My son just started grade 1 this September and I am now in all new territory when it comes to school snacks.

In kindergarten, there was a snack program. Parents paid a suggested fee twice a year and the rest was taken care of for them. (I had a bit more involvement since I volunteered to be part of the School Council Food Committee – obviously, total dietitian mama move). Twice a day, the kindergarten kids sat down at tables, were provided with a nourishing snack that included 2-3 food groups, was minimally processed, and included fibre and protein. Sounds lovely, right?!

In grade 1, the kids are set loose in the school yard for 15 minutes and expected to eat a snack brought from home during that time while they also run around and burn off energy and socialize with friends. Gah! Anyone else see any problems with this system?

I was given some guidelines:

  • Doesn’t need refrigeration
  • Preferably packaged
  • Can be eaten in about 5 minutes
  • No nuts
  • Fits in a pocket
  • Not messy
  • Doesn’t need a spoon
  • Granola bars, cereal bars, fruit snacks are good – a teacher said these exact words to me

So. Many. Limitations. And no wonder most parents, myself included, often succumb to the pressure of a packaged snack. Some of you may be thinking, why do kids even need snacks at recess? And truthfully, some kids probably don’t. It really depends on when they eat breakfast. My kid NEEDS a snack by recess. We wake up early. He is finished breakfast most days before 7am. He is also currently doing cross country running 3 mornings a week before school. By recess he is hungry!

Here is a snap shot of our experience with recess snacks so far this year:

  • Whole apple. He managed to eat about 1/4 of it.
  • Carrot sticks. He said that “someone” (a teacher, a kid, I don’t know who but now he won’t take carrot sticks) told him that wasn’t good because he could choke while running around.
  • Large pack of seaweed. He ate it but explained to me that although he enjoys it, it takes too long to eat and he needs to sit down to eat them or stand still so they don’t blow out of the package.
  • Granola bar. He said they were OK but he doesn’t really like granola bars.
  • Cut up fruit and cheese. We forgot to pack the snack in the morning because it was in the fridge and so he had no recess snack that day.

Ok. Ok. I think you get the idea. Recess snacks are hard. Non-perishable, pre-packaged snacks are easy to pack the night before. They are also usually quick to eat. Kids tend to like them. BUT they are also not the best option for a daily snack. They are often loaded with sugar and refined carbs and lacking in protein and fibre, which means they don’t keep little bellies satisfied for long. So what’s a parent to do?

I sat down with my kiddo this week and we did some problem solving:

  • He was able to recognize that when he eats – oh let’s say a gummy fruit treat – he is “starving” by lunch.
  • He also identified that cereal bars (a really popular snack it appears) “make my tummy hurt and feel bad afterwards.”
  • He said that some granola bars were OK and has agreed to do some baking with me on the weekends to ensure that he has snacks that he enjoys at recess.
  • He said that he felt he could manage a small serving of cut up fruit or vegetables if he also had something quick and easy to eat with it like a cheese string. (Just fruit/veg takes too long to eat).

So. We have a bit of a plan now. I am also going to put together a snack meal plan that he can help me fill out weekly. This will help with grocery shopping and meal prep on my end and help with food acceptance (hopefully) on his end. I am also making him responsible for packing his snack the night before and then putting it in his backpack in the morning with his filled water bottle. Team work!

Here are some of our recess snack ideas:

  • Cheese string or Babybel cheese
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Fruit (planning to cut up fruit like apples/pears to make it easier to eat)
  • Veggies (cut up into sticks and given in smaller portions)
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • 1/2 sandwich
  • Trail mix (with dried fruit and seeds instead of nuts)
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Freeze dried fruit
  • Granola bars or bliss balls (preferably home-made)
  • Small whole grain muffins (preferably home-made)
  • Oatmeal cookies (preferably home-made)
  • Sea weed snacks (only once in awhile because they are a bit challenging to eat)
  • Whole grain cereal
  • Veggie Chips
  • Tortilla roll ups
  • Chocolate or other treat (once in awhile so as to normalize treat foods)

If you have some other ideas for recess snacks, I’d love to hear them! And next, let’s work on fixing this broken system of how we feed our kids snacks at school!

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