Thursday, March 8, 2012

Whole Food Snacks Kids Love

I am pretty committed to eating real food. This means I don't buy my kids processed snacks, which has the double benefit of saving me money and of course, keeping us healthier. I'm also happy to announce that this does not make for unhappy children. Preparing snacks may take more time and planning, but it's a worthy endeavor. Here are some ideas for whole food snacks you can dish up easily, at home or on the go.

VEGGIES: You can't get too many! It's handy to keep an assortment easily accessible, even chopped and ready to grab from the fridge. Veggies are incredibly easy to take out and about. My kids dig carrots, celery, pickles, avocados, cucumbers, baby peppers, cauliflower... We get a box of organic produce from Farm Fresh every couple weeks, which usually affords us a surprise veggie or two. The sugar snaps from my garden have been an extra special treat the last couple weeks, lucky us.
DIPS: Veggies are sometimes easier to love when they have a companion. With dips, my kids will also do lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, among others. We all love this homemade ranch recipe (I use my mayo to make it) or try homemade hummus flavored as you like. This recipe from Ariel's blog calls for canned chickpeas, but I usually prepare them from dry. If you don't have tahini, peanut butter works similarly (hold the sugar and oils). I've tried both ways.

FRUITS: Due to the natural sugars, fruit takes an easy second place to vegetables in my mind. They are much more like a treat, and my kids go bananas for them. We particularly enjoy blueberries, strawberries, apples, oranges, pears, peaches, grapes, mangos, bananas, pomegranate seeds, kiwis, pineapple... hmmm, what don't we like? Try something new!
    Two friends enjoying their apples.
  • Applesauce is a welcome treat. I make my own because I like to leave the peels on, and I don't generally add a sweetener, which some companies do. Plus, I can add plenty of cinnamon.
  • Fruit leather: Last summer I made a dehydrator full for a camping road trip, and it was a hit! Just throw some fruit in the blender, pour onto trays, and dry. If you don't have a dehydrator, put one on your wish list. (There must be ways to make leather without one, but I don't know how.)
  • We also like dried fruit, but if you're not drying your own, read those ingredients for the sneaky extra sugar. You might be surprised what else creeps in (always check frozen fruit as well).
  • You can also make fruit popsicles by blending the fruit and freezing it in a mold.

CHEESE: We love our raw cheddar, but most cheese will please kids. We often experiment in this arena as well. I lived in France for a while, and couldn't even look at most typical American cheeses afterward.

WHOLE GRAIN SNACKS: I try to prepare my whole grains using traditional methods (souring, sprouting, soaking). There is now science to explain the reasons for these traditional approaches, and my body corroborates.
  • This homemade cracker recipe has been a big hit around here. They don't last nearly long enough, but it doesn't matter since the recipe is simple. You could change it up by adding whatever you like to taste in a cracker: honey and cinnamon, herbs, cheese, a little extra salt, or whatever! And you could easily sneak in some finely diced or pureed veggies.  Once I experiment with it a few more times, I'll do a post on it.
  • I've also successfully made these soaked whole grain tortillas, which you can stuff with anything or dip in aforementioned hummus. Or guacamole... mmmmmm. 
    • Super simple guac: mashed avocados, lemon juice, cilantro, sea salt. Add extras (i.e. tomatoes) to your liking.
YOGURT: We regularly make yogurt-based smoothies, but we also like to eat it with fruit and chia seeds or my granola. Again, if you don't make your own, watch out for brands packed with sugar, HFCS, and other additives. Try just buying plain and flavor or sweeten it yourself. Do your bodies a favor and skip the low-fat varieties. There are a myriad reasons you and your kids need that fat.

MEAT: There are some yummy meat snacks you can tote around if you like:
  • Jerky: again, I make my own. Taste-wise, it's a far cry from the store-bought stuff, and with no hidden MSG.  Buy some high-quality meat, marinate it overnight, slice it thin, and dry it up.
  • Try to find a good old fashioned salame with lactic acid started culture in the list of ingredients.
  • Other snack-type meat, including lunch meats (check that there are no nitrates or nitrites in the meat).

EGGS: Hard-boiled eggs with a little seasoning are easy, plus great fun to crack and peel.

BEANS: My kids love to eat beans with their fingers. Buy them dry, soak them overnight, cook them up (can take a couple hours), season them as you like, and they're ready to tote around! I prefer to prepare my own beans for several reasons:
  • When I do the long soak and cook, my body handles the beans much more politely.
  • Most companies still line the cans with BPA.
  • I can control what goes in there
  • Considerably cheaper

RAW NUTS AND SEEDS: Our staples include almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds. We love them soaked overnight in salt water, then dried. Soaking nuts and seeds is a common practice for real and raw foodies. As with grains, this process neutralizes phytic acid and other anti-nutrients, which act to bind up nutrients and inhibit digestive enzymes. We think it also makes them tastier.

COMBOS: Get creative with your whole foods snacks. There are lots of recipes floating around for things like:
  • Homemade granola or granola bars
  • Trail mix
  • Fruit/cheese kabobs
  • For a special treat, try these powerballs.

What am I missing here? Please share what whole food snacks work at your house!

**Because my boys are still small, they never got used to common store-bought snacks (crackers, cookies, fruit snacks, sugary granola/fruit bars, etc.). I would also be interested in hearing from parents who started the switch to real foods when their kids were older. What tricks do you have in helping them adjust to the good stuff?


  1. My kids were 2 and 4 when I started making the switch. I have to say it's been way easier than I ever imagined. I simply quit buying junk, cold turkey. We started out snacking on a lot of fruit and cheese, and slowly started mixing it up with veggies and new-to-them things like nuts and homemade plain yogurt. Another fav around here is air popped popcorn.

  2. What a great post, Nonie. I want a dehydrator! I'm going to start saving my lunch money. What brand/style do you have again?

    You are amazing not to compromise even when you are so short on time. Time seems like the real issue here. Any tricks you've learned that might help other really busy moms?

    1. I have the nine-tray Excalibur, which I got for a good deal last year at It's worth getting the nine-tray over the five because you can really fill it up every time you want to dry. I can't say enough good about my dehydrator! Obviously, it's also a great tool for food storage.

      One trick is doing a lot at once when you have time, then it lasts longer. Another reason for using all nine trays. :)

  3. Love this! You can dehydrate (fruit leather at least) in an oven. It's more expensive, as you run your oven. But you pour your blended fruit on a cookie sheet and turn your oven to 100 or 150 degrees and leave the door open a crack (tricky with little kids) and then it has to cook for a while (as in, hours...just like a dehydrater). depending on the dehydrator, it might give you more leather because of having a whole cookie sheet. I've never tried doing anything else this way though.

    1. There is a great tutorial for oven-made fruit leather here:

      I love agave for sweetening the more tart fruit combinations!

  4. Nonie, you pretty much covered it! I make Liam amazing barely sweetened (with maple syrup) carrot and zucchini muffins. Also one of his favorite snacks is oven roasted sweet potato sticks! He never has had store bought snacks but for some reason every time he sees them he still asks for them!

  5. we love chili lime almonds, we keep veggies in the fridge at kid height, corn pones, home made almond butter for butter balls, cottage cheese is easy to make yourselves. I make a seed bread with cut up tart apples...