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Snack attack: healthy ways to satisfy your school-age kids' cravings. (Fast & Easy).

AMERICANS LIVE IN a snack-crazed culture. And for better or worse, our children seem to be born with this passion for snacking. From the time you become a parent until you pack the kids off for college, snack foods will constitute a sizable portion of your food budget, and the interior of your car will be blanketed with crumbs and wrappers.

While whole-wheat crackers and raisins will do for snack-starved toddlers, they no longer satisfy the school-aged set. I'm constantly on the lookout for new snacks for my sons, because what's great one week ("Wow! Fig bars!") will be passe the next ("Fig bars again?").

I figure that growing children need roughly three snacks a day: one to take to school or as an extra treat in the lunch box, another for after school, and the all-important bedtime snack. Non-school days generally require the same number of snacks, so let's break out the calculator: In my case, three snacks a day times two kids equals six, times 365 equals 2,190 snacks a year!

That sobering statistic got me to pondering how parents with three or more kids cope with the continuous demand for snacks. So, I consulted with three friends, each of whom has three children, to see what ideas they could contribute.

Janet (mother of Emma, 9; Aaron, 6; and Noah, 2), reminded me that I served her kids English muffin pizzas for dinner when they visited us this summer. These are quickly made with pizza sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese and briefly baked in a hot oven or toaster oven (vegans, of course, have the option of using soy mozzarella). "I never thought of making them before, and the kids love pizza in any shape or form," she said. "Now they're Emma and Aaron's favorite after-school snack. I can sometimes even sneak a vegetable--like broccoli--onto Emma's pizza." I, on the other hand, had never thought of these little pizzas as after-school snacks.

Wendy, (mother of Alex, 12; Amelia, 10; and Jonathan, 3) said her kids' favorite healthy snack is sliced apples dipped in peanut butter. It's a good, easy idea--especially with natural-style peanut butter and organic apples.

Over lunch at a funky Middle Eastern cafe, I grilled my friend Sarah for snack ideas. She responded that she relies heavily on fresh fruit for her kids (Michael, 7; Emily, 4; and Rebecca, 14 months). A sound suggestion, if not revolutionary. But wait--while we chatted, baby Rebecca was devouring wedges of fresh pita bread dipped in hummus, a Middle Eastern chickpea dip. Eureka!--another great snack idea! It's easy to make at home, but almost any supermarket or natural foods store has ready-made hummus in the refrigerator section. I've often seen kids go for hummus in a big way.

As for my family, our favorite snack is fresh muffins, which we make as often as we can. I sneak in as many wholesome ingredients as possible: whole wheat pastry flour, fresh and dried fruits, and even vegetables. The first time I tried out zucchini muffins on my boys, my son Evan was about four years old, and was horrified by the pile of shredded green stuff I prepared to put into the batter. But the results were practically inhaled by the boys and their friends, and ever since, zucchini-raisin muffins have been a regular request. For young children, mini-muffins seem to be particularly appealing.

Snacks packed for school, whether for snack time or as an extra treat in the lunch box, should be simple and neat. Please don't get the impression that I'm advising parents to handcraft each snack that their child consumes over the course of the day. Many snacks from natural foods stores are terrific. Their cookies, cereals, fruit bars, and such are often naturally sweetened and low in fat. Chips, rice crisps, and other crunchy snacks are less salty and fatty than their supermarket counterparts. And many organic options are offered as well. Prices can sometimes (but not always) be a little higher than that of supermarket offerings, but you're getting more value for your money.

After-school and bedtime snacks can be more elaborate (and messier) than snacks packed for school. Here are some more favorite after-school snack ideas, all kid-tested:

NACHOS

This is very popular with older children and teens. Simply pile tortilla chips on a microwave-proof plate and sprinkle with salsa and/or cheddar-style vegan soy cheese (try Road's End Organic's NACHO CHREESE). Microwave just until the soy cheese melts and serve warm.

FRESH FRUIT WITH SWEET SOY CREAM CHEESE DIP

In a bowl, combine a six-ounce package or tub of vegan soy cream cheese (at room temperature) with 1/4 cup undiluted apple juice or orange juice concentrate and a dash of cinnamon. Stir vigorously until smooth. Serve with apple and pear slices, strawberries, and banana chunks for dipping.

CINNAMON-RAISIN TOAST

An all-time favorite in our home! Raisin bread makes great cinnamon toast. Simply toast fresh raisin bread, spread lightly with vegan margarine, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and natural cane sugar.

HOMEMADE BAGEL CRISPS

Store-bought bagel crisps are good, but expensive. Making them at home is easy, and a good way to use up less-than-fresh bagels. Simply slice bagels crosswise first (into two semicircles), then stand each half on the cut end, and slice very thinly with a sharp knife. Place on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil spray. Raisin bagels can be sprinkled with a little cinnamon and sugar; other types of bagels are delicious sprinkled with a little soy Parmesan. Bake at 275 degrees until dry and crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes.

VEGETABLE SOY CREAM CHEESE SPREAD OR DIP

Store-bought vegetable soy cream cheese often has a pronounced flavor of scallion or onion, which is unpalatable to many kids. To make your own, finely chop vegetables that your kids might like (carrots, red or green bell peppers, zucchini, and broccoli stems are good bets) in a food processor, then whirl in some vegan soy cream cheese. Use to spread on bagels, crackers, or English muffins.

To use as a dip for raw vegetables, thin with a little soymilk to the desired consistency and season with a little all-purpose seasoning mix. Serve with baby carrots, celery sticks, broccoli and cauliflower florets, and other vegetables.

PAPER BAG POPCORN

Here's a valuable lesson I learned from Martha Stewart Living: all popcorn is microweavable. If you buy your own organic popcorn kernels in bulk, it's not only much more economical, but you are the one who controls how much salt (if any) goes on, and you get none of those preservatives or hydrogenated fats Here's how: simply put 1/4 cup unpopped kernels in a lunch-sized brown paper bag. Fold the top over and secure with a couple of pieces of tape. Microwave for 2 minutes or so on high, until you hear the kernels finish popping. Transfer to a large bowl and sprinkle with salt or nutritional yeast to taste. If you'd like, drizzle a small amount of melted vegan margarine on the popcorn and stir well.

SKEWERED FRUIT

Any presentation that adds a bit of interest to fresh fruit is always welcome. Simply cut any fresh fruit in season into bite-sized chunks and alternate on wooden or bamboo skewers with grapes (organic fruit preferred, of course).

PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY "PIZZA"

Here's a way to give a familiar duo a fun spin. Warm up a good-quality personal-size pizza crust in a toaster oven. Spread with natural-style peanut butter and all-fruit preserves. Cut into six wedges. Makes 2 or 3 snack-size servings.

Suggestions for store-bought snacks for school:

* Natural Fruit leathers

* Lowfat Fruit and cereal bars

* Granola bars

* Dried Fruit, like apple rings or apricots (look for organic and unsulphured)

* Trail mix (dried Fruit with nuts and seeds) or just raisins and peanuts

* Rice cakes or mini-rice cakes

* Organic baby carrots

* Organic seedless grapes

* Individual containers of applesauce (don't forget to pack a spoon!)

* Naturally sweetened dry cereal

* Graham crackers

* Veggie sticks

* Sesame breadsticks

* Peanut butter or fruit spread sandwiched between whole-grain crackers

Nava Atlas is the author of several vegetarian cookbooks, most recently The Vegetarian 5-Ingredient Gourmet. You can visit her website at <www.vegkitchen.com>.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Vegetarian Resource Group
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Atlas, Nava
Publication:Vegetarian Journal
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
Words:1370
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