When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What to pack? (School snacks)

Our backyard has been a flurry of wild animal activity these past few days, and the boys and I have been especially amused watching the squirrels and chipmunks who frequent our deck. We have a very old, large black walnut tree at the back of our property, and everywhere we look there are little critters running with large green orbs in their mouths, looking for places to stash them for later. Yesterday we had a good laugh when we found this tucked in the corner of our kitchen window:

Despite the hider's best efforts, I'm not sure this snack is still going to be there when he comes back to find it!

Many parents' thoughts are probably turning to snacks this week as well, for no matter how much the kids don't want to admit it, school will be back in full swing next week. I don't love the thought of packing lunches and snacks for the next day every evening again, but I've found that advanced thinking and preparing always makes the task a little simpler.

The food industry has done quite a job of providing options for quick-to-pack, individually wrapped, snack-sized foods for kids, but in my opinion, many of the "foods" contained in those packages are lacking in nutritional value. We've come up with a collection of healthy, homemade options in our house (along with a few better-for-you packaged foods) that the boys both enjoy, and if you're looking for ideas, you may want to try some of them. (I've provided the links to recipes that are posted elsewhere on my site for easy reference.)

Homemade muffins made with whole grains and fruit (There are three recipes here, one of which is gluten, dairy, and egg-free.)

Banana oat bundles (These delicious cookies are dairy and egg-free, and can be made gluten-free as well if you use certified pure oats.)

Raw veggies with hummus or white bean dip and Mary's seed crackers (gluten, dairy, and egg-free)

Oatmeal apple cinnamon mini-muffins (gluten, dairy, and egg-free, and just the right size for small hands and appetites!)

Homemade granola bars (gluten, dairy, and egg-free, and bursting with nutritious ingredients!)

Homemade applesauce with toasted whole grain pita triangles, Pita Break lavash crackers, or gluten-free brown rice cakes.

Homemade chocolate granola bites  (These yummy snacks are gluten, dairy, and egg-free as well.  I make the heart shaped ones for Valentine's Day, but year round I use mini muffin tins as molds to create perfect little two-bite snacks.)

Fresh fruit kebabs with plain yogourt for dipping (You can sweeten the yogourt with a little bit of honey if your kids are used to the sweetened, flavoured varieties.)

Cranberry coconut granola cookies (gluten, dairy, and egg-free)

Babybel cheese with Triscuit Thins and an apple (I like Babybel because it is made with milk rather than modified milk ingredients, and it also has no added colouring. You can buy a giant bag of Babybel cheeses at Costco for a great price!)

Homemade trail mix using low-sugar dry cereal (like Cheerios, or Nature's Path Whole O's for a gluten-free option), multigrain mini pretzels (like PC Blue Menu Alphabet pretzels, or Mary's Sticks & Twigs for a gluten-free option), fruit-juice sweetened dried cranberries, unsweetened flakes of coconut, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and a little sprinkling of dark chocolate chips (at least 70% cocoa).  If your children's school doesn't have a no-nuts policy, then you can add a variety of nuts to the mixture as well; raw almonds, cashews, pecans and walnuts are all great additions.

Packing school snacks for Will became more of a challenge when we discovered his food sensitivities; cheese and yogourt were out, as were any foods containing gluten, and because the boys' school is completely nut-free, I am not able to send any of the baked goods I make for him out of almond flour. In addition to some of the options listed above, though, Will also really enjoys the little sandwiches I make from a piece of fresh-baked gluten-free bread, natural sunflower seed butter and a bit of fruit-juice sweetened jam. By slicing off the bread crusts and cutting the bread in half, I can make a perfect snack-sized sandwich with a healthy, school-safe protein and just a bit of sweetness.

It may be a little more work to bake and prepare your own snacks for your children, but their bodies and brains will thank you for it when they're well fuelled up for all of the activities they'll participate in through the course of a busy day. A few baking or food-prep sessions on a weekend can provide a nice freezer/fridge stash of healthy snack foods that can quickly be packed into lunch bags. (And unlike our little squirrel friend, you can be pretty sure that those snacks will still be there when you need them!)

If you're looking for durable and healthy containers in which to pack all of these yummy snack foods, you may want to check out these eco-friendly options. They're a great alternative to chemical-laden plastics, and after a year of daily use, the boys' sets are both still going strong! (Believe me, that says a lot about their quality -- have you seen the way young boys treat their belongings?!)

If you have some great healthy school snack or lunch ideas, please share them in the comments section below! Best wishes to all of your children as they return to school next week. I hope they have a year full of happy adventures!