Let's face it. Kids are hard to please, especially when it comes to food. It's not uncommon to constantly deal with picky eaters and wee ones who want the same thing over and over and over again, and snack ideas are sometimes challenging to drum up. These mini-meals can be a boatload of fun (and a good source of nutrients) for you and your kids.
(Note: Do not give nuts to children under three or honey to children under age 1, and give age-appropriate bites to avoid choking. For more information on age-appropriate snacks, read Tasty Treats for Toddlers.)
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sushi: Bring out your child's sophisticated side with this interactive snack. Use a pizza cutter to trim the crust off a slice of whole wheat bread and have your kids roll it flat with a rolling pin. Spread peanut butter and jelly, jam, or honey on the bread, roll it up and cut 1-inch sections with a butter knife. You can even arrange the "rolls" on a platter and encourage them to use chopsticks. (Secure them together at the top with a rubber band until kids get the hang of them. It's a great way to learn hand-eye coordination.)
Frozen Fruit Pops: Ditch the fruit-roll ups and fruit snacks and give your kids some nutrients in this tasty treat. Use popsicle molds or regular ice trays to freeze your own fruit-sicles. Pop fresh or frozen fruit (the kind without added sugar) into the blender and swirl until nice and thick. Add milk or low-fat yogurt to make them extra creamy. Experiment with strawberries, bananas, mango, pineapple, blueberries and more.
Homemade granola bars: Rather than stock up on pricey storebought bars, bump up the amount of whole grains your kids get each day with these grab-n-go snacks. Try this recipe out! Toast 1 cup crushed peanuts, 2 cups oats, 3/4 cup wheat germ and 3/4 cup sunflower seeds in a baking dish for 10-12 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Stir every couple of minutes. Meanwhile, simmer 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup honey, 4 T margarine, 2 t vanilla extract, 1/2 t salt, and 8 oz dried fruit in a saucepan, stirring constantly. When the grains are done toasting, combine the two and spread into a baking dish lined with wax paper and coated with nonstick spray. Spread the granola around with a wooden spoon. To get your bars to really stick, lay another sheet of wax paper on top and press it down hard. Cool the brick for 2-3 hours, then remove from the pan and press down hard (don't saw!) with a large knife to cut your bars. Chop them into small, kiddie sized squares for an on-the-go treat.
Crunchy Bananas: Put some pizzazz into your 'nanners by peeling and cutting them in half, dipping them in orange juice then rolling them in a baking pan filled with crushed cornflakes or another whole-grain cereal. The kids will love to participate in this project!
Microwave Applesauce: Ditch the sugar-loaded, store-bought stuff! Make your own quick and easy applesauce in the microwave by coring and slicing your apples, then popping them in the microwave for about 6 minutes, or until soft. (Leave the peel on for extra fiber and nutrition.) Sprinkle a dash of cinnamon on top and mash it up with a fork for a chunky treat. Try topping pancakes or French toast with your warm applesauce instead of syrup.
Snaky Bagel: Toast a miniature whole-wheat bagel, and then cut each side in half. Cover the fiber-filled crescents with your favorite toppings--peanut butter, jam, reduced fat cream cheese with fruit or veggie slices--and arrange in a serpentine squiggle on a plate.
Smoothie: Smoothies are a great treat for kids any time of the year. Mix up any combination of fruits, yogurt, milk, ice, peanut butter, or oats. The possibilities are endless. One variation is 2 kiwis, 1 cup raspberries, 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1/2 cup milk and 6 ice cubes blended until smooth. You can also experiment with silken tofu, wheat germ, flaxseed or even carrots! (We won't tell if you won't!)
Quesadillas: Quesadillas are a parent's best friend. Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, grab some large tortillas and start loading 'em up. You can make anything into a quesadilla, just use a sprinkle of cheese to help it stick together. I like to use black beans, ground sirloin crumbles, chicken chunks, plain tuna, and/or sliced veggies in mine. A great tip is to place the quesadillas on a sprayed baking sheet, but also spray the bottom of a clean 9 x 13 glass dish and set it right on top. The weight will help the cheese melt and make an evenly toasted quesadilla without a special machine!
Fruit Parfait: Layer low-fat granola, mini chocolate chips, thawed mixed berries, and low-fat yogurt in clear cups for a beautiful, fun, and quick snack the kids will love. Let them help make the layers. It's so much fun for them, they'll forget they're getting a dose of calcium and fiber while they chow down.
These Little Piggies: For a bit of protein in a fun little package, spread low-fat, plain cream cheese onto a lean deli meat, like turkey, and roll up. You can put green peppers, carrot sticks or pickles in the middle as well for some added flavor and crunch. Cut them into 1-inch pieces-- and the kids will love picking them up with toothpicks to eat.
Not Your Average Chip Dip: Make your own chip dip by using fat-free sour cream or Greek yogurt (for added creaminess) and adding a packet of dry ranch mix. Stir and serve with nearly any vegetable or baked chip out there. Better yet, make your own "chips" by slicing 2 regular or sweet potatoes very thinly, tossing in 2 T canola oil and baking in the oven on 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. You can also experiment with different seasonings, like pepper, taco seasoning or minced herbs.
Muff-wich: Turn your muffins into a great alternative to packaged snack cakes. After baking your favorite morning muffins (preferably made with applesauce instead of oil), cut the top off and smear the middle with low fat cream cheese, jam or nut butter. Replace the top and your kids will enjoy a the fun-shaped sandwich. Try various flavors of cream cheese, like strawberry or cheesecake!
Pizza Pitas: Let the kids load up half of a whole-wheat pita, then bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, or until the cheese is melted. The ingredients are up to you: cheese, mushrooms, peppers, turkey pepperoni, and diced baked chicken are all good options for the kiddos.
Loaded Nachos: Your kiddos will love loading a baking sheet with low-fat baked tortilla chips, black beans, shredded cheese, and any veggies you like. Bake it in the oven for 10-12 minutes on 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Serve on a plate with salsa and guacamole.
Fruit Kabobs: Skewer fruit chunks onto wooden kabob sticks for a beautiful display of your kids' treat. If they're old enough to handle the pointed sticks, let them create their own. You can also sneak in some cheese chunks to add more protein and calcium.
Fresh Fruit Roll-Ups: Put a fun, healthy twist on fruit roll ups by making your own at home using fruit puree. Try it with apples, plums, bananas, or apricots for some fun flavors. You can even add spices like mint, cinnamon or ginger for other varieties. You'll need about one cup of fruit to puree, with a tablespoon of lemon juice to prevent browning. Heat oven to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Line your cookie sheet with parchment paper and pour fruit puree on top, spreading it to a 1/4- to 1/8-inch thickness. You'll have to leave it in your oven for 6-24 hours. (A more efficient method is to use a food dehydrator.) The roll-up is done when it's leathery and pliable.
"Date" Night Brownies: This brownie has split personalities! One minute, it's a sweet treat, the next it's a block chock full of fruit! You can make them by mixing 1 c chopped dates (pulse them in the food processor first), 1 1/2 c grated apples (leave the peels on), 1/4 c canola oil, 1/2 c sunflower seeds, 1 1/2 c rolled oats, and 2/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder. To bake, press mixture in a 9" x 13" baking pan prepped with non-stick cooking spray and cook at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes. Let cool and enjoy! You might want to try calling these sometimes other than brownies with the kids--these aren't much like brownies, after all. Try calling them something like Secret Fruit Bars!
Ham and Cheese Pinwheels: Let your kids do the dirty work with this one. Spread a tortilla with softened low-fat cream cheese, then layer deli ham to cover the whole circle. Let your kids roll them up, and refrigerate. Once they're chilled, help them cut the logs into 1 inch sections. Lay the wheels on their sides and you've got a great set of finger foods.
Off the Beaten Path Trail Mix: Use store bought, light or fat free microwave popcorn as a base for a great snack mix. From there, add all your favorite healthy goodies, from sunflower seeds and almonds to dried fruit and dark chocolate chips. You can even toast it all in the oven (without chocolate chips!) and sprinkle cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice over it to give it a different kick. Divide the mixture in baggies for a quick treat on the go.
Homemade Peanut Butter: Your kids will love feeling involved with this simple recipe. Place 1 1/2 c unsalted, roasted peanuts and 1 T peanut oil into your food processor and buzz until it's the consistency you and your kids like. If you want it extra crunchy, reserve 1/4 c chopped peanuts. Your homemade peanut butter can be kept in an air-tight container for up to two weeks in the fridge. Spread it on toast, wheat crackers, apples or bananas, then drizzle with honey.
What snacks are your kids' favorites? How do you keep snack times healthy and fun?