Healthy treats for kids and grown-ups alike
Why is it that adults are supposed to survive on three meals a day, when it’s a given that kids get hungry between meals and require something to tide them over?
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate both a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack. When I listen to my body, it tells my mind that I’m hungry every two to three hours. Sometimes just a little something — a handful of almonds, a banana — will suffice. But when I’m feeling peckish, even ravenous, and dinner looms late in the evening, I require a mega-snack or even a small meal.
A cup of soup or half of a sweet potato, I’ve learned, stave off the inclination to rip into a bag of chips or dip into a carton of ice cream. Bonus: It’s easier controlling portion sizes with a cup of soup or a sweet potato than trying to eat just a few chips or spoonfuls of ice cream.
Of course there are a gazillion processed snacks out there, enticingly packaged and marketed for our on-the-go lifestyle. These blur the line between convenient and corrupt — so much packaging for so little nutrition!
Though I appreciate single-portion cups of yogurt and Kind bars when on the move, I know it’s really not that hard to make and pack homemade snacks. A big batch of popcorn equals lots of little bags of popcorn for snacks throughout the week, at a fraction of the cost of pre-popped corn. Granola, trail bars, and muffins yield multiple portions to be divvied up and shared.
Here are eight snack or mini-meal ideas to satisfy the appetites of children and adults alike. As I’m always telling my kids: If you’re hungry, make sure you add protein to that snack. An apple a day is nice, but an apple with peanut butter is filling.
Popcorn. Popcorn is the go-to snack in our house. My daughter often makes a big bowl after school, paired with cups of cocoa on cooler days. It’s quick, it’s satisfying, and it’s a whole grain, too!
A bowl of seasoned popcorn.
Sometimes we cook it on the stove in olive oil, other times in the air-popper. To make your own microwave popcorn (which you’ll do once you find out what’s in the packaged stuff), place ¼ cup popcorn kernels in a brown paper lunch bag. Fold the top over several times, then microwave on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until there is a short lapse between each pop. Carefully open the bag to avoid burning yourself with steam.
It’s hard to beat melted butter and salt as toppers, but feel free to experiment: grated Parmesan, garlic salt, curry powder, nutritional yeast, or cinnamon and sugar.
Yam or sweet potato. A half of sweet potato or yam, reheated with a bit of butter and then sprinkled with salt, satisfies both hunger pains and sweet-tooth cravings. I’ll either throw one in the oven when I’m making something else, or bake several potatoes (sweet and Russets) over the weekend to eat throughout the week. Another variation on the sweet potato: top with a spoonful of fromage blanc or soft goat cheese and a bit of freshly ground pepper.
Half a yam with butter and salt.
Cracker plus protein. Sometimes it’s just a little something you need, and a stash of crackers comes in handy. Whole-grain crackers — rye crisps, Wasa crisp bread, Ak-Mak — make excellent carriers for savory toppings.
Crispbread with hummus.
My colleague and friend Kim Carlson likes a rye crisp with a smear of mustard and a thin slice of salty cheese (Parrano, aged Gouda, sharp Cheddar). Other good cracker toppings include nut butters, hummus, or soft cheese (try a daub of fromage blanc and a ripe tomato slice, with a liberal grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of salt).
Sweetie treaties. On occasion, I’ll buy a store-bought muffin, but more often than not, I find it too sweet and filling. Honestly, I’d rather have a cupcake if I’m going to splurge.
A plate of Cocoa-Banana Muffins.
The muffins I make at home, with fruit and whole grains, marry the desire for something both sweet and healthy. They’re perfect mid-morning snacks with that second cup of tea. Muffins, as well as quick breads, are also an easy thing to bake for a group. Top picks: Cocoa-Banana Muffins, Lemon Cornmeal Muffins with Berries, Bran Oat Muffins, Banana Muffins, Millet Muffins, Janice’s Banana Bread, and Prune Walnut Bread.
A cup of soup. Puréed soups, both hot and cold, translate leftovers into satisfying afternoon pick-me-ups. It’s so easy to pour reheated soup into a cup, to carry back to the computer and continue working.
A cup of Carrot-Sweet Potato Soup.
In the summer, a cold glass of gazpacho feels like a sneaky indulgence — party food for the solo snacker. Though any soup makes a fine snack, the beauty of a puréed soup lies in its portability. Consider the following: Carrot Sweet-Potato Soup, Tomato-Orange Soup, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, Golden Gazpacho, or Buttermilk Cucumber Gazpacho.
Eat more oats. Ever since I read about the health-boosting, lipid-lowering power of oats, I try to eat a serving a day. Often it’s for breakfast — oatmeal, muesli, oat groats, pancakes, or granola — but I also like oat-dense snacks. Trail Bars, oatmeal cookies, or a handful of granola all shush a growling stomach, especially when taken with a glass of milk.
Oatmeal cookies, especially good with a glass of milk.
Favorite oat collations on Culinate: Cowgirl Cookies with Dried Cherries and Dark Chocolate, Crumble Bars, Not-Quite-Monster Cookies, Spicy Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies, and Anything Goes Oatmeal Bread.
Peanut butter. In my family, growing up, if you didn’t like what was served for dinner, you could help yourself to a slice of bread and peanut butter. It was a staple in our house, standard after-school fare, sometimes pared down to spoonfuls straight out of the jar.
Peanut butter and apples.
This habit seems to be skipping a generation; my kids favor peanut butter as a dip for sliced apples, sandwiched between crackers, or worked into banana boats. Nutella, that unctuous blend of hazelnuts and chocolate, gets smeared on bread.
Yogurt. My fallback snack when I’m famished but don’t have time to make anything: Nancy's Maple Yogurt, only available in a single-serving size. Otherwise, I’ll spoon a couple of scoops of plain yogurt into a bowl and top it with fresh berries and a drizzle of honey, homemade jam, or compote.
My kids prefer smoothies: toss one or two bananas into the blender with a splash of orange juice and a couple of cups of fresh fruit (and a handful of ice) or frozen fruit (berries, mangoes), then whiz into a purée. Add as much yogurt as you like, then blend until well mixed. Other variations on the same theme include Fruit and Yogurt Smoothie, The All-Banana Shake, and lassis, especially gratifying on a hot day: Salty Lassi with Cumin and Mint and Mango Lassi.
Carrie Floyd is Culinate’s recipe editor.