They may not be cost-effective—or environmentally friendly—but they're worth it.
Credit: Shannon Fagan

There are roughly five reasons not to buy prepackaged, single serving, "fun-size" snacks. They’re generally less nutritious than fresh fruit and veggie snacks. They cost more, on average, than their bulk-sized companions. They introduce more plastic into a world that can no longer even handle straws. They encourage conspicuous commercial-inspired consumption based on bright colors and fun logos rather than actual quality. And they take up way more room in my pantry than larger bags of the same product (thank you, enormous boxes).

But every week I cruise the snack and cracker aisle of my local grocery and pick up a variety pack of squeeze pouches, or snack cups, or hundred-calorie-packs to fill the lunchbox of my freshly minted kindergartener. Why? Because they really are worth it, and frankly, I am just doing my best.

Maybe we’ve met before. I’m the mom who dared to feed her kids pre-peeled oranges. The mom who might get arrested the next time she goes grocery shopping. The mom who goes to Target… for fun, who wants you to stop rubbing stuff on my kids. (Yes, I’m totally unique. Thank you.)  

But most importantly, I'm the mom responsible for picking up my kids, getting dinner on the table, reviewing homework (Kindergarteners have homework. Can you find five prisms in your house? I can’t!), laying out tomorrow’s clothes, moving the laundry, running the dishwasher, wrangling baths, and packing lunches, all the in two hours I have between the end of my day at work and bedtime for the kids.

I’m also not totally self-centered, so I assure you I tried. I really did. The environmental impact and general waste of prepackaged snacks bothers me on a granular level. Having selected the hill I was to die on, I bought plastic reusable containers for my daughter to take to school. I happily filled them with yogurt and applesauce from our family-sized jars, then handed one to my daughter to make sure she could open it. And that’s the story of why I Googled "easiest way to get yogurt off a kitchen ceiling."

Little hands just can’t open those sealed boxes without, well, exuberantly opening them as only five year olds can. So for all things liquid, I went back to squeezies and tubes, and yes, I’ve seen that youtube video your neighbor sent you about the mold, thankyouverymuch.

Nowadays I use those lovely, food-grade, microwave-safe plastic containers to hold things like ponytail holders and doll shoes, so we’ll call that match a tie.

I knew I could win the waste battle on dry snacks, so I picked up snack-sized tip-top bags. We do, by the way, have one-ounce mason jars with lids at home that Pinterest tells me would be perfect for my Goldfish or Animal Crackers, but it turns out that combining glass and a crowded lunchroom of five-year olds is frowned upon in most establishments. So back to plastic I go, but at least these are dry snacks. I can reuse the zip-top bags from now until eternity, or Thanksgiving break, whichever  comes first.

But guess what they don’t tell you in kindergarten orientation? They throw everything out. Everything. I’m lucky her thermos comes home. After I found a three-day old container of strawberry milk festering in my car, I am now in support of this policy.

So one night, as I was bagging up pretzel sticks, Taking the 90 extra seconds it called for to open the drawer, grab the snack-size bag, open the cabinet, select the snack, portion the snack, zip the bag, and toss it in the lunchbox knowing that same plastic bag would sit in a landfill for the rest of my natural life, I gave up.

I could hear my kids upstairs, reading stories with dad. I could see the pile of dishes that would occupy my time later. And I was done. You know what works just as well as my hand-bagging pretzel sticks? Prepackaged pretzel sticks.

My kid is happy and full, which means that regardless of added cost or (sob) waste, this is one choice I’m going to have to live with for right now.

I’d love to say that I’m offsetting my plastic impact by only buying bulk-style office snacks, but I’d be lying. I’m definitely filling my desk drawer with prepackaged snacks, because when the snack craving hits (or lunch gets replaced by a conference call… again), I can either eat one 100-calorie snack pack of almonds or one costco-sized bulk bag of almonds. There is no middle ground.

So while there are five reasons to skip the prepackaged snacks, there are reasons why you should give in on this one:

They make lunch prep simple. My daughter can select her snack of choice and toss it in. Done.

They invite kids to learn more about food choices. My kiddo now stands with me in the aisle and we talk about the differences in snacks and treats, discussing the merits of various items. Her favorite? Precut apple slices. You can burn me for that one another day.

It saves me 90 seconds per day. That doesn’t sound like much, but in my stage of life right now (three kids under six), that minute and a half between school and bedtime is enough time for another dance-a-thon, another story, another snuggle before bed.

This isn’t a story about how prepackaged snacks saved my family, but it is permission for you to let go of the thing you feel terribly about. Sometimes parenthood is about nailing it, and sometimes it’s about throwing in the towel on the little things and getting back to what’s important.