Healthiest Brands for Traditional Lunch Box Snacks

By Brandi Koskie -

For a lot of moms, packing lunches is something they could do in their sleep with both arms folding the laundry. But even the most talented lunch-box-stuffing parent could learn some new tricks, especially when it comes to making those lunch box meals even more nutritious.

That mid-day meal at school is supposed to recharge and refuel their young bodies and minds to get through what is often the most sluggish part of the day for kids and adults alike. So rather than fill their bellies with junk food they'll burn through before recess is over, give them something they can use.

Yogurt, crackers, and granola bars are lunch box staples, but they don't all deserve a place next to your handwritten "Have a great day!" note. We spoke with a few dietitians and tracked down some of the best brands so that you can give your kids their favorite snacks that you can feel good about.

Portion control is built-in when you buy yogurt cups, however, nutrition isn't always part of the package. Today Show's Joy Bauer, and author of the upcoming book Joy Bauer's Food Cures, tells us "I recommend choosing 6 ounce yogurt cups with no more than 20 grams sugar (keep in mind that some of this is lactose sugar coming from the milk itself)." Read those labels and keep the sugar in check (otherwise you might as well give them a bowl of ice cream).

Best Yogurt:
Chobani Greek Yogurt
Chobani Champions Greek Yogurt
Stonyfield Farms' Oikos Greek Yogurt

A mid-day snack between classes or a treat before heading to recess, granola bars can be a very healthy, satisfying snack. However, the way most brands make them, they aren't any better than a candy bar. "For granola and snack bars, try to stick with brands with 12 grams of sugar or less per bar (of course, the less the better)," says Bauer. Based on her suggestion, and our taste, we chose the following granola bars.

Best Granola Bars:
Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate
Kashi Peanut Peanut Butter
Nature's Valley Crunchy Apple Crisp
Nature's Valley Crunchy Cinnamon

You could also make your own granola bars.

Think it's impossible to eat salsa without chips? Try eating a sandwich without them. For some, that crunchy side is a must. You don't need to send the kids to school with junk food though, meet them in the middle with something healthier. Mary Hartley, RD, MPH and nutrition director at Calorie Count advises that crackers shouldn't have sugar listed as one of the first three ingredients, should have less than 480 milligrams of sodium per serving, and less than 3 grams of fat. Preview nutrition labels at Calorie Count and others sites.

Best Crackers:
Pepperidge Farms Whole Grain Goldfish
Kashi TLC Crackers
Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins

There aren't many kids who would turn down a fruit snack, but what they (and most parents) don't realize is that most are the epitome of processed junk, full of high fructose corn syrup, chemical additives and artificial colors and flavors. "I think dried fruit made with no added sugar is a better bet--look for no sugar in the ingredients list (no words with sugar, syrup or -ose in them)," Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips. She also advises that portion control still be minded because "dried fruit is a concentrated source of calories."

Best Fruit Snacks:
Annie's Organic Fruit Snacks
Target's Market Pantry Dried Apricots

Learn more about planning a healthy back to school:

Mom-Approved After-School Snack Ideas for Kids

Lunch Box Swaps that are Good for Your Kids

6 Tasty Treats for Lunch Boxes