One of the most hopeful signs that perhaps change is underway in our snack food nation was the bin of fresh apples, oranges, and bananas sold at the check out line of my local Target. That welcome sight flooded me with so much optimism, my kids worried that I might cry. Instead, I bought an apple in solidarity.
Sadly, this is hardly the norm. Grocery shopping at mainstream markets means running a gauntlet of super-processed snack foods. It’s a state of affairs my boot camp buddy, Leslie, brought up last week as we huffed and puffed through sets of squats. She said that she felt overwhelmed by the abundance of junk in supermarkets, with relatively few good options. Finding snacks that are wholesome enough to meet your standards, yet tasty enough for your kids isn’t easy. Making your own snacks is always a good bet. You’ll find recipe inspiration for that by going here. But when you are looking for grab-and-go options, here are a few guidelines to help you navigate the junk to find the gems, as well as a laundry list of healthier store-bought snack suggestions.
See what’s inside: Even if it looks healthy, packaged snacks can be deceiving. Have a peek at the ingredient list as well as the Nutrition Facts label, zeroing in on calories per serving, saturated fat, sugar, salt, and fiber.
Aim for fewer ingredients: Foods with just a handful of ingredients tend to be more wholesome than those with more than you care to count.
Watch for unhealthy fats: Avoid snacks made with trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil) as well as highly saturated fats such as palm kernel oil.
Opt out of ingredients made in a laboratory: Artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and monosodium glutamate (MSG) are not kid-friendly, even if they’re packaged to look that way. They appear more commonly than you might think.
Look for fiber and whole grains: Shoot for snacks made with whole grains rather than refined flours, and aim for at least a couple of grams of fiber in a serving.
Watch the sweet stuff: Even savory snacks are sometimes full of sugar and can often contain multiple forms of it, from dextrose to high-fructose corn syrup. Think twice about snacks in which sugar is listed as the first or second ingredient. Also be mindful of less processed sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey. Although they’re preferable to other options, from a nutrition standpoint, they’re essentially still sugar.
Dive into the bins: Snack options in the bulk bins are often more economical and can save on excessive packaging (especially if you bring your own bags). This is a good place to look for unsweetened dried fruits and nuts, which can be pulled together to make your own trail mix. But beware, those labels need reading, too. Not everything is as healthy as you might think.
Turn to the Experts: The folks behind the website and app Fooducate do a good job of assessing snacks for you.They evaluate and assign grades to store-bought foods of every stripe. This page on their website is a good place to start.
Here is a list of some of the better crunchy/savory choices in the snack department. Be sure to read the labels even for these since some brands are more healthful than others. And don’t forget that there are few better foods for snacking than what’s fresh and seasonal in the produce department.
Seasoned toasted seaweed
Crispy apple chips (with little more than apples in the ingredients)
Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables
Salted roasted pistachio nuts
Tamari roasted almonds
Roasted sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
Whole grain pretzels
Popcorn (made with natural ingredients)
Favorite low-sugar, whole-grain cereals
Baked lentil chips
Whole-grain pita chips
Corn and multigrain tortilla chips
Black bean tortilla chips
Graham crackers, especially whole grain
Lightly salted mini brown rice cakes
Soy rice crisps (made with natural ingredient)
Woven wheat crackers such as Triscuits
Asian brown rice crackers
This is just a starting point. Interesting new snacks are coming out every day. Please share some of your favorites in the comments section below.