Deciding what to pack your child's lunch is, perhaps, the most difficult of all back-to-school endeavors. As a parent, you want to make sure your kids are eating foods that are healthy and nourishing and also a good source of energy to help them power through American history and recess. On the other hand, when it comes to lunch, kids are interested in one thing and one thing only: taste. Add those truths to the fact that parents are busier than ever and increasingly relying on packaged foods for lunch prep, and it's no wonder that putting together a decent midday meal is more stressful than an AP Calculus exam.
We feel your pain, so we've tested the gamut of grocery store finds to help you pack bento boxes and brown paper sacks with ease. The result is eleven lunchbox eats that will meet your demands for nutrition and convenience, while also serving up a side of yummy for even the pickiest of eaters.
Come August, those cute little applesauce pouches start showing up in backpacks everywhere. And it's no wonder, as the convenient packaging makes it super easy to add a serving of fruit to your kid's lunch. Understanding that, the folks at Mamma Chia decided to make a good thing even better with their Chia Squeeze pouches. They took the basic fruit puree base, made it 100% organic and added hydrated chia seeds to ramp up the nutrition factor with 1200 mg of brain-boosting Omega 3s, 4 grams of fiber and 2 grams of complete protein in every pouch.
You've been reluctantly filling your grocery cart with those all-in-one lunch kits because, well, they're easy, and, despite the high-sodium content and lab-manufactured ingredients, your kids like them. Now, Applegate-the country's leading natural and organic meat company-has the perfect compromise. Their HALF TIME kits offer the same crackers/meat/cheese selection of the big brands-but without the additives, preservatives and other gunk you don't want in your child's lunch. They've also partnered with Stonyfield and Annie's, two other natural and organic brands, to provide the other kit components (like fruit snacks and yogurt tubes), so you can feel good about those, too.
Mary's Gone Crackers has long been churning out delicious, savory crackers that are completely safe for the gluten-free crowd. And with their new MiNiS-in chocolate, vanilla and regular graham flavors-even kids on special diets can enjoy a fun lunchtime treat (they're also dairy-free). The MiNiS come in sun, moon, heart and star shapes, making them the perfect substitute for the ubiquitous stuffed animal-shaped crackers-even for wheat-eating kids.
Lunch just isn't complete without a drink, but even the most health-consicous moms can get tripped up when trying to choose the best option. Juice is certainly better than soda, but even drinks labeled "100% juice" can set your kids up for an energy crash with sky-high per-serving sugar counts. Instead, Coco Joy Kids provides an all-natural, low-sugar alternative. We've all heard about the health benefits of coconut water, but this one has an added splash of fruit flavor, making it a coconut water that your kids will actually want to drink. An added bonus: The Disney-themed bottles add extra lunchbox fun.
What kid doesn't love to open up their lunchbox and find a roll of fruit leather? And what parent doesn't hate the food colorings, partially hydrogenated oils and corn syrup in each tight, little roll? Rawr Bars combine the kid-friendly fun of fruit leather with all-natural ingredients parents can fully support. The bars come in three flavors-Super Sweet Potato, Beet-A-Peel and Very Berry Kale-that are gluten-free, vegan and veggie-loaded for extra nutrition.
Kids need protein to maintain energy levels throughout the day (and also to kill cravings for sugar and highly processed foods). But packing a lunch with healthy protein for the sandwich-averse can be a challenge. Fusion Jerky solves this problem with all-natural, Asian-style beef, pork, turkey and chicken jerkies that come in unique flavors like Chipotle Lime and Island Teriyaki. Fusion jerky is also gluten-free, and unlike unlike many other jerkies on the market, Fusion is also free of MSG, nitrites and preservatives.
If it was up to kids, they'd probably skip lunch and head right for dessert. But if you pack the right dessert, you can (almost) forgive them for bringing home their uneaten sandwich. ProYo frozen yogurt tubes (in Vanilla Bean, Banana Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate and Blueberry Pomegranate) have 20 grams of protein each, plus gut-friendly probiotics to keep little tummies happy. And the fact that it's GMO-, gluten- and soy-free will have parents smiling, too. Keep it frozen till lunchtime with a small ice pack, or let it melt slightly (as it keeps the rest of the lunch cool) and have kids add granola, chopped nuts and/or dried fruit for an added healthy treat.
You know the neon orange cheese balls you used to gorge on as a kid? The ones that come in a giant, 50-gallon jug? The ones filled with Yellow No. 5 food coloring and artificial flavors? The same ones your kids beg for now? Roll your grocery cart right past them and pick up I Heart Keenwah's new Quinoa Puffs in Aged Cheddar (or Sea Salt Truffle, Herbs De Provence or Sweet Chili). Your kids will love the satisfying, cheesy crunch, and you'll love the protein- and fiber-rich goodness of quinoa.
You can't throw a lunchbox in a grocery store without hitting a package of granola or energy bars, but not all are as healthy as they seem. With only eight simple ingredients and no refined sugar, Frontier Bites provides a healthy alternative to those deceptive calorie- and sugar bombs. The bite-sized design also makes portioning easier, so you never have to worry about a half-eaten bar coming back home again. But with flavors that include Almond Blueberry Lemon, Pecan Cherry Cinnamon, Macadamia Pineapple Coconut, we're pretty sure your kids won't have a problem finishing these.
Peanut butter and jelly is a classic lunch combo that kids (and adults) love, but sandwiches can get boring-and they can also be less-than-healthy, especially for gluten-free kiddos. KIND has coupled their Healthy Grains blend (made with gluten-free super grains oats, millet, amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat) and added the salty sweetness of PB&J in a convenient, individually wrapped bar. No butter knives necessary.
With kids participating in so many extracurricular activities, you'll soon find that you need to pack snacks in addition to daily lunches. And while potato chips satisfy the salty crunch that kids crave in late afternoons, they aren't exactly the healthiest choice. BIENA Chickpea Snacks serve up a tasty crunch in each protein-packed chickpea, so kids can get their snack on and you can actually feel good about it. We can't decide if the classic Sea Salt or zesty Barbecue is our favorite, or if we're more partial to the delicately sweet Honey Roasted. But no matter which flavor you choose, we're willing to bet your kids can't eat just one!
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