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How to Find the Healthiest Back To School Snacks In Australia

Back to school means it’s time to start thinking about lunchbox friendly snacks for the kids. If real food and healthy eating is important to us, then chances are we want the same for our children. Afterall, they’re in an important growth and development stage and the food they eat should be a great source of nutrition to help them grow healthy and strong. By choosing healthy school snacks, we’ll be supporting them in getting the nutrients that come from real food, while helping them stay away from eating the nasties that are found in unhealthy packaged snacks.

What makes it difficult to find healthy school snacks in the supermarket?
With big advertising budgets, companies know exactly how to appeal to children with their processed and/or sugary snacks. Whether it’s the bright colours and cute packaging, or the taste that keeps them hooked, chances are your kids are begging you for the sugar filled snack that gives them a dopamine hit. While they may enjoy it at the time, we know it’s not good for them in the long run. Food that sends kids on a sugar high followed by a crash a couple of hours later is always a red flag. Not to mention that so many school snacks are nutritionally void and therefore aren’t helping our kids get the nutrients they need. Unfortunately, many of the school snacks available in the supermarket are the processed and sugar filled options because they know they’re easy to sell.

Qualities of a healthy school snack:

There are a few qualities we like to see in a healthy school snack, they include:
  • They taste good, so our kids will enjoy them
  • They’re filling, giving them the energy they need throughout the day
  • They’re nutritious and supply their growing body with important nutrients
  • They’re made up of real foods (without the nasties)


Expanding on these qualities, the first one is that we want healthy school snacks to taste good, especially considering how fussy kids can be. If the snacks taste good, our kids will be happy eating them and it won’t be a constant battle to get the healthy options into their lunchbox.

We also want the snacks to be filling. If we’re giving our kids snacks that don’t fill them up, chances are they’re going to go looking for more food (and not necessarily the healthy options). Children are so active and it’s important we’re giving them the right quality fuel to allow them to be their energetic selves.

Along with a snack being filling, we also want it to contain the right nutrients to support their body and facilitate their growth. Thankfully nutrients are found in real foods, which feeds us right into the next point about ensuring their healthy school snacks are made up of real foods.

 

Ingredients we like to see in a healthy school snack:

Just like when we’re picking our own snacks out, the ingredients we like to see in healthy school snacks are real foods. Getting some quality protein through ingredients like seeds, nuts and/or legumes is also going to be beneficial and help keep them full. When it comes to the sweet snacks, it’s great when we see them sweetened with real food sweeteners like dates, some other dried fruits, raw honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup or stevia.

 

What are the healthiest school snacks available?

It’s great to see more and more healthy school snacks becoming available and it means our children are spoilt for choice! Here are some options we’re loving:


Blue Dinosaur Lamington Bar

Ingredients: Sulphur-free Organic Coconut, Dates, Raw Organic Cacao, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Vanilla Bean.

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Review: By Malissa F.
A GOOD ON THE GO SNACK BAR
The Blue Dinosaur Lamington Paleo Bar make for a great on the go snack that you can keep handy in your bag for that quick energy replenishment. Made with just 5 (mostly organic) ingredients they are free from any nasty additives, colours and preservatives making them a low processed option.
They do however still contain 14g of sugar per bar. Although, this sugar is derived from the dates it still counts as sugar and these bars should be consumed in moderation. A good option to have 1-2x per week when you are really feeling like a quick energy boost.

Ceres Organics Organic Rice Bites Seaweed

Ingredients: Jasmine Brown Rice* 92%, Sunflower Oil*, Sea Salt, Seaweed 0.7%, Green Tea Powder* (*Certified Organic)

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Serious Food Serious Popcorn Sea Salt

Ingredients: Popcorn*(78%), coconut oil*, sea salt (2%)

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Sprout Organic Banana Bread Kids Bar

Ingredients: Organic Sultanas, Banana Blend 27% (Sundried Banana, Banana Powder), Organic Quinoa Flakes, Organic Coconut Chips, Organic Rice Malt, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Cinnamon.

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Healthy Square Pure Cacao

Ingredients: Organic Pea Protein, Soluble Fibre Tapioca, Coconut, Dates, Almonds, Cacao Powder, Cacao Mass, Macadamias, Cacao Butter, Apricots, Coconut Syrup, Coconut Oil, Rice Syrup, Vanilla, Himalayan Salt, MCT Oil.

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180 Nutrition Crunchy Crackers Hummus Oat

Ingredients: Whole Grain Oats (50%), Tapioca Starch, Chickpeas (10%), White Sesame Seeds (10%), Olive Oil, Sea Salt, Lemon Juice, Garlic, Baking Powder [Raising Agents (Sodium Carbonates), Monopotassium Tartrate].

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Funch Snack Ball Mix Spiced Apple

Ingredients: Sunflower Seed Meal, Brown Rice Flour, Coconut (preservative free), Apple Flour, Linseed Meal, Cinnamon Powder, Chia Seeds, Pepita Meal

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Review: By Malissa F.

EASY & TASTY SNACK BALLS
We all love a delicious and nutritious sweet treat every now and then. However, making raw treats from home can often require lot's of ingredients and time. These Funch Bliss Mix Spiced apple pie DIY mixes make the entire process of making protein balls from scratch so easy and affordable. They contain a whole range of nutritious ingredients and are gluten free, vegan and don't contain any unnecessary processed sugars. I give these the tick of approval. Simply mix, chill and enjoy.

 

Harvest Box We Love Nuts

Ingredients: Roasted Peanuts, Roasted Almonds, Roasted Cashews, Brazils, Salt.

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Ceres Organics Seaweed Snack Pack Original

Ingredients: Seaweed* 70%, Sunflower Oil*, Natural Sea Salt (*Certified Organic)

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Eat To Live Assorted Snack Pack

Ingredients: 100% Organic Buckwheat.

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Mt Elephant Banana Bread Mix

Ingredients: Almond Meal (33%), Hemp Protein (12%), Buckwheat Flour (10%), Tapioca Flour, Coconut Flour, Flaxseed Meal, Coconut Sugar, Cinnamon (2%), Rice Starch, Raising Agent: Baking Powder (450, 500) and Sea Salt.

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Review: By Selin A.

SURPRISINGLY NUTRITIOUS AND DELICIOUS
I don't expect much from packet-banana breads but this one certainly hit the ball out of the park. Fantastic array of ingredients from hemp seeds, buckwheat and flaxseeds - full of omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality plant proteins and fibre. The additions of banana and small amount of maple syrup gives this loaf all it needs in terms of sweetness, and it keeps you full. Great option for breakfast, snack or sweet treat. Cook time looks more like 1.30 hours, otherwise it is fluffy and would highly recommend in place of regular, sugar-fulled, low fibre banana bread mixes.


Fine Fettle Apple Cinnamon Crisps

Ingredients: Apples (99.5%), cinnamon (0.5%)

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Kooee Beef Jerky Sea Salt

Ingredients: Beef, Coconut Tree Sap, Apple Cider Vinegar, Sea Salt

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Mindful Foods Teriyaki Munchies

Ingredients: Kombucha-Activated Nuts (Almonds* Cashews*) Green Lentils* Gf Tamari* Rice Malt* Black Sesame* Onion* Mirin* Ginger* Garlic*. *=Certified Organic Ingredient.

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Review: By Shelley M.

TRIAL MIX WITH A TWIST
Yummmmm these Mindful Foods Organic & Activated Teriyaki Munchies make for an absolutely delicious snack. The Tamari, Onion, Mirin, Ginger and Garlic make the delicious teriyaki flavouring. The best part is it is all gluten free.
This blend has also been activated meaning they have been soaked and dehydrated. This process helps to break down enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid. It also makes the nut easier to be digested and the nutrients more readily available for absorption by the body. This product is perfect for anyone, especially if you find nuts bloat you or cause digestive issues.


The Happy Snack Company Roasted Fava Beans Salt and Vinegar

Ingredients: Broad (Fava) Beans (78%), Non GMO Canola Oil, Acids (Sodium Diacetate, Citric), Sugar, Onion Powder, White Vinegar Powder (0.4%) (Corn Maltodextrin, White Vinegar), Sea Salt (0.8%), Potato Starch, Balsamic Vinegar Powder (0.1%) (Balsamic Vinegar, Tapioca Maltodextrin).

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Review: By Malissa F.

MY GO-TO SNACK
These may be marketing for kids lunch boxes but these are SO good and everyone should get stuck into these little fava bean snack packs. So full of flavour and made with very simple ingredients they make a great little snack that is low in calories but rich in protein and all the good stuff. Fava beans are incredibly nutritious and an excellent source of soluble fibre, protein, folate, manganese, copper and several other great vitamins.


Whole Kids Apple Cookies

Ingredients: Organic Flour 28%, Organic Butter 24%, Organic Oats 12%, Organic Dried Apples 10%, Organic Coconut Palm Sugar 9%, Organic Corn Flour 5%, Organic Cinnamon 1%, Organic Vanilla Extract 0.5%, Baking Soda 0.5%, Other Stuff (0%).

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What to look for in the nutritional panel:

The nutritional panel of a product can be helpful when determining if it’s a healthy option or not. Two helpful values that we can look at are the protein and sugar content of a product. Of course, the source of these things is also important, so it’s beneficial to look at the ingredients list too. Here’s an example for us to elaborate on:


Blue Dinosaur Apricot & Almond Bar

Ingredients: Almonds (47%), Organic Turkish Apricots (42%), Organic Coconut, Organic, Coconut Oil, Ginger.

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Looking at the above nutrition panel, we can see that Blue Dinosaur have highlighted the fat and sugar content and specified that they’re from natural sources. We’re able to confirm this by looking at the ingredients list and can see the sugar is coming from the apricots, while the healthy fats are coming from the coconut products and almonds.

The sugar content is an important aspect of the nutritional panel because it helps us see the percentage of sugar the product is made up of. This particular product is 19% sugar, which is reasonable for a snack. If this were a lot higher, we may not want our children having it too regularly. However, it is also important to consider where the sugars are coming from. The sugars coming from real food ingredients (like apricot in this case) are more nutritious than sugars coming from the refined or added varieties. The real food sugars like dried fruits are also bound to fibre, which help slow the release of the sugar. Plus, the healthy fats and protein in the bar balance out the sugar so that it has less of an impact on blood sugar levels.

The protein content is also important because it will help us determine how filling the product will be. This example contains almonds, which are a source of protein and are helping bump up the protein in this product.

Keep in mind that if your child/children go to a nut free school one of the things you’ll be looking for is that it doesn’t contain any nuts. While the above example does contain almonds, there are many of the other Blue Dinosaur flavours that are nut free and plenty of other brands/options too.


How to read the ingredient list on your school snacks:

The ingredients list is arguably even more important than the nutritional panel because it tells us exactly which foods make up the product. Looking at the ingredients list first is an easy way to see whether or not it’s actually worth considering the snack option. If there’s any ingredients that you’re unsure of, head over to our ‘Ingredients to avoid’ glossary. This will help you know what to look out for and steer clear from.

Reading an ingredients list should be easy, because when you’re choosing real food products all of the ingredients inside are easy to understand. Something important to keep in mind is that ingredients appear on the list in order from most to least. Therefore, if a sugary ingredient appears at the start, it’s likely to be a high sugar product. This can be confirmed by looking at the nutritional panel.


How to spot hidden ingredients in school snacks:

The only way to spot hidden ingredients is to take the time look at the ingredients list. While the marketing claims on the front of the packet may say it’s a healthy / nutritious / no added sugar option, this isn’t always the case. Dig a bit deeper and check what they’re actually using in the product, including whether or not it lives up to their claims.

Remember that ingredients like ‘flavours’ and ‘colours’ are actually artificial (unless they specify otherwise). They’re also terms that can be made up of a large number of ingredients that don’t need to be specified, so these definitely classify as hidden ingredients.


What are food colours and why should we avoid them in this product?

Unfortunately, food colours are sometimes found in school snacks to improve the appearance and make them more appealing to children. However, food colours are an artificial ingredient that may be linked to behavioural issues in some children.

Chances are that you’ve been around when children go crazy after eating certain snacks. In some cases, this could be linked to the high content of added sugars, but in others it may be due to artificial colours. While the jury is still out on exactly why this might be happening, knowing that they’re not a real food and could be causing issues is enough for us to want to steer clear.

Food colours may appear on an ingredients list under several potential names. It may say ‘colours’, it may specify the colour (for example ‘sunset yellow’), or it may be a number like E102. Aim to stay away from products that contain any of these.

Did you know that many of the food colours allowed in our food in Australia have actually been banned in some countries? It certainly makes you think…


What does an unhealthy school snack look like?

Let’s take a look at the ingredients and nutritional panel of an unhealthy school snack.


Paradise Uglies

Ingredients: Wheat Flour, Sugar, Coloured Choc Chips (13%) (Sugar, Vegetable Fat [Emulsifiers (492, Soy Lecithin)], Cocoa Powder, Milk Solids, Tapioca Starch, Colours (171, 100, 120, 160c), Emulsifier (Soy Lecithin), Flavours, Glazing Agents (903, 904)), Vegetable Fats and Oils (Antioxidant (307)), Choc Chips (8%) (Sugar, Vegetable Oil, Cocoa, Milk Solids, Emulsifiers (492, Soy Lecithin), Salt), Golden Syrup, Vegetable Fibre, Salt, Raising Agents (503, 500), Flavours.
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While kids may love the idea of cookies in their lunchbox, it’s easy to see from the long ingredients list that these are not a good snack option. This example contains a number of highly refined ingredients, added sugars, artificial colours, artificial flavours, vegetable oils and more.

Sugar appears twice and is also hidden under the name ‘golden syrup’, bringing this product to 30% sugar, all of which are from added and refined sources.

The vegetable oils and vegetable fat that this product contain can be quite inflammatory. Since inflammation is a contributing factor of many illnesses, its best to stay away from these ingredients.

Colours and flavours have already been called out in this blog post for being artificial, hiding any number of highly processed ingredients, and their potential link to behavioural issues.

This product also has a low protein content (which would be expected from cookies). This means it’s not a filling option and won’t help fuel them for long.

There’s a lot to be said about this product, but in short, it’s one to stay away from.


Our top 3 school snacks to avoid and why:

Picking just 3 school snacks to avoid is a tough one with so many to choose from. However, here are 3 of the unhealthier options and why we recommend ditching them.


1. Kellogg’s LCM Kaleidos

Ingredients: White rice (30%), glucose, candy coated choc chips (14%)(choc compound [sugar, vegetable fat, cocoa, milk solids, emulsifiers (soy lecithin), salt, natural flavour], coating [sugar, tapioca starch, natural colours (171, 100, 120, 160c)], glazing agent [903, 904]), fructose, sugar, invert syrup, vegetable oil (antioxidant [tocopherols]), glucose solids, cocoa, milk solids, humectant (glycerol), salt, gelatin, emulsifiers (soy lecithin, canola lecithin, 472e), barley malt extract, natural flavour (chocolate), antioxidant (rosemary extract).

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If the long list isn’t a warning sign enough, when we look closer we see a lot of red flags.

Between the glucose, sugar, fructose, inverted syrup, glucose solids and barley malt extract, there are 6 different types of added sugars, some of which appear multiple times. Speaking of sugar, this product is 40.5% sugar and has 8.9g per serve, which is around 2 teaspoons of sugar.

This product also has inflammatory ingredients such as vegetable fat and vegetable oils, which are both sources of unhealthy fats. There are multiple numbers on this list, as well as highly refined ingredients. In short, there’s not a lot of real food in sight.


2. Uncle Toby’s Roll Up

Ingredients: Maltodextrin (Corn), Concentrated Fruit Puree (21%) [Apple (15%), Pear (4%), Peach (2%)], Sugar, Soluble Corn Fibre, Modified Starch (1442), Fruit Juice Concentrates (5%) [Apple, Pineapple, Orange], Sunflower Oil ( Soy ), Plant Origin Emulsifier (471), Food Acid (Malic, Ascorbic), Natural Flavour, Vegetable Gums (410, 415), Colours (Anthocyanin, Turmeric), Vegetable Concentrate (Spirulina, Safflower).

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It probably comes as no surprise that Uncle Toby’s Roll Ups made this list. There’s nothing good in this snack option, but a whole lot of things to avoid.

The main ingredient is the highly refined maltodextrin, which has a high GI and can spike blood sugar levels. It also contains fruit and vegetable concentrates, which have been highly processed and lost a lot of the nutritional value that would have been in the fruit to begin with. On this list we also see sunflower oil, which is an inflammatory oil that we’re best to avoid.


3. Mamee Chicken Noodle Snacks

Ingredients: Wheat Flour, Corn Oil (Contains Natural Antioxidants (304, 307b)), Bamboo Fiber, Seasoning (Yeast Extract, Sugar, Salt, Maltodextrin, Soya Sauce, Flavour Enhancer (627, 631)), Salt, Spices (Garlic, Black Pepper), Food Conditioner (Stabliser) (452, 501, 412). Flavour Sachet Maltodextrin, Sugar, Spice.

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It's not just the sweet snacks that are unhealthy options. These noodle snacks may seem harmless, but upon looking at the ingredients list we see a whole lot of artificial and highly refined ingredients.

Let’s take a moment to pick on the flavour enhancers in this ‘food’… Flavour enhancers are addictive for our taste buds and can cause our children (or us) to overeat. Yeast extract also has similar properties to flavour enhancers and is another one to avoid.

The flavour sachet doesn’t specify which ‘spice’ they use, which is an example of hidden ingredients from an undisclosed source. There are highly refined ingredients in here, including maltodextrin, corn oil, sugar, food conditioners and more. Overall, this savoury snack is not something we recommend putting in your kid’s lunchbox.

What else should you consider when choosing a healthy school snack?

Trying to get a good mix of sweet and savoury snacks into their lunchboxes is going to be beneficial when it comes to variety. Finding snacks that contain veggies will also be a great way to help them reach the recommended 5 per day, so try to incorporate some vegetable packed snacks in there too.

Get your kids involved with choosing healthy options and teach them the benefits of real foods. This helps them understand why it’s important to eat well and support their body as they grow big and strong.


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About the author: Shahna Sarpi is a qualified nutritionist that is on a mission to help people live a nourished life through real food and healthy habits. She loves simplifying food labels and helping people make healthier food choices. Shahna is passionate about spreading the real food message and supporting people in living a healthy life.

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