Snack Packs for Lunch
I recently heard three elementary school teachers talking about what kids bring for lunch. They said the lunch boxes were often filled with five or six “snack packs” - individually packaged single-servings of snack-type foods. There might be pudding, a juice box, granola bar, snack cake, chips, or something else of that ilk. The kids, it seemed, carried several options to eat, trade or toss away.
These kids did not bring thermos bottles or utensils. They definitely did not carry food considered by all to be "weird," which seems to be anything natural or cooked at home. On The Weird Food List was grainy bread, crackers and cereal in a zip lock bag, soups, hard boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, every sliced raw vegetable, hummus, cottage cheese, chickpeas, kidney beans, and leftovers from last night’s supper. Food that was not on The Weird Food List was anything packaged and advertised on TV.
Those teachers's dilemma was how to help the kids eat the “healthy” food first, when practically none of the choices were healthy. Most snack foods are high in sugar, fat, salt, starch or any combination of all four. Is sugar worse than salt? Is salt worse than fat? Is refined starch acceptable in a compromised situation? For older kids, the health value of food was not addressed at all since they were unsupervised and free to eat their junk.
What’s an adult to do?
Ideally, your children will not be like the others - they will cherish the weird foods. They will drink fat-free or low-fat milk and 100% juice, and they will eat grainy bread and crackers, natural peanut butter, every nut and seed, turkey and chicken breast, lean ham, roast beef and tuna, as well as string cheese, hard boiled eggs, hummus, and cold pizza. They will beg for cut-up fresh vegetables that you pack separately so as not to be wilted or soggy, and they will love all fresh and dried fruit, and especially the muffins you bake at home with your quickly ripening fruit.
But if your less-than-perfect children insist on snack packs, tell them that they may choose from the Acceptable Snack Pack List. Acceptable snacks meet the criteria for good nutrition handily borrowed in part from the Stop & Shop Healthy Ideas program. Under no circumstances will you cave and buy “junk food” of negligible nutrient value from the Unacceptable Snack Pack List. That food makes people sick in the long run and you would be remiss in your duties as a well-meaning adult.
Acceptable Snack Pack List*
Water, 100% juice, graham crackers, animal crackers, flatbread crackers, baked chips, pretzels, reduced-fat popcorn, popcorn cakes and rice cakes, unsweetened cereal in a cup or box, nuts, peanuts, cornnuts, seeds, dried fruit (raisins, Craisins®) and canned fruit without added ingredients, unsweetened applesauce, freeze-dried fruit, fruit leather made of 100% fruit, Mini Babybel cheese, string cheese, EatWellStayHealthy Kids Chicken Nuggets and Popcorn Chicken, pouches of water-packed tuna, fat-free or reduced-fat pudding, yogurt and drinkable yogurt, gelatin, granola bars that have less than 3 grams of fat and fewer than 30 grams of carbohydrate per serving, and trail mix products that meet the same above criteria and don't contain candy.
Unacceptable Snack Pack List
Snack crackers (baked and regular), full-fat popcorn, full-fat chips, chips made with Olean, packaged sandwich-crackers and crackers-and-cheese, cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, breakfast pastries, candy, candy coated dry fruit, fruit-flavored snacks, fruit canned in syrup, whole milk pudding, yogurt and yogurt drinks, granola bars and trail mix with more than 3 grams of fat and 30 grams of carbohydrate per serving, Slim Jims, fruit drinks that contain less than 50% juice, soda and diet soda.
* Acceptable packaged snacks are those that meet these criteria for one serving:
total fat: < 3 gram; saturated fat: < 1 gram; cholesterol: < 60 mg; trans fat: 0 gm; sodium: < 480 mg; sugar (when applicable): < 35% by weight; nutrients: > 10% for at least one of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, or fiber.
Can you name more packaged foods that belong on the Acceptable Snack Pack List?