I have a strange relationship with packaged foods. In my heart, I’d prefer to whip up batches of homemade crackers, cereal, cookies, and even yogurt in my spare time. I hate buying pre-packaged stuff and tossing wrappers into the trash, but I’m also eternally grateful to have it on hand when we’re heading off to parks, swimming lessons, or school. I minimize packaged items in lunches, but when I’m in a rush it’s nice to be able to quickly assemble something healthy that my child will actually eat.

So are there some prepared foods that pack more of a nutritional punch and treat the planet just a bit more kindly?

Dry cereal is a great breakfast option but can also be tossed into lunches or stirred into trail mixes. I love Trader Joe’s O’s, but Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny O’s are also excellent. Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies are a terrific alternative to the ubiquitous goldfish.

My children can be tricked into eating pumpkin and pureed prunes due to the lovely taste of Kashi bars. At this point in my life, I’ve also realized that I may be the one having the hunger meltdown if I don’t have snacks along on our adventures.

Newman’s Own Organic Raisins are easy to pack up in tupperware or reusable plastic bags and can be thrown into trail mix, oatmeal, or cookies as a great supplement.

Bare Fruit’s 100% Organic Bake-Dried Fuji applies are currently on sale for less than $20 for two one pound bags. I know it can seem costly, but you have to think of the volume of apples that have to be dehydrated to produce just two pounds of dried fruit. (If you have a dehydrator and do the drying yourself, I envy you!)

Stretch Island Fruit Leathers have no added sugar or colors and are made just one state away in Washington. My kids love these and they’re currently less than $13 for a pack of 30 bars. Making fruit leather is an eventual goal of mine, but I’m not there yet…

If you’re trying to get a few more greens into their lunches, consider tossing some boiled and salted edamame (soybeans) in. Somehow the novelty of popping the soybeans out of their shells helps to get these nutritional gems into their bodies. My kids also love roasted Seaweed Snacks. It may sound a bit exotic, but the sheets of nori (the seaweed used to wrap sushi) are seasoned with sesame and then roasted and salted to create a really delicious snack that emulates potato chips.

Although they’re often forbidden in schools where children suffer from allergies, there’s nothing that beats the nutrition and ease of plain nuts. One pound of Raw Organic Almonds can be tossed in with cereal, raisins, and dried fruit to create a killer trail mix that’s easy to transport.

What are your best ideas for simple school lunch snacks? Do you dread packing lunches as much as I do?