Monday, April 8, 2013

Nutritious snacks for a mom and kids who are constantly eating

I've been thinking a lot about snacks lately.  No one who knows me is surprised by that.  In fact they would probably roll their eyes and say, "When are you NOT thinking about a snack?"  I know I eat a lot.  I say "lately" for a couple reasons:  The first is, I've been gradually trying to move away from snacks that are processed and packaged and salty and sugary.  I want things that are better for the body.  The second reason is, it turns out I'm raising three little ones with growing bodies and appetites that are a lot like mine.  I try to limit the snack times for all of us to just twice a day -- between breakfast and lunch and between lunch and dinner.  And I want to make them count so I don't have to keep fending them off until the next meal (all the while looking longingly at the cupboards and fridge myself.  After all, I can't be telling them it's not time to eat if I'm sitting there noshing.)  Not to mention I have all kinds of things I'd rather be doing than preparing and serving food all day.  But it's hard to resist the temptation to just give them a bunch of crackers when they ask for a snack and be done with it.  Crackers are their favorite.  For the last few months, I have only been buying one box of crackers a week instead of the two or three I bought before.  But then I have to replace the salty beloved cracker with something else that's equally satisfying.  I'm always on the lookout for things that don't take much time to put together, that are healthy, and appealing to the kids.

These are the things I've come up with so far:

1) No-bake energy bites.  If you're on Pinterest you've probably seen a version of these from time to time.  Mine are adapted from this recipe.  It's oatmeal, ground flaxseed, peanut butter, honey, vanilla, chocolate chips, and I replace the coconut it calls for with whatever cereal I have on hand since I don't like coconut.  Mix it all together, let it chill in the fridge, and roll it into balls.  Delicious!  And if you like letting your kids help you in the kitchen (I really don't, but I allow it), this is a perfect recipe for that.  I serve them with breakfast, between meals, and I even like them for dessert sometimes.  We go through them quickly around here.  They are filling and they have lots of fiber, which is great for all of us, but especially for Annie.  She is my pickiest eater and there are days when she doesn't eat much at all and has trouble going to the bathroom.  That's when I know I'd better whip up another batch.  What I don't like about this recipe is the hassle of having to measure out peanut butter and honey, and using a spatula to scrape it out of measuring cups (and then get those measuring cups clean!).  I should be able to eyeball the amounts by now, as many times as I've made these, so maybe I'll try that next time.
2) Fresh fruit is always a winner.  I usually go to the nice grocery store once or twice a week and get whatever fruits are in season, on sale and look good.  Now that it's berry season my kids love that.  And of course I keep bananas on the counter year-round.  The problem with fresh fruit is, it lasts a minute in this house, and then we fall back on the diced fruit cups which they also love, but I'm not so sure they're good for us at all.  We've gone a few days without any fresh fruit in this house, and it's hard to find the motivation to go the grocery store with all three of them during spring break.  Hopefully in the next couple days I'll get back into going twice a week to keep up our supply.

3) Fresh veggies are another thing I've tried.  At least a few times we've come back from the bus stop and I've had a nice snack platter set out on the table with baby carrots, bell pepper slices, and some hummus.  I've tried avacado too.  I want to encourage them -and me -- to eat more of those things.  That goes over like a fart in church.  None of my kids want to see a fresh vegetable at snack time.  They are definitely my children.  I myself would not touch a bell pepper of any color until I was at least 28.  Until I was in my early 20s, I had a rule that I would not eat anything green.  Then I discovered guacamole at a Mexican restaurant and made an exception for that.  But it was many more years before I expanded my palate to include green vegetables.  What really helped open my mind was to watch them being prepared at one of those Japanese restaurants with the hibachi chef sauteeing (?)  grilling (?) them right in front of me.  I saw the way they were being seasoned, smelled them as they cooked, and it was very appetizing.  I've made my own stir-fries here at home, and have always liked them.  Funny story:  At Thanksgiving at my friend Kelly's house, I tried a veggy before I knew what it was, and noted it had a nice nutty flavor.  I asked what it was, and was floored when I was told it was a brussels sprout.  Tim pointed out to me a little while later that I did not eat any more of them after I found out their name.  I have a bad childhood memory associated with a brussels sprout.  I'm a work in progress but I have improved a lot over the years.  The kids will eat a veggy here and there.  I seem to have the best luck when I steam them.  But I am not steaming them for snack time.  So far raw veggies are not appreciated by anybody in my house but me.  And even then, I have to make myself eat those instead of something more tempting like crackers.  My old beige food-eating habits die hard.  But I've survived and turned out quite healthy in spite of that, so my hope is that my kids will too.  I just hope it doesn't take them 25 years to learn!

4) Cheese snacks and yogurt.  We spend most of our grocery money in the dairy aisle every week.  We are huge dairy eaters.  As long as we can tolerate it, that's all well and good.  We get protein and calcium that way.  But my constipation-prone Annie loves her dairy a little too much and I wish she'd balance it out more with fiber-filled foods.  I know they make those yogurts like Activia, that help keep things moving.  But I'm a little worried about the artificial sweeteners in those.  If it's something they eat a lot I'd rather it didn't contain artificial sweeteners.

5) Granola bars.  I found an easy recipe that makes about 24 to 30 of them, depending on how you cut them.  They have a nice chewy texture and they aren't a crumbly mess at all.  They only take a half hour start to finish, but even that's more time than I usually want to spend.  I don't cook because I like to cook -- I cook because I like to EAT.  I also kiss an entire stick of butter goodbye every time I make them and that seems like a lot.  Everybody except Delaney likes them and that's too bad because they are perfect for school lunches.  The little stinker would gobble up a Quaker granola bar in a nice shiny wrapper, I just know it.  Too bad, I'm not buying those.
6) Trail mix and dried fruit.  I try to serve these at snack time now and then, but they aren't  received well.  They move it around and pick around, eating this and that, telling me they don't like this or that, and being hungry still.  I feel like we end up wasting a lot of trail mix because it gets old in the cupboards when none of us likes it very much.  And that's a shame because that stuff is expensive.

One day I'd love to be able to completely give up the things that come in a package and last forever, but I'm afraid of what will happen when we run out of fresh foods and have nothing left.  I get a little panicky at the thought.  I figure fruit cups are better than no fruit at all.. right?  

With summer approaching, I'd love ideas for more healthy and portable snacks for the pool or beach that don't require much effort on my part.  Last year I brought a lot of Goldfish which they loved, but I'll see if I can do better than that this year.


  1. I have been having the same guilt over the processed snacks & we are trying to break the cracker habit. Also like you, I'm not a huge veggie fan. I do quite a bit of canning so I have a lot of peaches, pears, applesauce I canned when they were in season. For trail mix, its easy to make your own & you could put in things they like. And cheaper! Smoothies are great snacks & a great way to sneak in veggies & extra fiber or protein too. Oh I love those energy balls & granola bars too. My oldest refuses nuts & peanut butter which is frustrating but more for me I guess :)

    1. Thanks for the ideas! I've never tried canning, and I will definitely have to look into making my own trail mix.

  2. Love these suggestions! I'm going to try the energy bites and homemade granola bars this week. I have a picky toddler so I struggle finding things she likes other than cheese!