could go to recess and we were returned to our tables to finish any lingering crumbs.

My son’s world? His school day is divided by two snack periods in addition to lunch.

I didn’t know how much things had changed. It took me a year to realize he was divvying up the lunches I packed for him into three mini meals.

The poor kid. I wasn’t exactly packing snack time-friendly stuff.

Under the delusion that his entire lunch was eaten in one sitting, I didn’t make it easy on him. Warm pastas and dressed salads, or meatball subs and yogurt parfaits aren’t exactly easy grab-and-go snack items.

Once I understood how things worked, I got much better at including items he could munch quickly and easily.

Truth is, I have it lucky. Children at my son’s school are allowed to access their lunch boxes to get their snacks. This means refrigerated items — such as a yogurt cup or cheese, meat and crackers — are fair game.

But plenty of schools make lunch boxes off limits until lunch. And the means dry or room temp snacks only.

So to help you handle school time snacking like a pro, here’s my list of 11 easy-to-pack, easy-to-eat snack items you can feel good about stashing in your kid’s lunch box.

  1. Popcorn — Even when coated in powdered “cheese,” popcorn still is a whole grain.
  2. Graham crackers — Good straight up, or slathered with peanut butter.
  3. Dried fruit — When possible, aim for low- or no-sugar varieties. And don’t limit yourself to raisins and cranberries. These days you can get everything from mango and papaya to strawberries and dates.
  4. Pretzels — You could do worse than regular pretzels. But you also can do better. Whole-grain and even gluten-free varieties are now common.
  5. Granola — Skip the granola bars; most are jammed with fat and sugar. Instead, go for a healthy low-fat granola with lots of seeds and fruit to eat dry like chips. Just be sure to check the ingredients for nuts if that is a concern at your school.
  6. Baby veggies — Some veggies travel well, even when not refrigerated. Baby carrots, mini bell peppers (left whole) and cherry tomatoes are ideal for popping in a snack container. A sprinkle of salt is nice.
  7. Waffles — Making frozen waffles for breakfast? Toast an extra one. While it’s still hot, sprinkle it with cinnamon-sugar, then pop it in a snack container. Extra credit if you get whole-grain waffles.
  8. Chips — Baked veggie chips and baked tortilla chips aren’t exactly nutritional powerhouses, but they are a respectable snack choice (and lots better than your average potato chip). And don’t forget kale chips.
  9. Rice cakes — No, this isn’t an 80s flashback. They are back and better than before. Many are whole grain and come in tasty flavors.
  10. Cured meats — Seriously. Pepperoni, salami and prosciutto are safe at room temperature. For carnivorous kids this is an easy snack that will fill them up.
  11. Jerky — Another great meaty option. Almost all jerky is low-fat. It’s also naturally high in keep-them-feeling-full protein. And these days it’s available in tons of flavors and varieties, even vegan.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at LunchBoxBlues.com. His upcoming cookbook, Beating the Lunch Box Blues, will be the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking and Venturesome Vegan Cooking. He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.

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