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October 16, 2019

Healthy Back to School Snacks for Kids – Keep Them Fueled and Focused!

Is your child always asking for a snack, even when it seems like they just ate? Well, there’s a reason for this. Sure sometimes they may be bored, or want attention, or want a specific yummy snack.  But the truth is that children do need to eat more often than adults.

Children are not able to regulate their blood sugar as effectively as adults, meaning they need to eat more often to keep it stable. We often discuss a “sugar high” in kids, but it is“sugar lows” you need to watch out for. When our blood sugar drops too low, the hormone cortisol is released (our stress hormone). The surge in cortisol may make us feel a bit more anxious and even irritable. Our body, in an effort to conserve energy, will slow down, making us feel fatigued. It can be hard enough to handle these feelings as an adult. Now think of a child trying to cope with this. The best way to keep your child’s blood sugar stable is:

  • Ensure they are eating 5-6 times per day (3 meals and 2-3 snacks)
  • Avoid refined sugars
  • Avoid white foods  i.e.white flour, white bread, bananas, white potatoes (except cauliflower; cauliflower is good)
  • Eat balanced meals & snacks containing fibre, protein and healthy fats

Snacks at school are just as important as snacks at home. Those two snack times during morning and afternoon recess aren’t just for fun. They are actually important for keeping your child nourished and focused throughout the day. The only issue is finding snacks to send to school that will be tasty, nutritious, easy-to-pack, will keep well in a backpack and, of course, be nut-free.

Most packaged snack foods are unbalanced. Packaged foods are generally high in carbohydrates and sugar, but do not contain enough protein or fibre to deliver balanced nutrition.  Packaged foods often contain oils and other fats, however, these are unhealthy, damaged fats such as canola oil, margarine, vegetable oil or palm oil.Homemade snacks, therefore, seem like the best option. However, it can be difficult for the following reasons.

  • It’s time-consuming
  • It’s difficult to make the snack completely nut-free and school-safe
  • There’s no guarantee that after all that time and effort you put into packing a healthy snack, your child won’t then trade that homemade snack for something packaged.

To combat this, here’s my back-to-school shopping list of everything you need to make delicious, easy, school-safe, nutritionally-balanced snacks for kids.

  1. SunButter: No sugar added. This is a great nut butter alternative made from sunflower seeds. It’s processed in a peanut-free and tree-nut-free facility. Add it to homemade cookies, granola bars or serve it just with some rice cakes for a healthy, balanced snack. Make sure to buy the sugar-free version made only with sunflower seeds and salt.
  2. Earth’s Own Oat Milk: A completely nut-free, dairy-free milk alternative. Use in baking in place of milk or in smoothies you want to send to school. It has a nice, neutral flavour too, so great for kids that are not used plant-based milk.
  3. Only Oats: Oats make a great base for homemade granola, granola bars and healthy cookies. Only Oats is a Saskatoon-based company which produces gluten-free oats in an allergen-free environment. Unlike most oats, they weren’t made in the same mill as wheat, making them safe for those with severe gluten allergies.
  4. Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips: Enjoy Life is another allergy-free brand. I love using their semi-sweet mini chocolate chips in baking to sweeten up snacks.
  5. Coconut Sugar: This brown sugar made from coconut has a glycemic index of about 35, compared to white cane sugar which has a g.i. of 68. Glycemic index measures the rate that the sugar enters the bloodstream. Meaning it will take coconut sugar almost twice as long to enter your bloodstream as white sugar, giving your body more time to deal with it and keeping blood sugar more stable. Coconut sugar can be easily substituted for white sugar (1:1 ratio) in any recipe.
  6. Chickpeas & Black beans:The usual go-to protein-rich snack is nuts, but that won’t work for school, so what about beans instead?Chickpeas and black beans are two neutral-tasting beans that make great bases for bars or protein balls. For best results and the most neutral flavour, soak and cook the beans yourself. You can also make savoury snacks such as hummus or black bean dip. These beans are high in fibre & protein, so they will fill you up like a protein bar, without the additives and chalky taste often found in protein bars.
  7. Chia Seeds: Rich in protein, fibre and omega 3 fats. Chia pudding is one of my daughter’s favourite snacks. I like to make it by mixing 1/3 cup chia seeds with 1 cup of leftover smoothie. However, you can mix it with any kind of milk and then add whatever other flavours you like. You can also top it with fruit, coconut or seeds.  Ground chia also makes a great egg substitute. If eggs are not allowed in school due to an allergy, it’s great to have some chia on hand. Take one 1 tbsp of ground chia seeds and mix it with 3 tbsp water. Set aside to gel and use as an egg substitute in baking.
  8. Hemp Seeds: One of the easiest ways to ensure your child is getting their omega 3 fatty acids (those healthy brain fats) is to sprinkle hemp seeds on everything. They also contain 10g of protein per 3 tbsp. Keep refrigerated and avoid baking to keep the delicate omega 3 oils intact. 
  9. Brown rice crisps: Rice crispy treats are a favourite school snack. You can make a healthier version by using brown rice crisps and a more natural sweetener such as brown rice syrup.
  10. Your Child’s Favourite Fruits and Vegetables: There are times when you should encourage a child to try new foods and venture outside their comfort zone.School lunches are not one of those times. It’s important that vegetables and fruits are a part of your child’s school day, but do yourself a favour and stick with the ones they like (or at least tolerate.) For example, my daughter hates leafy greens and salads, and while we’ve been working on having small salads with dinner, I’m certainly not going to pack her a salad with her lunch. However, her lunch may include:
    • Zucchini fries
    • Sweet potato fries
    • Roasted cauliflower
    • Carrot sticks
    • Avocado
    • Tomato
    • Maple-glazed Brussel sprouts
    • Roasted red pepper
    • Veggie nuggets

Fruit makes a great snack as well, but it should be eaten by itself, so serve at a time when your child won’t be that hungry. Perhaps that second snack time after lunch. We often have fruit as an after school-snack to ensure we aren’t spoiling dinner.

Healthy, balanced snacks will help your child stay full, fueled and focused throughout the school day. I try to make my school snacks for the coming week on Sundays. If possible, involve your children in the process and get their input and interest from the start. Also, don’t forget to make extra snacks for yourself.

Look for my top go-to Fueled & Focused School Snack Recipes by following us on Instagram or Facebook to stay up to date with recipes!

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Kirsten Colella is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, and mother of a 2-month old son, 26-month old son and an 8-year old daughter.  She is passionate about developing healthy food decisions in her kids, and snacks are an easy way to shape their healthy habits. You can find Kirsten’s recipes, colourful food pics and food ideas on our Instagram page at @essentialbalanceholistic.

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