The Ultimate Back-to-School Snack GuideBrooke McLay
Twelve kids. Five moms. More than 75 snack products. These were the beginnings of a Back-to-School Product Guide so exhaustingly inclusive that some of the kids asked if they could “skip eating another cookie” because they’d had enough. Yet, for the sake of research, our crew of kid taste-testers and devoted moms pressed on, willing to gnaw their way through dozens of granola bars, cookies, organic drinks, frozen popscicles, and veggie bites to bring you a list of the very best products on the market today. Snack products that are absolutely delicious, nutritious, kid-friendly, and cool. Not to mention affordable. Our panel of mom’s were insistent that the snacks we approve be snacks they’d really buy for their family. Snacks that fit into their budget, while fulfilling their families nutritional needs and cravings.
Our panel was full of all sorts of eaters, from uber-picky finickers to open-minded adventurers, our moms ranged from health-nut to nutrition-relaxed. Based on their comments, ratings, and suggestions, here are our top 10 product picks, and a few of the don’t-miss honorable mentions. These crave-worthy snacks are the best of our taste-tested treats. Kids and moms agreed these were the products worth keeping on hand all school year long.
TOP 10 LUNCHBOX SNACKS
#1 Stretch Island Fruit, FruitaBU Smooshed Fruit Rolls. With one serving of organic fruit and no added sugar in these fruit rolls, you’d think the mom’s would have to work hard to get the kids on board. Not so. The kids were grabbing for triple tastes of these healthy fruit-roll-ups. (Available in most major grocery & health food stores.)
#2 Clif Kid Z Bar, S’mores. Chocolate Chip Z bars were close runner’s up for our favorite granola bar, but the S’mores flavor takes top honors. “Delicios!” one of our younger panelists wrote after gobbling up a second-helping of the bars. Of all the bars tasted, every one of kids-testers chose the S’mores Z Bars as their favorite, and gave it twelve thumbs up on “Cool for School.” Even the finickiest of moms agreed, “would buy these. So good!” (Available in most major grocery & healthy food stores.)
#3 Horizon Organic Milk, plus DHA Omega-3. A hearty thumb’s up from all 12 kid panelists for this creamy, fresh-flavored milk. While one mom indicated the flavor was “too cow-y” for her, that didn’t stop the kids from raving. “I could marry it!” write one enthusiastic taste-tester, “Good!!!” said another, adding a hefty number of exclamation points after her note. (Available in most major grocery & healthy food stores.)
#4 Good Health Veggie Sticks, Hot. “Wow! I love them!” responded one of our kid-panelists. These spicy, crunchy sticks are reminiscent of Hot Cheeto’s, without the long list of additives and preservatives. In fact, all of the Good Health products offered to our tasting panelists were among the highest rated snacks by kids and moms alike. Their hummus-flavored Humbles, Avocado Oil Potato Chips, and Peanut-Butter Filled pretzels drew exclamations of “Wow!” and “I love them!” and “Best Chips in the World!” Better yet, most of their products are organic. (Available at major retailers nationwide, find a location that sticks Good Health Natural Foods near you by clicking here.)
#4 Rock ‘n’ Roll Gourmet, Rock & Pop Kettle Corn. Arriving in snack-sized bags with a vibrantly colored wrapper, this California-based healthy snack food company got the taste-testing panelists rocking with excitement. The crunchy mix of sweet and salty flavors prompted the kids to record comments like, “yum yum yum yum yum yum yum.” Another clear favorite, more than half of our taste-testing kids chose the Rock & Pop Kettle Corn as their favorite crunchy snack of the day. (Locate a Rock & Pop retailer near you by clicking here to visit their website.)
#5 Clif Kid, Organic Twisted Fruit. Kids and adults on our testing panel loved the cool colors, clever shape, and portability of these pure-fruit snack twists. Though one panelists indicated that the sweetness of the snack made her “teeth hurt,” most of the kids gave Twisted Fruit snacks flying colors, “Super Yum.” Most of the mom’s agreed that this was one snack worth keeping around, whether for school lunch packing, quick afterschool snacking, or something easy and healthy to grab while on the run. (Available in most major grocery & health food stores.)
#6 Disney Donald Duck Fruit Crisps, Freeze-Dried Pears. With no preservatives, no added sugar, and compliance with a long list special-diets (gluten-free, vegan, kosher, soy-free, dairy-free, peanut-free), including an adorable picture of Donald Duck on the front of the serving-sized packets, these Brothers-All-Natural snacks were loved by every mom on our tasting panel. But did the kids go for something so…free? Yes, indeed! All but the most finicky of testers loved these sweet, crunchy freeze-dried treats. Click here for a list of Disney snack retailers.
#7 Stonyfield Farm YoKids Squeezers, Organic Lowfat Yogurt. The kids rated these easy, squeezy, organic yogurt treats “cool-for-school” ten times out of twelve. “Wow! Better than Go-gurt!” one taste-tester heartily responded, though one of the panelists mom’s thought the yogurt would be better for her kids if sugar wasn’t included on the ingredient list. The other moms disagreed, indicating thier enthusiasm for the product with “Great! Will buy!” (Available in most major grocery & health food stores.)
#8 Panda All Natural Licorice, Cherry. Before the Panda licorice samples were even passed around to the group, some of the moms were exclaiming their passion for this all-natural, no-sugar soft licorice. Though, some of them were dubious about their children taking to the unique flavor of this made-with-real-fruit licorice. The kids responded with all-thumbs up. “Delicious!!! Yum! Love it!” wrote one panelist, while nine out of twelve kid tasters picked Panda licorice as their favorite taste-tested candy snack. (Available in most major grocery & health food stores.)
#9 Good Health Naturals, Crispy Cinnamon Apple Chips. These cinnamon-sugar coated apple crisps have 30% less fat than potato chips, but none of the kids seemed to care. They were too busy munching on their samples to bother with the health details of this all-natural product, which the kids rated ‘tasty,’ ‘yummy,’ and ‘cool for school.’ (Available in most major grocery & health food stores.)
#10 Cascadian Farms Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars. “These don’t taste like regular granola bars. They are, like, amazing! Totally good!” indicated one of our kids panelists. Ten of the other kids agreed, when it comes to granola bars, Cascadian Farms chocolate chip bars are “Not bad. Not bad at all.” Panelist moms were a little more divided in their approval of the product, with one stating, “Flavor was terrific. Would buy,” while another indicated, “Too sweet. Only for dessert.” This tepid reaction from the mothers didn’t stop the kids from raving, all twelve gave these granola bars a thumbs up. (Available in most major grocery & health food stores.)
HONORABLE MENTIONS by CATEGORY
Though the snacks below didn’t make our Top 10, they were chosen as favorites by more than four panelists. Some of them are perfect for lunch-box packing, while others offer an ideal way to unwind and refill after a long school day. Here are the top picks in each of the following back-to-school categories.
Honest Kids Thirst Quencher, Super Fruit Punch. Some of the moms thought these healthy juice packs tasted a little watered down, while other mom’s praised the simple, healthy ingredients and exciting flavors (Goji Berry, Yumberry, Pear and Strawberry) of these organic juice drinks. The kids loved the mild taste and colorful, tote-friendly packets. Available through most major grocery retailers.
GRANOLA & CEREAL BARS
1 Kashi TLC Cereal Bars, Strawberry. Our panelists were split on the apple and blackberry flavors, but when tasting the strawberry TLC bars, they all triumphantly agreed, “Loved ’em!”. One mom loved the soft texture and “perfect ratio of fruit to granola-like cake. Yum!” Available at most major grocery retailers.
365 Everyday Value Mixed Berry Cereal Bar. Whole Foods Signature brand delivers with an all-natural, low-fat treat described by one panelist mom as “delicious, and very moist” texture and flavor. Available at Whole Foods.
Health Valley Organic Wildberry Chewy Granola Bars. Made with organic brown rice flour, organic oats, and dried blueberries, several kids on our panel loved the sweet, berry undertones of this otherwise traditional granola bar. Click here to locate a Health Valley retailer near you.
Gluten-Free and Fabulous Shortbread Cookie Bites. While several of the gluten-free options had our kids turning up their noses, the Gluten Free and Fabulous line of cookied was very well-recieved, with the shortbread cookie bites being the clear favorite for all of our taste-testers. Available in Kroger grocery stores and at these locations.
Mary’s Gone Crackers Chocolate Chip Cookies. “Tastes just like Chips Ahoy!” said one gluten-loving kids tester, who couldn’t believe he was snacking on a gluten-free cookie. Crispy and packed thick with chocolate chips, these are gluten-free cookies worth keeping around…so long as you can keep your kids hands off of them. To locate them a store near you, click here.
Veggie Patch Vegetable Bites, Broccoli. Though these vegetarian nuggets come in a variety of flavors (corn, spinach, mushroom), the kid panelists raved over the cheddar-and-broccoli bites which cook up in minutes and snack sort of like chicken nuggets, only a lot healthier. Available nationwide at most grocery stores, including Costco wholesale.
DelMonte Fruit Chillers Freeze and Eat Tubes. A healthy take on the kid-classic Otter Pop popscicle, Fruit Chillers are made with a pound of real fruit. Several of the kid panelists loved the idea of toting a frozen tube in their lunch box to help keep their food cool, but that plan ran into issues when they realized the tubes are virtually indestructible without a pair of scissors. One mom mentioned her concern over the addition of sugar, while the other moms raved, “Great! Would definitely buy!” (Available nationwide at grocery retailers everywhere.)
Garden of Eatin’ Popped Tortillas. “Crunchy and super salty,” wrote one mom as a criticism of these unique multigrain tortilla snacks, while another wrote, “Love the flavor! So salty and snackilicious!” Kid panelists liked the chips for snacking, but didn’t think they would lend themselves to dipping, “these would taste nasty with salsa, but they are good all by themselves!” (Available online, and in most major grocery & health food stores.)
HEALTHY MOM PICKS
Rhythm Superfoods Rhythm Kale Chips, Zesty Nacho. Raw, vegan, and full of flavor, only the kids of our uber-healthy panelist mom liked the flavor and look of these dark green kale chips. But, boy! did their mom rejoice upon seeing these crispy, nutrient-rich chips. (Available in natural food stores nationwide.)
MacroGreens Chocolate Cinnamon Super Food Bar. Raw, organic, whole food ingredients like Macro Greens powder ; Certified Organic Barley Grass Juice Powder, and Certified Organic Spirulina Powder combine to make a chewy, chocolate-flavored bar with a hint of healthy beneath the cocoa taste. “Will buy for myself if my kids won’t eat them! Amazing combination of healthy ingredients!” raved one mom. (Available in natural food stores nationwide.)
Kardea Nutrition Bars, Banana Nut. Created by a confectioner to control cholesterol, one of the health-conscious moms on our panel was impressed with the simple, healthy ingredient list (brown rice syrup, agave, canola oil to name a few) and the slightly sweet, chewy texture of the bars, “tastes good. My kids might like it for quick breakfasts.” (Click here to see a list of natural retailers that carry Kardea products.)
Omega to Go Orange Creamscicle Flavor. Kid panelists from traditionally-fed families didn’t go for this mix-into-a-water-bottle vitamin drink, but the ones with a more liberal palate thought the orange creamscicle flavor was “better than having to just drink water at school.” Health conscious mom panelists liked the “easy way to drink some our vitamins and omega-3’s.” (Available online and at Walgreens stores nationwide.)
Disclaimer: Each of the companies represented here, and multiple other companies, provided free samples for our taste-testing panel. None of the participants (including myself) were compensated or persuaded in any way to participate in this activity, or provide their opinions.