If I'm feeling cranky, frustrated, or tired, usually a good snack helps. When switching to zero waste, I almost gave up because of what I perceived to be the dearth of convenient, simple, and appetizing zero waste snacks. However, I did a little research, tried a few things, and now never find myself without a zero waste treat I look forward to eating, which is important for me in order to keep my productivity up.
If you're finding you have the same problems, I encourage you to look at what you require from your snack food (convenience, portability, appeal, etc.), and then brainstorm how you can meet those requirements but with little or no packaging. I've found I need to invest half and hour a week into preparing my snacks (washing, chopping, mixing, etc.), but I do this immediately after returning from the grocery store, so it's become an expected part of putting away the food when I get home. The following is a list of goodies I always keep on hand, and am sure you'll enjoy as well.
Trail Mix and Nuts: At its simplest, I mix one cup peanuts to three-fourths of a cup of chocolate chips. I don't care much for the texture of dried fruit, so raisins and the like rarely make it into my mix. When I'm feeling more adventurous I'll mix in almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, white chocolate chips, or M&Ms. Quite a few stores that stock bulk food will also have a few varieties of trail mix in bulk, so getting it can be as easy as bringing an extra cloth bag on your next shopping trip. Often I'll keep jars of nuts on hand too, as it's nice to just grab a handful of almonds occasionally. I use old Altoid tins, small cloth bulk bags, and small metal containers to carry my trail mix or nuts when I'm out and about.
Dried Fruit: This is not my cup of tea, but any store with a bulk section will stock some kind of dried fruit, and usually a good variety of it. Raisins, craisins, prunes, banana chips, and the like are very healthy, require only a jar to store them in, and are one of the most convenient snack foods you'll find.
Cookies: I love cookies, so I usually make a batch every Sunday, and help myself to a few every day out of the cookie jar. It's easy to wrap a couple of cookies in my Bird-e towels for when I want to pack them along. If I were disinclined to bake, as I have been at times, I just bring my own box or bag to the bakery and ask for them there. One inquiry means you'll know the baking schedule, and can often put in requests the day before so that your cookies are ready and waiting package-free for you.
Carrots and Celery Sticks: I thought carrot and celery sticks would be my zero waste snack salvation, but I've found that if I don't cut them up as soon as I get home, I never snack on them because of the preparation time (I didn't think about how spoiled I was by those bags of baby carrots, or about how much waste I made because of them). So now I rinse, peel, and chop up whole celery and carrots as soon as I get home from the market. Some people keep them in water in their fridge to retain their crispness, but as long as I can just reach in and grab them I always eat my vegetables faster than they go limp. I like my carrots naked, but I have been meaning to try out a homemade ranch dressing recipe for the rest of the family. Celery I always eat with peanut butter bought package-free and freshly made from the peanut butter station at the health food store. When I travel with these things, I carry a little metal bento box with a scoop of peanut-butter in one corner.
Fruit: I keep a fully-stocked fruit basket at all times. I don't find fruit to be filling, but it does take the edge off of hunger and gives me a healthy snacking choice. Plus it's the easiest, most convenient, most portable zero waste snack I can think of.
Crackers, Pretzels, and the Like: As stated before, I'm lucky enough to live near a Winco, so I'm never left wanting for all the great snack foods they carry, like goldfish crackers, pretzels, cheese doodles, pita chips, and popping corn (There's a great how-to video on popcorn over at Small Notebook). Honestly though, if I didn't have Winco I'd buy the biggest packages of these things I could find (usually at Costco; the bigger the package, the less plastic waste to food ratio there is) and dole them out over a few months. When traveling I use a bento box or other lidded container, but I'm coveting these snack wraps for regular use.
Candy: I don't consider candy a snacking item, but a little sweet treat now and then can hit the spot just right. Again, Winco has a wide range of candy (my favorite are the jelly beans, hot tamales, and tootsie pops (the wrappers and sticks are compostable)), but I've found that many drugstores have Jelly Bellys in bulk, and I love the decadence of buying a pound of See's candies at a time (from the counter, not in the pre-packaged boxes) and enjoying one truffle a day. I dream of having a special wooden box like in the movie Matilda designated specifically for my chocolate indulgence. Many malls have some sort of chocolate shop where you can buy taffy, truffles, and even plain squares of chocolate in bulk and packaging free. I know these options are more expensive than just buying a candy bar at the Walmart, but I appreciate more, and eat less, when it's something special. Of course, I've sometimes made homemade Twix candy bars and eaten half the batch in one sitting.
Rolls and Bread Items: I'm happy to just smear bread with homemade Nutella, peanut butter, or regular butter and snack away, but I've picked up bagels, doughnuts, dinner rolls, crescent rolls, and cinnamon buns at the local bakery in bulk from time to time. Again, if you request them made fresh, or find out what the baking schedule is, it's easy to get these items packaging-free. I've also found that the best way to keep butter fresh on the counter is in a butter crock, which immerses the butter in water to keep it well-preserved, but lets it be warm enough to spread on bread without any problem. I change the water in mine everyday, and would never be without it.
Yogurt: I love Greek yogurt, and always have some on hand. I like mine with just a little honey drizzled on top, or maybe a pinch of cinnamon, but other appetizing options are to stir in some fruit, granola, preserves, or even nuts.
Granola: As always, this is easy to find in the bulk foods section, but there are many recipes to make it yourself online. I like to pour a little milk over mine, but have also been known to eat it by the handful as well. I especially like stirring in some dehydrated strawberry slices to add a different texture and extra layer of flavor.
Cheese: I buy my cheese at the upscale grocery store in my neighborhood. I can get all kinds of cheeses, from hard to soft, and in my own containers. Cheese and crackers are always appetizing, and I love spreading a soft goat cheese or brie onto a bagel. I also find it easier to cut slices of cheese when I'm dealing with a glass storage container, rather than the fussy little plastic wrappers cheese normally comes wrapped in. Of course, I always keep Tillamook cheddar on hand, just stocked from the regular store's deli counter (even Walmart will do this)(honesty time: while I buy it from the deli counter, my family eats enough of this cheese that I just buy the giant five-pound bricks they normally sell for deli use. I cut the brick into smaller, more manageable blocks and store them in lidded Pyrex containers in my fridge).
Soup: This one of my dirty little secrets; I eat canned soup (and even Spaghetti-o's). When nothing else is appealing, I have no money for pizza, and I'm at the point where I'm shaking from hunger, a can of soup always hits the spot. Cans are problematic because of their plastic liners and the fact that new cans aren't made from old cans, so there's not true recycling, but I still indulge in this food on occasion. It's a little more hearty than a simple snack, and allows me to work longer after eating it. Of course, I rinse and recycle the cans, and try to save this as a true treat, rather than a regular staple. I am looking into better, faster homemade soup and ramen recipes, but I'm still in the researching stage, so it'll be a while till I'm ready to write about it. Still, the point of me listing this food is to emphasize the fact that it's important to keep yourself healthy, comfortable, and well-feed, even if that means dealing with a little food packaging.
I hope you've found some inspiration in this list for you and your family, or at least can use it as a springboard to make your own favorite treat. As always, share your ideas with us in the comments, and happy snacking!
First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.