Snacks may be the quintessential kid food: small, tasty, and quick. But what parent hasn’t lamented an appetite spoiled by a sugar- or carb-loaded snack? Just like any food, quality counts. “Kids need fuel all day long, and it’s a parent’s responsibility to provide healthy food. It’s not about demonizing any particular snack; it’s about making smart choices,” says Lisa Barnes, the San Francisco–based author of Petit Appétit: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Perigree, 2009) and a personal chef, with a focus on meals for infants and toddlers. Think of snacks as mini-meals, she suggests, that include a balance of good carbs, protein, and fats. Then plan ahead so that your fridge, pantry, and even car are stocked with healthy items kids can grab quickly. Try these fun and easy options.
Pancakes. Make whole-grain pancakes ahead of time (get a kid-friendly recipe for Buckwheat-Flaxseed Blueberry Pancakes at deliciousliving.com). When cool, freeze in a zip-top bag. For a fast snack, zap a pancake in the microwave for 20–30 seconds and spread with thin layers of nut butter or sunflower seed butter and banana, or cream cheese and fruit purée. Roll up and eat.
Veggie rolls. Barnes spreads organic low-fat cream cheese on a whole-wheat tortilla and tops it with grated carrots, broccoli, or zucchini and mozzarella cheese. You can also add thinly sliced cooked chicken or other meat. Roll up and cut crosswise.
Yogurt. Buy less-expensive large containers and pack smaller servings in reusable 3⁄4-cup tubs. Mix plain yogurt with applesauce or a tablespoon of all-fruit spread, and top with nuts, granola, or flaked coconut. Low-sugar graham crackers or vanilla wafers make great dippers. Cheese with apples. Cube cheddar or mozzarella and store in the fridge. Cut up apples (to keep from browning, toss with lemon juice, or use an all-natural spray such as Eat Cleaner) and refrigerate. For older children, skewer cheese and apple chunks on toothpicks.
Trail mix. Take your child to the bulk bins and turn her loose. “The more kids do themselves, the more appeal a snack has,” says Barnes. Try goji berries, cacao nibs, dried blueberries and cranberries, toasted O’s or granola, wheat pretzels, puffed millet or rice, chia or sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, grain-sweetened dark chocolate chips, and banana or mango chips. For a sweet-salty combo, mix 1 cup tamari almonds or pumpkin seeds, 3⁄4 cup puffed rice, 1⁄2 cup chopped dried figs or raisins, and 1⁄2 cup dark chocolate chips.
Popcorn. Organic kernels take mere minutes to pop into a high-fiber snack. In a large pot with a lid, add 2–3 tablespoons of olive, grapeseed, or canola oil; when very hot, add 1⁄2 cup corn kernels, cover, and shake pan over heat until popping slows, about 1–2 minutes. Instead of drizzling with butter, sprinkle with Salt-Free Seasoning (get the recipe on delicious living.com) or grated Parmesan cheese. For a sweeter option, use coconut oil and sprinkle popcorn with cinnamon sugar.
Apple crisps. A favorite of Barnes’ kids, these are supersimple to make. Very thinly slice organic apples using a mandoline or knife, then spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 200-degree oven for 1–2 hours. Turn off the oven and let apples sit inside overnight. “This really dries them out, so they get crispy,” says Barnes. “If you do it for less time, they’ll be more like dried fruit, which is also good.”
Fresh fruit. For easy, wholesome sweetness, fruit is the name of the game. Keep cut-up, sturdy fruits (cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, grapes, oranges, pineapple) in clear containers in your fridge, or thread onto straws or skewers for fun. For lunch boxes, halve a kiwi, put back together, wrap, and pack with a spoon; the flesh can be scooped right out.
Cinnamon chips. Lightly brush a large tortilla with olive oil or cooking spray. Cut into large pieces, then bake at 375 degrees for 5–7 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Serve with applesauce for dipping.
Layered crackers. Spread nut butter or pumpkin butter on apple-cinnamon mini-rice cakes or graham crackers and top with banana slices; add a drizzle of honey or agave nectar, then stack in layers.
Bean dip. This combines the best of everything: protein, fiber, fun, and ease. Purée rinsed, drained white beans, garbanzo beans, or black beans with enough olive oil to moisten; then purée or stir in flavor additions to taste, such as lemon or lime juice and chopped tomatoes, garlic, onion, and fresh herbs. Serve with carrot and celery sticks, cucumber wheels, whole-grain crackers or pretzels, snap peas, or jicama spears.
Nut butters. Explore the natural foods market for varieties made with hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, soy, and more, sometimes mixed with sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and cinnamon. Mix with ricotta cheese for added calcium, then spread on miniature bagels, whole-wheat crackers, or apple slices.
Guacamole. Mash an avocado, then mix with a little store-bought salsa and chopped cilantro, if desired. Season with lime juice; serve with baked blue-corn or chia chips.
Quesadillas. “These are always a big hit,” says Barnes. “You don’t need a recipe; just put in whatever your kids like.” Look for new tortilla varieties, including whole grain, gluten free, and veggie flavored. Spread with cheese and other goodies and heat to melt, either open faced or folded, in a skillet or microwave.
Blue Diamond pecan nut thins
FruitaBu fruit rolls
Funky Monkey organic
Honest Kids organic drink pouches
Horizon Organic cheese sticks
Kitchen Table Bakers
Kopali Organics dark
Lundberg’s organic rice cakes