Americans are a snack-crazed culture. And for better or worse, our children seem to be born with this passion for snacking. From the time you become a parent until you pack the kids off for college, snack foods will constitute a sizable portion of your food budget, and the interior of your car will be blanketed with crumbs and wrappers. Instead of loading up on store-bought snacks, which are high in sodium and often high in fat (nearly all supermarket snack foods contain unhealthy partially hydrogenated fats), try these simple home-made snacks.
NACHOS: Very popular with older children and teens. Simply pile tortilla chips on a microwave-proof plate and sprinkle with salsa and cheddar cheese or cheddar-style soy cheese. For "nachos grandes," sprinkle with some drained and rinsed canned black or pinto beans. Microwave just until the cheese melts and serve warm.
HOT BEAN DIP: Simple and so good, just combine about 3/4 cup vegetarian refried beans with 1/4 cup good-quality salsa in a serving bowl. Cover and microwave for about 1 minute, then serve with natural, stone-ground tortilla chips.
FRESH FRUIT WITH SWEET CREAM CHEESE DIP: In a bowl, combine an 6-ounce package or tub of low-fat (preferably organic) dairy, rice, or soy cream cheese (at room temperature) with 1/4 cup undiluted apple juice or orange juice concentrate and a dash of cinnamon. Stir vigorously until smooth. Serve with apple and pear slices, strawberries, and banana chunks for dipping.
CINNAMON-RAISIN TOAST: An all-time favorite in our home! Raisin bread makes great cinnamon toast. Simply toast fresh raisin bread, spread lightly with non-hydrogenated margarine, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and natural cane sugar.
HOMEMADE BAGEL CRISPS: Store-bought bagel crisps are good, but expensive. Making them at home is easy, and a good way to use up less-than-fresh bagels. Simply slice bagels crosswise first (rather than through the thickness), then stand each half on the cut end, and slice very thinly with a sharp knife. Place on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil spray. Raisin bagels can be sprinkled with a little cinnamon and sugar; other types of bagels are delicious sprinkled with a little soy Parmesan. Bake at 275 degrees until dry and crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes.
INSTANT CREAMY DIP FOR RAW VEGGIES: Simply combine about 1/3 cup each soy mayonnaise and plain low-fat organic yogurt or soy yogurt in a small bowl. Sprinkle in a little dried dill and seasoned salt. Stir until smooth. Serve with baby carrots, small broccoli and cauliflower florets, bell pepper strips, and other raw vegetables.
SKEWERED FRUIT: Any presentation that adds a bit of interest to fresh fruit is always welcome. Simply cut any fresh fruit in season into bite-sized chunks and alternate on wooden or bamboo skewers with grapes (organic fruit preferred, of course).
PAPER BAG POPCORN: Did you know that all popcorn is microwavable? If you buy your own organic popcorn kernels in bulk, it's not only much more economical, but you are the one who controls how much salt (if any) goes on, and you get non of those preservatives or hydrogenated fats. Here's how: simply put 1/4 cup unpopped kernels in a lunch-sized brown paper bag. Fold the top over and secure with a couple pieces of tape. Microwave for two minutes or so, or until you hear the kernels finish popping. Transfer to a large bowl, sprinkle with salt to taste. If you'd like, drizzle a small amount of melted nonhydrogenated margarine on the popcorn and stir well.
PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY "PIZZA": Here's a fun way to give a familiar duo a fun spin. Warm up a good-quality personal-size pizza crust in a toaster oven. Spread with natural-style peanut butter and all-fruit preserves. Cut into 6 wedges. Makes 2 or 3 snack-size servings.