I recently did the math and figured out that I've packed around 4,000 kids' lunchboxes (give or take a hundred) over the last nine years. FOUR THOUSAND LUNCHES. You could say I'm a lunch-packing expert. (Need lunchbox ideas? Here are 50+ healthy lunch ideas to pack for school.)
Most of the time, my kids just want a basic sandwich with fruit and veggies for lunch, so I try to shake things up with their snacks, so they have something delicious to look forward to eating. I pack at least two snacks to get my kids through the day—one treat and then a second more substantial snack, focusing on ingredients that have staying power like whole grains and protein.
Sure after all those lunches, it's easy to get in a rut—and it definitely takes time, which I don't always have. It helps to have a loose plan before the week starts. Sometimes I'll opt for packaged snacks when I'm short on time (and there's nothing wrong with that!). My kids' current favorites are Annie's Sour Bunnies Gummies (Buy it: Amazon, $7 for a pack of five) and MadeGood Chocolate Chip Granola Minis (Buy it: Amazon, $26 for a pack of 28). But that can get expensive fast, especially if you have multiple mouths to feed.
Making your own snacks helps you control the ingredients and amount of sugar going into your kids' bellies. It also helps you save money and cut down on waste by using reusable storage containers. So when I have a little more time on Sunday, I love making a big batch of granola bars, pumpkin bread or other packable snacks—plus something they can nibble on when they get home—and getting them all ready to go, so the Monday morning rush goes off without a hitch. These are my favorite go-to big-batch snacks that my kids love:
This is one of my favorite EatingWell recipes of all time. It's based on a customizable granola bar formula by EatingWell's test kitchen & editorial operations manager, Breana Lai Killeen, that was published in EatingWell Magazine a few years ago. I use unsweetened shredded coconut in place of the pecans to make it nut-free. Sometimes brown rice syrup can be hard to find, but it's worth seeking out (Buy it: Amazon, $28 for a 3-pack). I've tried substituting with honey and it will pass, but the texture is more sticky and crumbly and the taste is much sweeter. I also think using mini chocolate chips is key in this recipe. I love this allergy-safe option from Enjoy Life (Buy it: Thrive Market, $5).
Once the bars are cool, store them in an airtight container. A large square or rectangular one works well, like the Anchor Hocking 2.75-quart rectangle glass container (Buy it: The Container Store, $17).
Stasher's reusable snack-size bags (Buy it: Bed, Bath & Beyond, $10) are a great size for sending snacks to school.
This recipe has such a lovely texture and the allergy mom in me loves that it's egg-free. I use regular milk in place of the almond milk to keep it nut-free, but you could use any milk of your choice. Just don't skip the chocolate chips!
You can store the loaf well-wrapped for up to 4 days at room temp and just slice what you need each morning.
Or try this hack for easy freezing: First get yourself a Souper Cube 1-cup tray with lid (Buy it: Williams Sonoma, $20). This storage container is oven-safe and the perfect size for making mini loaves. You can bake the loaves right in the container, let them cool, then pop the lid on and store in your freezer for up to 4 months. Killeen recommends running a knife around the edges of the mini loaves before freezing to ensure they don't get stuck.
This is a great after-school/after-camp snack I love to keep on hand. (I would not recommend packing in the lunchbox!) It takes less than 10 minutes to make and the kids think it's actually ice cream. I will let them hold onto that illusion for as long as possible.
Once the bark is frozen, break into pieces and store in the freezer in an airtight container like Stasher's Stand-Up Mega Bag (Buy it: Bed, Bath & Beyond, $24). The recipe suggests storing between parchment, but I normally skip that without any issues.
This classic hummus recipe couldn't be easier—just toss a few ingredients in the food processor and whir away! Serve with cut-up veggies, baby carrots, pretzels or pita chips, packed separately so nothing gets soggy.
Pack up your hummus in small leakproof containers like mini mason jars, with dippers packed separately. I love the small round stainless-steel containers with silicone lids from U-Konserve (Buy it: Amazon, $9).