Between meals, most kids get hungry as wolves, and snacking is an important energy bridge. Snacking ought to be healthy, but it still needs to have the crunch, chew, and bright flavors of a real treat. Homeade snacks are great. But sometimes packaged snacks trump everything. We limited our selections to cheese crackers made with whole grains and containing 150 calories and 250mg sodium or less; string cheeses with 200mg sodium and 3g sat fat or less; and fruit purees with less than 15g sugar and no added fruit juice concentrate or other sweeteners.
How we tested: We sampled 12 cheese crackers, 14 fruit purees, and six string cheeses in blind tastings. We took the top three contenders from each category to an elementary school, where they were tested by kindergarten, second, and third grade classes.
This mild mozzarella stick is a standout for its smooth, creamy mouthfeel. No rubbery snap-back. Flavor has a warm, salty (but not too high in sodium) tang. The mozzarella is extra stringy, too, which is good because nothing says, "It's OK to play with your food" quite like string cheese.
Winner: Cheez-It Baked Snack Crackers Made with Whole Grain
$3.89 (13.7 ounces)
150 calories, 250mg sodium in 27 crackers
Cheesy and superbuttery. Crispy-crunchy and delicately flaky, too. They're made with whole-wheat flour (though it's not the first ingredient). Two thumbs up from the kid-tasting panel—or, as one tester put it, "These are cheese-a-licious!"
Runner-up: Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers Made with Whole Grain
Peter Rabbit Organics Pear and Apple Pure Fruit Snack
$1.79 (4 ounces)
70 calories, 10g sugar in 1 pouch
Our editors were pleasantly surprised by the freshness and silky texture: This isn't baby food. Kids enjoyed the sweet, balanced flavor—and the packaging. As one noted, "My mom would love these for me because they're less messy to eat when we're in the car." Bonus: The lid pops back on, so kids can eat half now, half later.