39 Pantry Must-Haves for Healthy Lunches and Snacks

Recipes and Food

Pantry Essentials for Healthy Lunches and Snacks | Help! We've Got Kids
photo: adapted from Hellebardius, Mike Hiatt, and MGF/Lady Disdain.

It can be a scramble to pack kids’ lunches and snacks for school. More often than not, we end up doing it the night before or (yikes!) in the morning.

Armed with this checklist of buy-ahead healthy pantry essentials (and some long-lasting fridge and freezer items), you can throw together a healthy lunch and snacks kids will love at a moment’s notice.

A good rule of thumb is to aim to cover all of the main food “groups”. Eat Right Ontario recommends each lunch contain veggies, fruits, grains, dairy (or alternative), and meat (or alternative).

Here’s a handy reminder of the elements to include in every lunch:
5 elements of a healthy lunch | Help! We've Got Kids
Now, on to the list of essentials!

39 Must-Haves for Your Healthy Home Pantry:


  • canned beans: chick peas, black beans, pinto beans, etc.
  • almond butter, peanut butter, cashew butter, etc. (if your school allows it)
  • sunflower seed butter or other no-nut butter
  • shelf-stable tofu (e.g. Mori-Nu)
  • almonds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts (if your school allows nuts)
  • hummus: Summer Fresh makes individual hummus mini-packs, or just scoop some into a small container


  • yogurt cups
  • cheese slices or cheese sticks (go for real cheese; avoid “cheese product”)
  • cream cheese
  • canned salmon
  • canned tuna
  • canned sardines
  • white beans
  • dried figs (really!)
  • almonds
  • soy milk in individual-size drink boxes


  • whole-grain tortillas, pita, bagels, and/or bread (freeze ahead)
  • corn tortillas (freeze ahead)
  • whole-grain crackers
  • rice cakes
  • whole-grain cereal: unsweetened, or minimally naturally sweetened
  • whole-grain muffins (freeze ahead)

Fruits & Vegetables

These are hard to stock up on and must be purchased weekly. Apples and pears are good bets for longer-lasting fruits. Here are some staples to keep on hand when you run low on fresh produce:

  • frozen fruits: berries, peaches, grapes, mango, papaya, cherries
  • frozen vegetables: peas, corn, edamame, broccoli, squash
  • frozen smoothies: make ahead and use as a cooler pack and fruit/veg serving. Some make-ahead smoothie ideas from Jill Dubien at Meet the Dubiens.
  • applesauce (just apples—no added sugar or other “junk”)

Ready-Made Snacks

  • raisins, dried cranberries, dried apricots, dried apple rings, and other dried fruit
  • banana chips
  • granola bars or other snack bars (Lara bars are a favourite, since they’re just nuts and fruit with no added ingredients)
  • fig bars
  • beef or wild-game jerky (chemical-free variety) or Primal Strips (vegan jerky)
  • kale chips
  • sesame sticks
  • pretzel sticks
  • graham crackers
  • trail mix (if your school is nut-free, bulk up your mix with seeds and whole-grain cereal)
  • popcorn
  • individually wrapped dark-chocolate squares

Read more like this:

30 Time-Saving Tips for Faster Family Dinners | Help! We've Got Kids 10 Seriously Fast Weeknight Dinners | Help! We've Got Kids 15 Last-Minute After-School Snacks | Help! We've Got Kids
30 Time-Saving
Tips for Faster
Family Dinners
10 Seriously Fast
Weeknigh Dinners
15 Healthy
Last-Minute After-
School Snacks

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