Healthy store bought snacks aren’t always easy to come by. But there’s reason to think times are changing. Consider, for example, the bin of fresh apples, oranges, and bananas I encountered 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.
Can store bought snacks be healthy?
Sadly, this isn’t always the case. 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 is overwhelmed by the abundance of packaged junk in supermarkets, with relatively few good, quick options. Finding smart snack ideas that are wholesome enough to meet adult standards and be pleasing to kids isn’t easy. And if you’re looking for gluten-free snacks, it’s that much more challenging.
Tips for healthy store bought snacks
When comes to smart grab-and-go options, here are a few guidelines to help you navigate the junk to find the gems.
See what’s inside:
Even if it looks healthy, packaged store bought 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 snack ingredients:
Foods with just a handful of ingredients tend to be more wholesome than those with more than you care to count. Plenty of convenience foods fit the bill here, you just have to look for them.
Watch for unhealthy fats:
Emphasize foods that are rich in healthy fats, avoiding trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil) as well as highly saturated fats, such as palm kernel oil.
Opt out of ingredients made in a lab:
Snacks with artificial colors, flavors, and chemical preservatives are more common than you might think and not worth putting in your shopping cart.
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 added sugar:
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. While they may offer a small bump of nutrition, they’re still sugar.
Dive into the snack 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, nuts, ad peanuts, 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.
Do a little health research:
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.
Snack Ideas for Kids and Adults
With that in mind, head to the market to see what you can find to qualify as a healthy packaged snack for any age. Even if it appears to be nutritious at first glance, be sure to read the nutrition facts labels, since some brands are healthier than others. And don’t forget that there are few better foods for snacking than what’s fresh and seasonal in the produce department.
My Healthy Snacks List
Seasoned roasted seaweed
Crispy, freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, such as apple chips, crispy carrots, and strawberries
Nuts, such as roasted and raw peanuts, salted pecans, pistachios in the shell, and tamari roasted almonds
Seeds, such as roasted sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds
Soy nuts and roasted edamame
No-sugar-added dried fruit, such as mango and pineapple, and dehydrated apple chips and berries
Ice pops with little/no added sugar or artificial ingredients (tip: frozen fruit can make a tasty treat as well, notably frozen cherries, pineapple, and mango)
Kale chips and other veggies chips that are baked
Whole-grain pretzels and pita chips
Popcorn (made with natural ingredients)
Low-sugar, whole-grain cereals
Crispy roasted chick peas, such as Biena or Saffron Road
Single-serve cheese, such as string cheese and mini-brie
Healthier chips, such as multigrain, lentil, and black bean tortilla chips
Plain or lower-sugar fruit yogurt, such as Siggi’s or Stoneyfield Farms
Graham crackers, especially whole grain, all the better if spread with peanut butter, almond butter, or sunflower butter
Lightly salted brown rice cakes and soy rice crisps
Granola bars that are relatively low in added sugar and made with real ingredients, such as Kind, Annie’s, and Perfect Kids.
Whole-grain or nut/seed crackers, such as Asian brown rice crackers, Mary’s crackers, woven wheat (Triscuits), and Jillz.
Dark chocolate and chocolate chips (the darker the better)
More Healthy Snacks and Shopping Guides