Parents packing school lunches: Don't stress. We've addressed your most common school snack questions here.
Question: I'm confused by no-nut policies. What do I need to stay away from and what's a good substitute?
Answer: Most schools have a strict no-nut policy to protect students with severe allergies. That means no peanuts or tree nuts in lunch boxes. When shopping for packaged snacks, look for labels like “certified peanut-free," “nut-free” or “school-safe” and read ingredient lists carefully. Tree nuts include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. Seeds are wonderful nut substitutes—they're full of vitamins, minerals, good fats and protein, plus they satisfy hungry bellies. To be sure, check your school's rules before including them in lunch boxes. Here are some nut-free ideas to try:
• Sunflower seeds: Combine shelled sunflower seeds with Cheerios and dried fruit for a nut-free trail mix. Or tuck in a single-serve package of SunButter for your kiddo to enjoy with an apple.
• Pumpkin seeds: Smooth pumpkin seed butter between whole-grain crackers for a snack or spread it on celery stalks and top with raisins for PB-free ants on a log.
• Coconut: Add unsweetened shredded coconut to trail mix, or send it to sprinkle over fruit salad.
Q: How important is fibre?
A: Very! Fibre helps promote regularity and keeps blood sugar stable. Kids ages four to eight need 25 grams a day, so pack snacks like roasted chickpeas, hummus, 100 percent whole-grain crackers, sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, popcorn, fruit and veggies. Q: Should I worry about salt?
A: Like grown-ups, kids tend to consume too much sodium, which could lead to high blood pressure later on. Four- to eight-year-olds should stay between 1,200 and 1,900 milligrams a day. Many packaged foods are high in salt, so look for ones with less than 15 percent daily value of sodium per serving. (All of our picks fall within this guideline.) Q: Sugar hides in everything—even fruit! What to do?
A: The sweet stuff that’s naturally part of a whole fruit or veg is fine, but the same isn’t true of “free” sugars, which are added to food during processing and can lead to problems like obesity and dental decay. The World Health Organization recommends families restrict free sugar to 10 percent of their total daily calories—three Oreos meets this limit. Q: Is my kid getting enough protein?
A: Protein is essential for the repair of muscles, nails, skin and hair, and it helps make hormones and enzymes. Plus, it’s satiating and helps keep blood sugar stable. The benchmark: Kids four to 13 years old need about 0.95 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Good options to try: boiled eggs, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seed butter, cheese strings and yogurt.
Q: How much of each food group does my kid need to get through the day? A: To keep them energized, Dietitians of Canada recommends snacks hit at least two categories. Try these quick and healthy combos: whole-grain crackers + string cheese; apple slices + yogurt; whole-grain pretzels + guacamole; carrots + hummus; banana + SunButter.
A version of this article appeared in our September 2015 issue with the headline “Snack on this,” pp. 126-32.