Those were the days. Thankfully, for my arteries’ sake, I soon became far better informed about nutrition. During my first after-school job at a health-food store, I learned about the wonderful world of whole grains, healthy fats, and fresh produce. I also learned that these foods can taste just as good as the "junk foods" (and buttered white bagels) I once revered. And yes, there’s more to healthy snacking than rice cakes and celery sticks. I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite healthy indulgences that are quick and easy to make. As a parent, you can whip up these easy-to-prepare snacks for your kids, or teach them how to make the recipes themselves. They are full of nutrition and flavor, so everyone will be happy between school and dinner!
When you want something sweet, try…
- Strawberry smoothie: Add 1 handful of fresh or frozen strawberries, 1 fresh or frozen banana (peeled and broken into chunks), and 1 cup of low-fat yogurt (any flavor you like) to a blender. Blend until smooth. TIP The texture of this smoothie is enhanced if at least one of the fruit ingredients is frozen.
- PBO smoothie: Add 1 frozen banana (broken into chunks), 1 handful oats (instant or old-fashioned), and 1 heaping Tablespoon of peanut butter to a blender. Sweeten with honey and add enough soy, rice or dairy milk to reach desired thickness. Blend until smooth. TIP Frozen bananas are the key ingredient, for a milkshake-like consistency.
- Peanut Butter Banana Sandwich: Toast 1 slice of whole grain bread. Top it with 2 Tablespoons natural peanut butter, 1 Tablespoon honey and half of a banana thinly sliced. TIP For a heartier dish, add another slice of bread and cook this sandwich on a warm skillet like you would make grilled cheese.
- Yogurt Parfait: In a tall glass or sundae cup, spoon alternating layers of low-fat yogurt, granola and sliced fruit of your choice. TIP Try fresh or canned fruit such as berries, peaches and bananas.
- Nachos: Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread out a handful of low-fat or baked tortilla chips onto pan. Top with salsa, black beans (canned and rinsed), and a small amount of shredded cheese. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese on top is melted. TIP You can also heat nachos on high in the microwave for about a minute.
- Nut Butter Dip: Combine 1/4 cup of your favorite nut butter (such as peanut butter, almond butter or cashew butter) with 1/4 cup water. Whip with a fork until smooth. Cut up carrots, celery, cucumbers, apples, bananas or other fresh product into spears and dip into the nut butter. TIP You might have so melt the nut butter slightly to achieve desired consistency.
- Bean Burritos: Top a whole wheat tortilla with canned fat-free refried beans, salsa and shredded low-fat cheese. Microwave until warm, then add chopped lettuce and plain low-fat yogurt for garnish. Roll up and enjoy! TIP If you don't have refried beans on hand, open a can of black or pinto beans, rinse, drain and then mash with a fork.
- Personal Veggie Pizza: Preheat oven or toaster oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread tomato sauce onto a piece of whole wheat pita bread. Top with your favorite veggies, such as frozen peas, corn, diced peppers or onions, olives, broccoli or sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle cheese over vegetables and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. TIP If you don't have pizza sauce on hand, you can skip the sauce. For added flavor, sprinkle your pizza with garlic powder, dried basil and/or dried oregano.
If you don’t have the time to make any of the recipes above but still want to snack healthy, there are some great packaged snacks available. Take a cruise down the natural-food aisle the next time you’re at the supermarket. There are plenty of low-fat, healthy and natural versions of your kids' favorites. Healthy snacks that don't need any prep work include:
- Low-fat yogurt
- Trail mix
- Mixed nuts
- Dried fruit
- Fruit leather
- Granola bars
- Protein or energy bars
- Fresh fruit
- Low-fat string cheese
- Whole grain cereal with low-fat milk
- Whole grain crackers with sliced low-fat cheese
- Cottage cheese
- Baby carrots with hummus
- Air-popped popcorn
- Whole wheat pita with black bean dip
- Celery sticks with peanut butter
- Canned tuna salad kits