When it’s your turn to provide the classroom snack, are you overwhelmed by the restrictions and expectations? I hear you. And I’m here to help you send school safe snacks that your kids will be proud to share.
We no longer live in the days where anything goes when it comes to elementary school snacks. We have to consider what’s healthy, what meets food allergy approval, and what kids will actually eat.
Whether you are looking for school safe snack ideas for a classroom celebration, or for your child to pull out of their bag at break time, this article is here to help!
Let’s look at why healthy snacks matter, what makes a snack safe at school, and a whole list of options you can turn to with confidence.
Why healthy snacks matter at school
You know that starting the day with a healthy breakfast is important for your child’s energy levels and brain function, but so is offering a healthy snack. Food affects how our brains work. It affects our mood, our behavior, and our cognition.
I encourage my kids, and my nutrition clients, to emphasize meal-time over snack-time — constant grazing can deter from developing healthy habits around food. But designated snack times, like many school classrooms have, can be an awesome opportunity to nourish little bodies and minds.
Healthy snacks for elementary school kids can build lifelong positive eating habits. These lifestyle behaviors reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as obesity and diabetes, that we see on the rise.
What makes a school snack safe and healthy
When it comes to the best school snacks, there’s more to it than choosing foods that are easy to transport. We have to consider what our children need for nourishment AND what ingredients are safe for everyone in the classroom.
Real food vs. processed food
Real food for kids should be our first priority when it comes to snack selection.
Grabbing the highly processed, brightly colored, convenient package is certainly the easiest, but it comes with consequences — less focus, blood sugar highs and lows, behavior issues, and eventually poor health.
More schools are implementing wellness policies that encourage whole food choices and discourage junk foods with added sugars, artificial ingredients, or food colorings.
When it comes to real, whole foods, snack time is a great time to emphasize and incorporate vegetables and fruits. On average, produce consumption amongst children is far below the recommended number of servings per day, so this is an opportunity to strive for more.
More often than not, snacks end up rich in carbohydrates. They taste good, they’re convenient, kids gravitate to them, and they quickly boost energy.
But, just as with healthy after school snacks, I always recommend pairing carbs with protein and/or fat. This will slow absorption and utilization of nutrients, keeping blood sugar stable and kids full of energy for longer.
Even though veggies and fruits are nutrient-dense, fiber-rich carbohydrate sources, they too can leave you hungrier than before when eaten on their own. Enjoy them with foods such as guacamole, hummus, yogurt, cheese, or jerky bites.
With the prevalence of food allergies, most classrooms today are peanut and tree nut FREE zones! Nut-free snacks for school mean that any food brought into the class must be made or handled in a facility without peanuts or tree nuts. Yikes! That eliminates quite a few options.
In addition, most classes have kids with gluten or dairy allergies, so you may need to accommodate their needs as well.
Some schools require that all snacks and treats be store-bought to ensure safe ingredients are offered to those with allergies. It’s also commonplace that shared snacks can no longer be homemade.
The best way to keep snacks safe is to know your school and classroom policies. Ask teachers for clarification and don’t hesitate to reach out to parents of children with allergies for a better understanding of what’s appropriate.
A healthy list of classroom snacks
An approved school snack list may get sent home with your child at the beginning of the school year. If it’s anything like those that I’ve seen, you’ll be amazed at the number of junky foods on it.
Here is a list of healthier options that include fresh and packaged foods, as well as some pairing ideas. Most of these ideas are great for school, and any time you need to bring snacks for a group of kids — healthy snacks for the car or to refuel after soccer practice.
What you choose to put together will depend on if you are just feeding your own child or the whole class, and your school’s specific requirements – always confirm first!
Whole food snacks
Many of these fresh food options do come in individual store-bought packages today. I’m not a fan of excess packaging, but if your school requires that each child’s snack be individually wrapped, at least there are healthier options out there.
Kid-approved vegetables: For fiber and micronutrients
If you have the opportunity to highlight veggies before fruits, do it! Veggies are much lower in sugar, and generally higher in fiber and nutrients than fruits.
Sure fruits are healthy, too, but they are considered nature’s candy. Children are more apt to reach their fruit quota while they struggle to meet their veggie needs.
- Bell peppers
- Cherry tomatoes
- Snap peas
- Broccoli florets
- Green beans
Fruit: Delicious source of antioxidants and energy
Deeply colored fresh fruits are a great source of antioxidants and phytonutrients. However, some commercially-grown fruits also carry a heavy load of pesticides. Check out the Environmental Working Group for a list of their Dirty Dozen to avoid the worst offenders — choose organic options for those.
- Avocado (great source of fat)
- Coconut flakes (great source of fat)
- Olives (great source of fat)
Meat and eggs: To stay full longer
It can be tricky to send in good sources of protein with your kids, but quality jerky sticks, salamis, and hard boiled-eggs (these even come packaged as well) make it possible.
- Fresh roasted deli meat (no nitrites/nitrates or coloring added, all-natural)
- Sliced chicken
- Jerky (look for antibiotic, hormone free, pasture raised)
- Hard-boiled eggs
Dairy: Tasty ways to add extra protein and fat
If your child tolerates dairy, it can be a great source of healthy fat and protein. It’s also a nut-free snack for kindergarteners and beyond. Seek out whole milk options and choose organic when possible.
- Cheese sticks
- Cheese cubes
- Cheese wheels
- Cheese wedges
- Yogurt (whole milk, low sugar, live cultures)
- Cottage cheese cups
Dips: Fun sources of healthy fats
Kids of all ages love to dip, and healthy dippers can be the best way to boost veggie intake! Seek out seed butter, guacamole, and hummus made without canola, soybean, vegetable, or corn oils.
- Guacamole cups
- Hummus cups
- Sunflower seed butter
Seeds: Nutritious nut alternatives
When we think “nut-free,” we often assume seed-free, but this is not usually the case. Most seeds are still acceptable and are a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
When it comes to health, limiting the amount of processed food your kids eat is best. But with school rules, and everyone’s safety in mind, sometimes we have to turn to the package.
Here are some healthier options for packaged snack foods. Always re-check the ingredient lists and labels as food manufacturers change their “formulas” or processing facility rules from time to time. While these suggestions are nut-free, they may not all be made in a facility without peanuts or tree nuts.
- Popcorn (made with avocado oil, coconut oil, or ghee – like LesserEvil)
- Plantain chips (with coconut oil, or sustainably sourced red palm oil)
- Rice crackers (Lundberg thin stackers)
- Nut-free granola (Go Raw)
- Seaweed crackers (SeaSnax)
- Made Good bars
- Enjoy Life bars
The packaging leaves a small hole in my heart, but if you save these convenient pouches for on-the-go school safe snacks, many are filled with nutrient-dense ingredients.
- Organic applesauce
- GoGo SqueeZ fruit and fruit and veggie
- Noka superfood smoothie
- Mama Chia chia squeeze vitality snack
- Oloves olives
Balanced school safe snack combinations
I discussed the importance of real food carbohydrates paired with protein and/or fat earlier. Here is a list of examples, showing different combinations of the snacks above to create balanced snacks.
- Veggie sticks and hummus
- Plantain chips and guacamole cups
- Celery sticks with Laughing Cow cheese
- Apple slices and cottage cheese cups
- Rice crackers and sunflower seed butter
- SeaSnax and cheese wheels
- Olives and popcorn
- Nut-free granola and yogurt
- Apple sauce and grass-fed jerky sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs and strawberries
- Salami/cheese and mandarin oranges
- Raisins, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flakes
- Olives, cheese cubes, and Veggie Go’s fruit leather
- Enjoy Life chewy bar and jerky sticks
- Noka superfood smoothie with carrot sticks and turkey
Bring real food snacks into your school
Hopefully, you now have a better feel for what makes a school snack both healthy and safe. Both factors matter when it comes to nourishing our children for optimal physical, mental, and emotional development, wellness, and success.
Choosing real food ingredients, balancing carbohydrates with healthy fats and proteins, checking labels for allergens, and being aware of your school’s policies are all steps in selecting safe school snacks for the classroom.
You are armed with healthy school safe snack ideas — lead by example in your child’s class today!
For more tasty ideas, you can check our Healthy After School Snacks article.