There are many reasons people love to snack. Sometimes it’s simply to tame hunger pangs between meals. Snacks provide energy for a tough workout. Marathoners even snack during their long runs. Other times, snacking is less about fuel and more about environment or emotion. Someone somewhere decreed that butter-smothered popcorn must accompany movies, nachos and chips-n-dip go with ballgames, and baseball equals hot dogs. The simple act of watching television can bring on the desire to rummage through the pantry, perhaps just after seeing a commercial that features a cheeky cheetah wearing sunglasses. And when heartbreak occurs, it sometimes seems that it can only be helped by a box of chocolates or a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream.
Kids have their own snack perils. Little voices clamor for sugary soft drinks; sugar-laden juice boxes; neon rolls of sticky, fruit-flavored candy; square cheese crackers; and chips of every type. Fortunately, healthy snacking ideas are easy and can be a lot of fun for kids. A little preparation is all that is required to make healthy snacking habits.
Protein is a great choice for satisfying hunger cravings. For an example, look no further than the egg. Eggs are simple and quick to cook. Stored in a container in the refrigerator, boiled eggs are an easy grab on the way out the door. For a little more flair, egg cups are a healthy and customizable snack. Fill greased muffin tins half full with chopped vegetables and salt and pepper to taste, along with cheese if desired, and fill the tins three quarters full with beaten eggs. Bake at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until set. These can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer and quickly reheated.
Nuts are another protein-rich snack. Almonds, pistachios, and walnuts lead the list of most nutritious nuts. In addition to nuts, edamame provides a protein-packed vegetarian option. Boiled or steamed, perhaps with a touch of salt, edamame is fun food in a pod. Even little children enjoy peeling them open and pulling out the beans, eventually progressing to the entertaining zip method, which involves holding an edamame pod by one end, biting down gently nearest the fingers, and then pulling the bean out and shelling it directly into the mouth. Delicious!
Speaking of vegetables, making appetizing and fun snacks using them is surprisingly easy. The simplest idea is to cut and store carrots, peppers, and celery in the refrigerator. At snack time, dip the sticks in peanut butter, hummus, or Greek yogurt mixed with favorite herbs for a flavorful, satisfying crunch. Celery has long been the king of stuffed vegetable snacks. Strategically boat-shaped, celery stalks beg for filling. Nut butter is one filling choice that combines protein with crunch. Another option is softened cream cheese mixed with “everything” bagel seasoning. Kids enjoy making their own celery “bugs” by filling the stalks with the spread of choice and then making bug bodies from halved grapes or grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber or apple, or blueberries. Cucumber, apple, strawberry, or kiwi slices form wings; grapes, grape tomatoes, or cashews become heads; and, snipped chive or thin apple strips sprout into antennae.
To make healthy choices, you don’t have to give up on game-day snacks or movie treats. Enjoy a zingy version of popcorn by lightly spritzing a plain serving with coconut oil spray and then sprinkling with seasonings like garlic powder or grated parmesan cheese. Combine popcorn with other healthy treats, like nuts and small snips of dried fruit, to make a munchable trail mix. Achieve a sweet and salty version by drizzling lightly salted popcorn with melted dark chocolate.
Thinly sliced sweet potatoes, beets, zucchini, carrots, and parsnips make excellent chips. While preheating the oven to 375 degrees F, peel the vegetables, and then use a mandolin to slice them uniformly and quickly. Inexpensive mandolins work well. Lay the rounds out on paper towels, sprinkle them with salt to draw out moisture, and let them sit for 15 minutes. Place the vegetables in a single layer on a greased, foil-lined pan. Mist them with olive oil and seasonings or herbs. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until perfectly crispy.
Homemade kale chips please even the most leafy-green-hating crowd. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F. Remove stems from the kale and tear it into large-bite-sized pieces. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil or cooking spray and place the kale in a single layer, misting lightly with oil. After sprinkling on salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder, roast the kale chips for 12 minutes, remove to stir gently, and then return the pan to the oven for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Fries are another snack that need not be abandoned for a healthier lifestyle. Make delicious fries at home by slicing potatoes to the desired thickness. Place them in a bowl, cover them with water, and let them sit for 30 minutes to draw out excess starch. Drain and lay them on paper towels to dry thoroughly. Add the potatoes to a mixing bowl and toss with olive oil and seasonings such as salt, pepper, truffle salt, chili powder, cumin, or grated parmesan. In a 450 degree F oven, bake the potatoes on a well-greased, foil-lined pan in a single layer for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through cooking. You can also sneak vegetables into kids’ tummies by turning them into fries. Carrots, green beans, jicama, asparagus, rutabaga, parsnips, zucchini, sweet potatoes, peppers, and snap peas are all candidates.
Slice the vegetables into fry-shaped strips. For extra kid appeal, use a spiral slicer on root vegetables. Green beans, asparagus, and snap peas can be left whole. Dip the vegetables in an egg wash and then in bread crumbs mixed with grated parmesan and spices for a more textured fry. Prepare a simple version by dusting the fries lightly with olive oil or cooking spray, sprinkling them with spices or parmesan, and baking. Smaller vegetables may need only 5 to 10 minutes in the oven while others may require up to 25 minutes.
Enjoy healthier nachos by making your own tortilla chips. Select 12 whole corn tortillas. Mix 1 tablespoon of olive oil with 1 teaspoon lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Brush both sides of the tortillas with the olive oil mixture. Cut the tortillas into quarters, sixths, or eighths, depending on the size desired. Bake at 375 degrees F for 8 to 12 minutes. Vegetable chips can also be used for nachos. Healthy nacho toppings include shredded chicken, ground turkey, or a vegetarian ground meat substitute cooked in taco seasoning, as well as kidney or black beans, chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapeños and onion, sliced black olives, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. To make a sour cream alternative, use 1/2 cup Greek yogurt and mix with 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, the juice of 1/2 lime, and salt and pepper to taste. Make guacamole by mashing the flesh of three large avocados in a bowl and sprinkling with 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice. Add one seeded and diced tomato, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix until just combined.
Fruit satisfies the urge for a sweet snack. Many varieties of fruit can, and ideally should, be eaten with the skin on, including apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and plums. Some tricks help to access the tasty parts of other fruits. Fresh pineapple is delicious plain or grilled. While pineapple can be bought already sliced, it is more economically purchased whole. Look for a bright green crown, skin that yields to slight pressure, and a sweet scent at the base. Cut off the top 1/2 inch below the crown and the bottom 1/2 inch from the base. Set the pineapple upright and begin slicing off the prickly exterior, following the shape of the fruit from top to bottom. Use a paring knife to remove any remaining eyes. Quarter the pineapple lengthwise, then cut out the hard inner core.
Kiwi is a uniquely tart fruit with crunchy, edible seeds. Peel its fuzzy exterior by cutting 1/2 inch off the top and bottom. Insert a large dinner spoon between the flesh and the peel, and slide the spoon around the fruit while pressing out away from the flesh. When the circle is complete, push the flesh out of the peel and slice as desired.
Part of the fun of a mandarin orange, especially for a kid, is peeling it by hand. However, a quick way to access the citrusy goodness is to cut a small slice from each end. Then cut a slit in the peel from top to bottom. Gently pull the fruit open, exposing the accordion-like strip of orange sections. Entertain kids with a variety of fruit and a stack of small skewers, allowing them to create their own colorful and nutritious snacks.
Fruit can be used to create other healthy snack options. The smoothie, for example, is pleasing to any crowd. Instead of a milkshake, mix a few handfuls of fruit and a little honey with skim or almond milk to make a smoothie all ages will enjoy. Combine fruit and vegetables to make a delicious, nutrient-packed green smoothie. Place 4 to 5 ice cubes and 2 to 3 handfuls of spinach in a blender. Add a cucumber, skin on and chopped into chunks. Include one Granny Smith apple, cored and quartered; 3 celery stalks, loosely chopped; and a small piece of pineapple. Add flax seeds, chia seeds, and/or hemp seeds if desired. Top with 1 to 2 cups of water or coconut water. Begin blending on low and progressing to high until the mixture is smooth, adding more water if needed.
For another alternative to frozen treats, consider a parfait or a popsicle. Fruit parfaits are easy to make and delicious to eat. Layer fruit and granola with Greek yogurt for a refreshing and nutritious alternative to ice cream sundaes. Popsicles are perfect for hot summer days. Use popsicle molds to make fruit popsicles by packing sliced fruit and berries into the molds around a popsicle stick and filling with clear juice, milk, tea, or carbonated flavored water. Freeze overnight before enjoying. For a more traditional popsicle, place fruit in a food processor or smoothie blender, process until smooth, fill the popsicle molds, and freeze.
Thankfully, healthy snackers need not forgo chocolate or creativity. Dip mandarin orange sections, pineapple slices, or strawberries halfway into melted dark chocolate and place on wax paper to set. Add extra pizzazz with a tiny sprinkling of flaked salt. Besides chocolate, Greek yogurt can also be used. For yogurt-dipped strawberries, wash and dry the fruit completely. Using honey Greek yogurt, dip each strawberry, and set on a parchment-lined tray. Put the tray in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour. Repeat the process to create the tasty treats.
Fat bombs are a favorite of Keto diet followers. To make brownie bombs, combine 1 cup nut butter of choice, 2/3 cup cocoa, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend in a food processor and use a mini cookie dough scoop to form balls. Store in the refrigerator. For strawberry cheesecake fat bombs, combine 1/2 cup softened cream cheese, 1/4 cup monk fruit sweetener, 1/4 cup softened unsalted butter, 1/2 cup sliced strawberries, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla in a food processor until smooth. Form into balls or spoon into lined muffin pans. Cream cheese-based fat bombs are best stored in the freezer.
Between-meal munchies will always be a fact of life, as will the need for workout fuel, edible temptations at work and at home, broken hearts, and hungry kids. Whatever reason for snacking, choices must be made. And while snacks that are tasty, satisfying, and healthy sound too good to be true, choices that hit all the right marks are limitless.