Things that Go Crunch in the Night…snacks

Apr 20, 2011

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.

Mini Meringues

2 egg whites

½ cup superfine sugar (if you don't have this, put some regular sugar in a blender and measure after a minute or so on high)

1 vanilla bean

1tsp vanilla extract

The night before you make these, split and scrape the vanilla bean into the sugar. Cover and let it sit until you go to make the cookies, at which point, remove the whole bean. If you don't have the time for this, you won't be penalized. Just use non-vanilled sugar.

Heat oven to 300. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Beat egg whites until stiff, and then slowly add sugar, stirring as you go until mixture isn't gritty (test some between your thumb and forefinger). Add vanilla extract. Drop small blobs onto cookie sheet or, if you're feeling fancy, pipe them with a pastry bag. Bake for 30-35 minutes until dry but not brown.

Cook's Note: You may top each blob with a couple mini chocolate chips or dust with unsweetened cocoa powder and cinnamon.

Cinnamon-Sugar Pita Crisps

These crisps are a quick way to involve kids in the kitchen. Older kids can cut the pitas with kitchen scissors and younger ones can rip pieces off (so long as you're not hung up on having them look perfect): triangles, strips, random bits – it doesn't matter.

6 Whole wheat pitas

3 tbsp Olive oil

3 tbsp sugar

1 ½ tsp cinnamon

Heat oven to 350. Rip, tear, or cut the pitas into smallish pieces. Place onto cookies and brush with olive oil (you may you a brush for this or just your fingers). Arrange the pieces in a single layer (this might mean two sheets). Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and dust the tops with the mixture. Put into oven to bake for about 10-12 minutes until crisps are, well, crisp. Enjoy as is or serve with piles of fruit salad.

Cook's Note: You can also experiment with dustings of cocoa powder. For a special treat, put a vanilla bean in the sugar overnight and inhale the wonderful vanilla-cinnamon scent…Or, for those of us with tastes that tend toward the savory, substitute some salt for the sugar, and replace the cinnamon with rosemary or thyme.

Berry-Crunch Granola Bars

I confess to needing an afternoon snack right along with my kids. Herbal teas for everyone, and something crunchy to boot. Feel free to shift around the following ingredients depending on what you have around. These bars make a satisfying snack or quick breakfast.

3 ½ tbsp. soy butter (or almond or peanut), preferably chunky

3 tbsp. honey

1 ½ tbsps brown sugar

3 ½ tbsp. brown rice syrup

big splash vanilla

1 ½ cups puffed wheat/rice/kamut

½ cup bran buds/Grape Nuts cereal

1 ½ cups rolled oats (not the quick-cook kind)

1 handful (about ¼ cup) of dried cranberries

1 handful (about ¼ cup) dried blueberry or cut up dried apricot

¼ cup raw pumpkin seed

1/3 cup salted sunflower seeds (or a mixture with raw)

1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 325. Line an eight or nine inch square pan with a long sheet of parchment paper (you want longer ends than you need). Warm the soy butter, honey, brown rice syrup, vanilla and brown sugar until the sugar has melted and the soy butter thinned. Mix the dry ingredients in a big bowl and dust with cinnamon. Pour the liquid on top, mixing as you go. When everything is equally coated, spread the mixture into the pan. Press the mixture down with the long ends of the parchment paper. Bake for about 25 minutes. When you remove the pan from the oven, again use the long ends of the parchment to press the bars flat. LET COOL COMPLETELY before touching again. When totally cooled and hard, lift the ends of the parchment and put onto a cutting board and cut into longish bars or squares.

Fruit Rolldowns

Okay, so the cooking time seems ridiculous. But the truth is, these fruit strips (or whatever you choose to name them) are simple, pure, and delicious. No more stumbling over scary ingredients. It's fruit. F-R-U-I-T.

4 c. pureed fruit (such as strawberries or apricots or apples)

2-4 tbsp. honey (optional)

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Set your oven to 125. Puree fruit which has been washed and pitted but not peeled. Line two cookie sheets (one with sides) with plastic wrap. Pour half of the fruit mixture on each cookie sheet. Bake for (yes, I'm serious) 8-10 hours.

Remove from oven and cool completely. It will dry to a leathery consistency. Slice, rool it up, tear it off, wear it on your finger, eat and enjoy.

Dried Chick Peas/ Crunchy Snacking Beans

We snacked on these all through North Africa. Crunchy, finger-licking, and suitable for everyone (except perhaps my little nephew – choking hazard!). These addictive crispy snacks can be made salty or sweet, even spicy. It's all up to you (or your kids, depending who has final vote that day). You can make this recipe with fava beans, too. Whether you're making salty, sweet, or spicy, all versions start the same:

2 15 oz cans chickpeas (AKA garbanzo beans)

Olive oil (roughly 1 ½ tablespoons)

Preheat your oven to 400. Rinse the beans and drain well. Pat the beans VERY dry. Pour the beans onto a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, rolling the beans gently to coat. Put into hot oven, roasting them for about 35 minutes or until the beans are fairly evenly browned. You will want to shake the cookie sheet a few times as the beans roast to avoid burning in spots.

When you remove the beans, put them in a big bowl and toss them with your choice of flavorings:

Salty (love putting these on my salads!)

1 ½ tsp sea salt

Very light dusting of freshly ground pepper

Cajun BBQ

½ tsp Chili powder (you may adjust this depending on your child's tolerance for heat)

½ tsp turmeric

1 ½ tsp salt

½ tsp Paprika


1 tsp Cinnamon mixed with 1 ½ tbsp White Sugar

Dash freshly grated nutmeg

Dash salt (it heightens the sweetness)

Cheese Twists/Cheese Dots

If your kids (or, um, you) are addicted to animal shapes, you can feel free to use cookie cutters to make shapes instead of twists: stars, hearts, mini-circles. Or you can do the twist as you wait for these fast snacks to bake.

½ cup white flour

½ cup wheat flour

½ tsp salt

Pinch each of paprika, cayenne pepper, turmeric

1 ½ tsp baking powder

3 tbsp butter

½ cup shredded Cheddar

¼ cup shredded Monterey Jack

1 scant tbsp cold water

¼ cup plain Greek-style yogurt (or sour cream if you only have that – light is fine)

Combine the first five ingredients. Cut in the butter and then add the cheese. Add the water. Add the yogurt and combine, forming the dough in to a ball. If you find the dough too dry, add a drop more yogurt or sour cream. Wrap ball in plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least an hour. On a floured surface, roll the dough to the thickness of a dinner plate and cut into strips (length and width are up to you – if you want straws, go thinner and longer – about ½ inch wide and 6 inches long, for a sturdier shape, try a bid wider – around and inch and about five inches long). For Cheese Dots, find your grandma's old thimble and use it to cut perfect tiny Os. Or, if you must, make little creatures. Bake at 400 for about 10-12 minutes.


  1. alison
    April 20, 2011

    This is the same scenario that plays out at my home everyday, “what’s for snacks, mom?” and 3 boys standing in the pantry. Like your daughter Julia as a little girl I also loved prunes. Until one day, after eating too many, I learned that with prunes, less is more. I look forward to reading more here and trying the snacks you have suggested. I too have an aversion to snacks that come in the form of soft, cuddly animals.

  2. Mom and Kiddo
    April 27, 2011

    Hooray! I feel like a good chunk of my day is devoted to the question, “what the heck are we going to have for snack today?”