I like snacks as much as the next person – as long as the next person isn’t my nine-year-old, Daniel, because he’d win hands down in any snacking competition. “What can I have?” he mutters as he studies the pantry contents. I am an unfair mom which, in this instance, is loosely defined as a mother who makes her kids eat fruit. Real fruit. As in apples or bananas or, when I’m feeling creative, starfruit or kiwi wedges. There are two snacks per day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – no grazing (see: Unfair Mom). Often the kids will grab a Pink Lady for their backpacks as their school snack. “So when I get home,” Daniel will announce before he’s stepped outside the door in the morning, “I get to have bread.” Bread translates into a non-fruit snack.
But when Daniel comes home today, he’s at a loss for what “bready” thing he can consume. To be fair, I’ve had it with all the cutsie snacks. Enough with the Fishies and Duckies and Teddy Bears. Who mandated that snacks had to come in the form of soft, cuddly animals? Oh, yeah, brilliant marketers. Kudos on the Chocolate Parrots. But we don’t have any of those insipid (if tasty) treats.
“How about a snack mix?” I ask. This usually works. I have Daniel help gather a seemingly random assortment of pantry items: golden raisins, a few pretzel sticks, little bits of whatever cereal is open, dried apple rings, and a small meringue. When my six-year-old daughter Julia finds us in the kitchen she opens the drawer where we keep the kid-friendly cups and plates and snags a small bowl. “If I have a snack mix can I have prunes in mine?” Her eyes are wide – and always seem even larger because of her Mr. Magoo-thick glasses. Somewhere along the way Julia got it into her head that prunes are a special treat. Probably because we only bring them out of hiding when she’s really constipated and now they’re akin to the goody bags of candy from various parties I’ve stashed away in the drawer instead of letting them cram in more sugar after the birthday cake. Yeah, see, I am unfair.
“Yes, you can have two prunes in your snack mix,” I tell Julia and she claps her marker-stained hands in delight. I bring a chair into the pantry so she can be in charge of reaching for the cardboard container. Sometimes I think snacks should be grouped by texture: crunchy vs. chewy. Or by taste: sweet vs. salty. Fruity vs. cheesy. So many snacks, so many of them lacking in any nutrients.
Meanwhile, Daniel amasses his mix: some Puffins, a sprinkling of Oat Bran flakes, no golden raisins (“Don’t you remember that I hate those now, Mom?”), five thin pretzel rods, one dried pineapple and one dried apple ring, a couple almonds, a scattering of roasted chick peas, and one happy little meringue blob from the glass container where I store them for snacks or for my own sweet-toothed crunch post-bedtime story. The key to the snack mix is to limit its size which I do by keeping at hand the bowls I used to use when my kids were babies. Baby food bowls are about one big adult handful of snack and just about the proper size for afternoon snack – not so big that the kids refuse dinner but not so light that they’re whining at five o’clock. Plus, the snack mix is a great place to showcase new foods in an unthreatening way – spicy wasabi peas, roasted fava beans, cheese dots.
“You want a flake?” Daniel asks. He’s a snack hoarder so I know how much his gesture means. I accept the fiber and crunch away. The truth is, snacks are important to all of us. As eleven-year-old Jamie puts it when he finishes making his own mix, “Even though I know I don’t technically need snacks…” he wears his pretzel sticks as tusks, “I really kinda love them.”
Stuck in the snack doldrums? Try these for mandatory munching.