Healthy snacks for kids

The Summer Diner

by Anne Heerdt-Wingfield

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As much as we all love our kids, the prospect of having them underfoot for three months can be frightening. I know the feeling. I had my school-age children underfoot for five years when we homeschooled. We developed a different style of living to accommodate our constant togetherness. The way in which we lived at that time made life affordable, reasonably clean, and fun. Now that they have spent a couple of years in school I have to consciously think about what we did and how to approach summer in a sane and cost-effective manner.

Food may not be the largest area of our budget, but it is more flexible than most. With the elimination of school-scheduled snacks and lunches, the kitchen can resemble an all-night diner and the cupboard a vending machine. I enjoy the independence my children have with the prepackaged drinks and snacks but cannot afford them every day. An alternative is to use one cup per day per person. I have used color-coded cups or labeled cups with masking tape for the day with larger groups. If there is any leftover milk or juice, they must finish that before having a new drink. When playing outside, there is a great need for water. I have tried water bottles in the past and refilled them. Unfortunately they are squished, filled with dirt, chewed on by the dog or just given away to friends. When we have a group out playing, I use a water jug or large pitcher and disposable plastic cups. The cups can be washed and re-used or thrown away without a great expense.

I have not discovered how children who pick over breakfast and turn up their nose at lunch can then have an insatiable appetite for anything labeled a snack. If you are struggling with this, take heart. In the last 11 years, I have found a few solutions mixed in with a great deal of acceptance. The key ingredient to a snack is instant availability. When I have not prepared ahead, I resort to the hidden cookies that were hopefully bought on sale. But we have options that are healthier and cheaper. One snack to have in the fridge is a variety of raw veggies. Some families are content with carrots, but other possibilities include cauliflower, celery, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, zucchini spears, and radishes. I store mine in a tray that has a center cup for the ranch dressing we love. We also keep hardboiled eggs in the fridge and cheese sticks. We do have some sweeter goodies for snacks also. Muffins and cookies are good and have many possibilities, but baking them can heat up the house. We use our more flexible schedule to bake late at night or early in the morning. Large batches of cookies can be frozen, along with many varieties of muffins. The muffins are best warmed up, but an oatmeal raisin or chocolate chip cookie straight from the freezer is great the way it is.

Speaking of the freezer, we cannot forget the classic summer treats of ice cream and Popsicles. A Popsicle is little more than sugar, water and flavoring that have been frozen. Grocery stores and stores like Kmart and Target carry plastic molds for making your own frozen treats. Kool-Aid and other drink mixes, as well as white and purple grape juice, are all sweet enough to freeze by themselves. Citrus juices do not freeze hard enough to make a good Popsicle treat. A great recipe for a low sugar treat is to mix 3 1/2 cups plain yogurt, 1/3 cup liquid honey, 1 tablespoon vanilla and 12 ounces or 1 1/2 cups of juice concentrate, thawed. Make sure it is frozen solid before removing from the molds. We make lots of smoothies in the summer. They are a good option when it is too hot to eat, but you need a more substantial snack. We freeze very ripe bananas throughout the year and blend those with any type of fresh or frozen fruit. With the fruit, we add yogurt, milk, vanilla protein powder, ice cream, fruit juice, sugar or honey.

So far we have not had a meal and I bet your kitchen feels like a mess already. By the time we got to summer, we were all sick of sandwiches-the kids of eating them and mom of making them. We started eating Lunchables. "Wait", you say, "I thought this was supposed to be cheap. Have you checked out Lunchables lately?"

Actually we just borrowed the idea and made our own. The foundation is any type of cracker that happens to be on sale. On top of that we add a variety of cheeses, lunchmeat, pepperoni and salami. I make this on one platter with all the possibilities arranged neatly. We can eat as many as we like and easily keep what is leftover. I also stocked my fridge with cold salads like potato salad, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and lettuce salad fixings. We can mix leftovers and get a taco salad or a chicken salad with each person choosing what they like.

While you have been preparing all this food what have the kids been doing? They could be at an expensive summer camp or a variety of lessons but we are dealing with more frugal options. Hopefully, they have been helping you. Kids of all ages can cook and participate in pre-cooking chores. Washing and peeling veggies, grating cheese, watching over a boiling pot or setting out the fixings for lunch are all possibilities, depending on the age of your kids. But don't stop as soon as the snack or meal is over, the table needs clearing, the dishes washed, and the leftovers put away. I suggest that you deal with these and other summer chores early in the school break. Summer days are very relaxing in the lack of structure but are also stressful if you are the one in charge of keeping things clean. I set a loose schedule based on when we have swim lessons or vacation bible school and make regular pick up part of that routine. Before lunch, we clean up all the toys and bikes in the front of the house and the bedrooms need to be cleaned. Before dinner, the laundry needs to find a home, clean or dirty. The benefit to them is that mom or dad will have more time for a picnic or trip to the beach.

There are so many factors in making summer plans, your children's ages, the work schedules of parents, the activities available in your area, and the resources you have to work with. I know that not all of my ideas will apply but I hope that you will find something inspiring here to keep your summer sane, affordable and really fun.

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